Alzheimer's Care Training Strategies with Kim Warchol

Effective Strategies for Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregiver Training

Understanding the importance of specialized training in Alzheimer’s and dementia care for caregivers is fundamental to improving the quality of life for individuals affected by these conditions. Unlike general caregiving skills, which are essential but broad in scope, specialized knowledge is necessary due to the unique challenges presented by cognitive decline and progressive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

To shed more light on this topic further and explore effective training methods and person-centered care strategies, we reached out to Kim Warchol, President and Founder of Dementia Care Specialists at the Crisis Preventions Institute.

Q. How important is specialized training in Alzheimer’s and dementia care for caregivers compared to general caregiving skills?

Specialized knowledge and skills are needed because this population has unique needs. As an example, when caring for a person with chronic and progressive cognitive challenges due to Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, the role of caregivers (hired or family) is to adapt life to help the person to feel and be successful, wherever they are in the dementia stage continuum. This is called habilitation, and it requires caregivers to know how to adapt the activity, their approach and communication, and the environment to match a person’s needs at each stage of dementia.

Additionally, specialized skills include using person-centered care and knowing how to prevent and safely de-escalate distress behaviors without using drugs. Much of this is not covered in basic caregiving training programs. Yet, these are some of the essential skills all caregivers must have to optimize the level of independence, safety, health, and quality of life of those living with dementia. This also reduces the burden and stress on families and all caregivers.

If the “caregiver” is providing a professional service such as an occupational therapist, additional skills are needed in functional cognitive assessment (to determine the stage of dementia), habilitation (not rehabilitation), and cognitive activity analysis, which are the interventions to promote positive outcomes. A dementia-specialized OT is also responsible for teaching family and other caregivers to use the interventions they found most helpful in their skilled treatment. Caregiver training is a component of the skilled, therapeutic intervention provided by the OT.

Q. What are the most effective training methods or approaches for educating caregivers about Alzheimer’s and dementia care?

I think there are three key components for effective, sustainable training. First, the instructor teaching the program must be a skilled trainer. Our Dementia Capable Care Global Professional Instructors are highly skilled trainers. They have been trained in proven training methods, enabling all our adult learners to gain the most from the training program.

Next, the quality of the training program, in terms of the content and the training design, will make a big difference. For example, we have found hired caregivers (and families) to learn best when we first take them through some important paradigm shifts and empathy experiences that open the channels to wanting to learn because they now feel more inspired, empathetic, and empowered. This is a necessary step in the learning process.

We then share the key training information in an organized manner, well-paced, and heavily loaded with practical learning activities. Most people learn best when working with the information in activities and obtaining feedback.

Finally, learning and implementing training with others is very beneficial. I believe training should never be a one-and-done task. When we have a team learning, we can hold each other accountable, provide necessary support, and celebrate successes. Having a certified instructor (trainer) or coach on staff is also beneficial because training should occur in the classroom (or online) and in real-time, all the time, in the field. It takes a village, including leadership, all working together with the same knowledge and understandings, goals and objectives, for training to have a real impact and be sustainable. Otherwise, the return on the training investment will be limited.

If the loved one is the caregiver, they also benefit from learning from or being in a team, having initial and ongoing feedback, and having someone available to help them problem-solve day-to-day difficult situations.

“Person-centered care is a cornerstone of quality dementia care. We care for a person first, not a diagnosis.”

– Kim Warchol

Q. In what ways can agencies utilize caregiver training programs to promote person-centered care?

All dementia training programs must promote a person-centered culture and teach person-centered care. Person-centered care is a cornerstone of quality dementia care. We care for a person first, not a diagnosis. For many reasons, getting to know the person’s history, preferences, habits, and routines- is vital in dementia care. If a loved one is the caregiver, they need to use all they know about the person as the focus of care, and if hired caregivers, families should share as much as possible with them, so personhood is the focal point of the care the hired staff deliver.

For example, long-term memory is the strength of a person with dementia…tap into it, and the person in care can be more independent. We all pay better attention to things we find meaningful…learn what that is, use it in care approaches, and their focus and attention will improve. Gaining trust and agreement is an essential dementia care skill, and it is best earned when a caregiver can use the person’s history to start a conversation and honor their preferences. Gaining trust and agreement can prevent distress “behavior” reactions, like aggression.

As the examples above demonstrate, person-centered care is an effective dementia care tool, and it’s the way we would all want to be cared for. Thus, all dementia training programs for caregivers must contain person-centered care as a foundational component to deliver this effective and compassionate care approach. That’s why it is essential to our Dementia Capable Care training programs.

Q. How can digital platforms or apps assist caregivers in tracking patient progress and accessing resources?

In general, I would say that the loved ones of those with dementia should know all the resources available to them. They can learn more by visiting the Alzheimer’s Association, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, their Area Agency on Aging, or hiring an advisor. Many resources, whether digital or otherwise, are available, and many can make a nice difference.

Wrapping Up

It’s evident from Kim Warchol’s words that specialized training is crucial for caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Warchol emphasizes the need for specific skills like adapting activities, distress “behavior” prevention, de-escalation, and using person-centered care.

Caregivers should prioritize the individual’s needs and preferences over their diagnosis. While digital tools can assist, it’s important for caregivers to access reliable support. Overall, this Expert Q&A was refreshing. We trust you’ll discover it as enlightening as we did.


Get to Know the Expert Better

Kim Warchol

Kim Warchol

Kim Warchol is an Occupational Therapist specializing in functional cognition, person-centered care, and dementia-supportive environmental design. She founded Dementia Care Specialists, a division of Crisis Prevention Institute, and has trained thousands of healthcare professionals and caregivers in Dementia Capable Care. Kim is dedicated to creating a dementia-capable society that enables individuals with dementia and their caregivers to thrive. She has authored articles and lectures nationally and advocates for person-centered and abilities-focused dementia care.

Contribute to Our Expert Insights

Got caregiving expert tips, essential skills, and industry secrets to share?

    See Learn2Care in Action

    Empower caregivers with compassionate, compliant, and flexible learning for skill enhancement and future readiness.

    Start My Free Trial


    Explore More Expert Insights

    Discover further wisdom from industry experts by exploring our curated collection of knowledge.