Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Dignified Life: Book Review

Published 21 September 2012.
In 2012, dementia care experts Virginia Bell M.S.W. and David Troxel M.P.H. published a revised and expanded edition of their 2002 book of the same title: A Dignified Life: Best Friends™ to Alzhemier's Care. 

By incorporating new research, more types of dementias, and additional stories about people living with dementia, Bell and Troxel build upon their already solid foundation of informed care. 

[I was provided a free copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.]

Their guide for care partners (a term that replaces caregivers) is rich with ideas, accessible and a conveys a tone of compassion and respect for people responding to the enormous challenges of living with dementia.  

Their Best Friends™ Approach includes the following (as adapted from a list of traits in their "Introduction" on pp. 2-4):

1. Understanding what it's like to have dementia.

2. Knowing and using the person's life story.

3. Knowing just what to say when communication is breaking down. 

4. Offering the right activities in the right way.

5. Supporting a spiritual or religious life. 

6. Being your own Best Friend [as a care partner to a person with dementia].

I particularly like how the book is written with a detailed table of contents, lot of subheadings, short paragraphs, a lot of white space, several concrete examples, and a detailed index. Care partners have very little time to read dense prose. They might only have a few minutes to read each day, and all these features make Bell and Troxel's book very accessible.

Here are two sample passage about Point #2 of the Best Friend's approach--the importance of knowing a person's life story as a way to understand them, engage them, respect them, and help them solve problems.

Evelyn Talbott "lit up whenever someone would prompt her to talk about her work, her love of dogs, her interest in dancing, and her enjoyable nature walks.  She would use her hands to gesture towards her body, saying with her hands, 'Give me more, keep going'" (p. 117).   

Brevard Crihfielf "became angry during [sing-along] sessions.  [The song leader was] somewhat directive, and 'Crihf' read that as someone standing in front of him, telling him what to do" (p. 120). When the staff recalled that Crihf life story included being the boss at work, they suggested that the song leader sit in a chair near the piano, which would would be in Crihf's periferal vision.  "That simple intervention led to a big pay off because Crihf was calmed and the program could go on" (p. 121). 

I appreciate Bell and Troxel sharing their experience and insight. Between them, they have decades of experience, which they have distilled into a resource for people looking for help with dementia care.   It also creates a broader context by including defitions of dementia in the front and resources and further readings in the back.   It's a good place to start or restart for those who are in a relationship with people living with dementia.


Books about Dementia
Films about Dementia


  1. This guidance is so needed. I remember us being at a loss for how to respond when Ron's mom would think a relative was her brother who passed years ago, or when she was confused and afraid in a new place. It's heartening to see these sort of books being published. I have prayed often (and donated) for a cure for this heartbreaking disease.

    1. I am sorry that there weren't abundant resources for you when your MIL was living with dementia. She had a loving family, and I know you all did the best you could. There hopefully there will be an abundance of treatments and cures to replace the explosion of caregiving resources. It would relieve so much suffering if medical researchers could figure out the mysteries of this horrible disease. You are kind to donate in an effort to help them find a cure.