A caregiver’s orientation is so crucial to their well-being and the well-being of the person living with dementia. The New Street Compass orientation to caregiving is the foundational philosophy undergirding everything that we teach.

The compass is traditionally used to help land or seafaring travelers maintain their bearing in wayfinding, to insure successful and timely arrival at a specified destination. The Dementia Caregiver Compass applies this concept to the caregiver’s journey and need to stay on course. The four points of this philosophy are organized on a compass.

Needs must be met in order for humans to survive and thrive. As humans we are bound by universal needs that do not fade with age or with dementia. Some needs are basic — physiological and safety needs like food and shelter, for example. And, we all share higher order needs as well — to belong, to feel valued, and to have purpose. Caregiving should focus on helping those with dementia fulfill all of their needs.

Emotions are associated with all human needs. When needs are met, emotions are positive. Unmet needs trigger negative emotions. As facts fade away from the person with dementia, emotions become more important. Caregivers’ work is laregly to transform the negative emotions associated with unmet needs into positive emotions in order to restore calm and confidence in those with dementia.

Will, power, and ability are required in equal measure in order to meet one’s needs. In dementia’s progression, power and ability fade, creating an imbalance in which will becomes exaggerated. When will is not supported by power and ability, a person cannot fulfill their needs or, necessarily, convey them adequately. Situations escalate.

Symptoms of dementia cause these escalations. It is symptom-driven behaviors rather than personality-driven behaviors that create the escalations that vex caregivers. A compass-centered approach to caregiving does not view these escalations as “challenging behaviors” — just imagine the challenges the person with dementia faces everyday.

Read more about the Dementia Caregiver Compass and watch my video on it, here.