Dementia expert Dr Maggie Ellis shares creative ways we can stay connected without relying on speech in her course – Adaptive Interactions!

We are very proud of the work we have done with Dr Maggie Ellis on our Moving Beyond Words course, particularly as it has benefitted so many people living with dementia as well as their caregivers.  As a senior lecturer in Psychology at the School of Psychology & Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, Dr Maggie Ellis has developed teaching, training and consultancy in dementia care, based on her own research.

In this blog, Dr Maggie Ellis discusses Adaptive Interaction for Family Members – a new course she will be delivering for family carergivers – and how she came to work alongside the Empowered Conversations team.

Maggie says: “It was 2006 when my PhD supervisor Prof Arlene Astell and I were invited to attend a conference on the Intensive Interaction approach used to support those with profound and multiple learning difficulties.

“Intensive interaction is a practical approach that can help those with complex disabilities who can no longer communicate verbally. It’s an approach that enables them to relate and participate in meaningful interaction with others on their terms.

“We were blown away as we were forced to completely rethink the function of communication in that it involved interaction but without speech, so it was all about the connection rather than the content.

“It was immediately obvious to us how the methods they were using could translate to someone living with advanced dementia. That is when we started to develop and adapted version of Intensive Interaction for people with advanced dementia called “Adaptive Interaction”. This work has resulted in a real communication breakthrough for people living with advanced dementia and their caregivers.

“Effectively, it’s about looking at creative ways to stay connected without relying on speech so that a person with dementia can stay connected or reconnect to a social world when they can no longer use or understand words.

“Over the years, Professor Astell and I continue to collaborate on this work and have produced numerous academic publications and a book on the topic. From this we developed and evidence-based training programme. The “Adaptive Interaction” programme offers practical solutions to the caregiver to enable them to interact with the person with dementia, offering hope to families who want to reconnect with their loved ones which is so important.

“It can help to relieve the strain on relationships between the person with dementia, their families, and professional caregivers through better, person-centred communication, using nonverbal means including imitation, facial expressions, sounds, movement, eye gaze and touch.

“Eighteen months ago, I was approached by Margaret from the Empowered Conversations team who explained that they had been researching the work I was doing. We talked about the synergies between my research and the work happening at Empowered Conversations. It was clear from the start that our views were aligned and that we should work together.

“Initially, I was invited to speak at a couple of seminars and I was then asked to contribute to the Moving Beyond Words course run by Empowered Conversations, which I was very happy to be involved in. The session was really well received with some family members wanting to hear more.

“Before the programme, caregivers often think that there is no meaning behind their loved-one’s actions. There is also a lot of fear around thinking of communication in a different way. This, thankfully, dissipates when they see the results.

“Often someone with advanced dementia hasn’t participated in social interaction for a very long time. However, the techniques taught in the Moving Beyond Words/Adaptive Interaction programme allow them re-enter the social world and connect with their family members and caregivers.

“The methods even work when the caregiver is a professional and hasn’t met the person with dementia before, in that they can develop a relationshipwith the person .

“Following the success of the Moving Beyond Words course, I have now developed a course on Adaptive Interaction specifically aimed at Empowered Conversation participants.

“The course runs for 4 weeks and is 2 hours a week, and we aim to run 4 of these with 6 people in each.  The courses are run via Zoom and offered to carers in Greater Manchester who have completed the Moving Beyond Words course.

“Throughout the duration of the course we will be taking feedback from the participants and will be using this towards the research programme I run PE at the University of St Andrews.”

If you would like to know more about the Adaptive Interaction course, or other course at Empowered Conversations then please get in touch here.