What is meant by the “Best Friends” approach in managing Alzheimer’s disease?

Founded by international authors and experts Virginia Bell and David Troxel in 1997, the “Best Friends” approach philosophy is geared towards caregivers and helps diminish pain and loss in addition to having a powerful impact on both the Alzheimer’s or dementia-affected individual and the caregiver.

“Everyone wants to be treated as a real person, and being treated as a best friend is what they need most of all. Friendship is so magical and multicultural as well as multigenerational,” according to Virginia Bell. “We live in a hyper cognitive society where one’s worth is often based on cognition, which is not true in many other countries where a person has infinite value even if they don’t know what day it is — your worth is measured with different standards.”

The approach enhances the quality of life for the affected individual while easing the daily stress on the caregiver. The caregiver can apply the rules of friendship to the person living with the memory impairment, and their relationship can be transposed and is allowed to take on a new definition, with new understandings.

In developing the approach, the caregiver can think about what it means to be a best friend to someone. Then, the caregiver can go through the main principles of the Best Friends approach:

1. The caregiver becomes the “Best Friend” and serves as that person’s memory, being sensitive to traditions and also respecting the personality, moods and problem-solving style of that person.

2. The caregiver enjoys activities designed for the individual with the disease, making sure that the affected individual is involved in what the caregiver does, i.e., household chores, special occasions, etc.

3. The caregiver listens to the needs of the affected individuals and develops opportunities for dialogue and communication.

4. The caregiver builds self-esteem, always offering encouragement and praise.

5. The caregiver integrates humor often in the daily care of the affected individual, sharing stories and telling jokes in a spontaneous manner for the affected individual.

6. The caregiver avoids a condescending attitude and approach and doesn’t talk down to the person for whom he or she cares.

7. The caregiver understands the disease process and cannot be overly sensitive and builds a trusting relationship, showing affection often.

This Best Friends approach is a win-win situation for both the caregiver and affected individual, and as Bell states, “We all feel better when we are with our best friends.” For more information, visit bestfriendsapproach.com.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.