Candlewood Valley Health & Rehabilitation Center in New Milford was recently well represented at the second annual culture change in dementia care conference sponsored by the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities.

Judie Ahmed, director of clinical services for TransCon Builders long-term care facilities, welcomed more than 100 nurses, certified nurse assistants, administrators, specialists in nutrition, recreation, exercise- every phase of dementia care.

"The excitement and promise of the new dementia culture is a landmark advance," she said. "It changes dementia from dead-end status to the possibility of unprecedented improvements."

The new dementia care culture is based on the premise every dementia patient is an individual with a history, and by delving into the life of that person, unwrapping the masks of denial and isolation that have buried the reality of his or her life, the burden of dementia can be lightened, and often innate personality can be retrieved.

"What's required is a new `I Care Plan,'" a change from the long-used, traditional medical model to a person-centered approach," said Debbie Rossi- Stahl, director of nursing at CVH&R.

"People don't stop being who they were," said Ms. Rossi-Stahl, who oversees a 148-bed skilled nursing facility with a 44-bed dementia unit.

"The `I Care Plan' is designed to reflect the patient's individual needs, not a `cookie-cutter' style of treatment," she said.

"Person- centered care returns decision making to the patient," she said. "The patient will be encouraged to decide what to wear. Caregivers will engage with the patient in as normal a way as possible. The patient is a person, not a disease. Making this new approach work is a team effort, involving everyone who has any contact with the patient."

The success of this approach requires learning as much as possible about the patient's current and past lifestyle, and understanding the patient's daily habits, interests, personal preferences, spiritual needs and cultural concerns.

Much of this information can be obtained from family members and friends.

The result is maximizing the patient's quality of life,

For more information, call CVH&R at 860-355-0971 or visit