Alzheimer's blog

HABIT helps caregivers begin healing process

By Angela Lunde November 1, 2011

At this time, Alzheimer's has no cure. But please don't confuse cure with treatment or therapies. Treatments and therapies do exist in many forms from managing symptoms with medications, to treating caregivers by offering education on topics such as making difficult decisions or communication, to support groups (supportive blogs), counseling, art therapy, stress reduction, and mentor programs. For some caregivers and persons with dementia, finding solace in nature or sipping tea with a trusted friend is therapeutic.

As I write this blog, HABIT, a 10-day program that I deliver along with several colleagues, has completed day five of its ten days. HABIT stands for Healthy Actions to Benefit Independence and Thinking. HABIT doesn't cure those patients with memory loss who participate. Instead, the program offers several tools unique in addressing the condition of mild cognitive impairment and caregiving.

Outcomes are aimed at memory compensation, improving self efficacy, decreasing depression and caregiver burden (to name a few). And yet, I don't think the measurable outcomes capture the essence of what is therapeutic or healing for those that participate in this fifty hour experience.

HABIT is a partnership between the patient and their caregiver, and the therapists.  In this regard, it isn't your typical hierarchal model of the doctor (therapist) believing that they are the "doer" and therefore in charge of the plan or making the changes.

HABIT simply delivers the right formula that sets the conditions for positive changes and healing transformations to begin. The key ingredient in this formula is creating an environment for the participant that invites openness and self-disclosure, unconditional acceptance, empathy, and compassion.

Unconditional acceptance, empathy and compassion offered to anyone facing challenging times is, without a doubt, treatment. It's healing.

This past week at the end of a yoga session (a daily yoga practice is part of the HABIT program), Margo a caregiver said, "I feel at home." I've been thinking about what Margo may have meant by that. Possibly it signified a letting go of the pretense and the control that may be suffocating her. Maybe it meant she felt safe enough to allow things to come apart-to feel and see things as they really are. Perhaps she was simply expressing that she feels surrounded by a supportive family. Only Margo knows exactly what she meant by those words, but I sensed she was exactly where she needed to be.

To the incredible patients and families I meet through HABIT, I treasure each of you and what you have taught me and offered one another. To the remarkable and dedicated HABIT staff, may we humbly continue in this work, to serve, and be served.

HABIT is a 50-hour program for individuals recently diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and a program partner. It's offered several times each year on the Mayo Clinic Campus in Rochester, MN. To learn more about the HABIT program go to:

For information on treatment programs such as support groups, education, care consultations, creative arts therapy, and mentor programs, call the Alzheimer's Association help-line at 1-800-272-3900. Programs will vary by state and region.

"A friend is someone who understands my past,
believes in my future, and accepts me just the way I am."
- Anonymous

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Nov. 01, 2011