Relationship Enhancement Approach to Care

Relationship Enhancement is a unique, sustainable approach to care for family caregivers and support workers.  It offers a better understanding and appreciation of the experience of cognitive decline with the goal of connecting through feelings to build trust and provide meaningful care at home and in the community.

Cognitive decline is used instead of “dementia” or “Alzheimer’s” to describe changes in an older person’s ability to think, reason and make plans.  This term more accurately describes the physical symptoms of the condition and separates them from a person’s feelings and coping skills – their unique experience of their changing circumstances.

Three main principles of the Relationship Enhancement approach to care are:

      • Feelings remain intact despite the effects of cognitive decline on the brain
      • Effective relationships offer meaningful opportunities to explore, learn and discover new ways to adapt to changing circumstances brought about by cognitive decline
      • The pathway forward is unique and personal for everyone who experiences cognitive decline

Feelings are a constant in our lives.  Learning to connect with someone through feelings comes naturally to some people.  For others, it takes time and practice.  Understanding how it feels to be someone who experiences cognitive decline is also needed to provide effective support.

Through their own initiative or with effective support from others, people who experience cognitive decline can take an active role in creating a new identity for themselves as they discover different ways to cope and do things.  When barriers exist, it is possible for a person to learn new skills to help them adapt to their changing circumstances.

Knowing a person well – the interests, passions, skills and competencies an older person has developed over a lifetime – is invaluable and often information family, friends and co-workers have that can be used to ensure there is an opportunity for meaningful activities to continue or be adapted.

Social Relationships at Home

Getting to know a person, understanding their experience of cognitive decline and finding ways to connect meaningfully is an on-going process.  We are always evolving.

Building rapport and developing a warm, reciprocal connection with someone who experiences cognitive decline is the corner stone of providing effective, long-term, one-on-one care.  This is not a new concept.  Naomi Feil’s validation method also focuses on developing positive relationships with people who experience severe dementia (cognitive decline) as she explains in her September 2016 interview with Dr. Brian Goldman on the CBC radio program External link opens in new tab or windowWhite Coat, Black Art.

Social Relationships in Community

Relationship Enhancement advocates a social model of support which looks at ways of removing barriers in society that restrict life choices for people who have a disability such as cognitive decline.

In 2001, the World Health Organization redefined the term disability.  It determined that a person’s limited ability to function in society may cause limitations or impairments, but these do not have to lead to disability unless society fails to remove barriers and create access to include people regardless of their individual differences.

For someone experiencing cognitive decline, barriers include feelings of failure at being unable contribute as they once did, embarrassment of forgetting something they once knew well and fear of upsetting others.   These invisible barriers often inhibit someone who experiences cognitive decline from fully participating in society.  Addressing how to remove these barriers is an important consideration for all communities.

Creating authentic places and spaces where people who experience cognitive decline can genuinely express themselves, is one way to remove barriers and create access in community.

Removing barriers helps to maintain the role of someone who experiences cognitive decline as a:

        • Community member
        • Participant in discussions
        • Decision maker
        • Customer

When social barriers are removed and opportunities for social participation are created, people experiencing cognitive decline are able to continue to engage in meaningful activities and conversations in their communities.  This helps them maintain good physical and emotional wellbeing improving quality of life for themselves and those around them in their community.


"External link opens in new tab or windowDisability and Inclusion", Art Beyond Sight Bringing Art & Culture to All, 2014

How Can I Help? A Week in My Life as a Psychiatrist, by David Goldbloom and Pier Bryden, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 166 King Street East, Suite 300, Toronto, Ontario, Copyright 2016

* From External link opens in new tab or windowUlysses - Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

© Simile – Training in Supportive Care, 2022