As dementia progresses, it is vital to appreciate the changes in a person’s ability to be able to connect. One critical element that is often missed when trying to share information is the value of changing our delivery process. Dementia care pioneer Teepa Snow developed the hand-under-hand technique, as a guiding and assisting technique that provides family members and caregivers with an amazing connection. It promotes a physical touch connection that is friendly, comforting, and successful, without being intrusive or overbearing.
The hand-under-hand technique also provides a system of feedback and communication between the a loved one living with dementia, and a caregiver. It uses the much practiced and automatic connection between the eye and hand to form a closed circuit between the person who is struggling to understand words and tasks and the care partner. It provides a comforting and calming human connection using a familiar grasp and proprioceptive (deep pressure) in the palm at the base of the thumb.
This eye-hand connection is one of the very first sensory-motor loops established in infants is used endlessly throughout our lives. By using the palmer surface of the hand, and taking the person through the desire motion or movement, we are communicating with touch and movement, without the need for words.
It’s also important and helpful to position yourself below the eye level of the person with dementia. By lowering yourself to their eye level and by using hand-under-hand, you will be able to accomplish your caregiving goals and form a meaningful connection in the process.
Remember: the purpose is to control the situation, not the person. Dementia care partners are in the process together: always do whatever you can to respect the independence, rights, and dignity of the person with dementia.
The use of hand-under-hand is multi-faceted:
- It is used when greeting someone to sustain a physical connection, allowing the person to become more comfortable with your presence in their intimate space. It differs from a normal handshake that can be uncomfortable to sustain. By having a hand-under-hand rap, you will be able to tell if the person is enjoying your presence and wants you to allow them more space. If they keep trying to let go you, let go and move back further. They may need a break or may not want you in their intimate space at that moment.
- It can be used when helping your loved one move around. It provides greater stability and support as well as a feedback loop.
- Since the arm is the rudder that guides the ship, by rotating the foreman outward or inward you can direct the walking path.
- By tipping the forearm down you can indicate physically the cue to sit down in a seat or on the bed.
- By tipping the forearm upward you can help the person stand upright.
When used in combination with a gesture or point, it can help provide directions and reassurance when moving through the environment in the later stages, or when in an unfamiliar setting. Because a family member or caregiver is close to the person, the awareness of balance, coordination, fear, or distress is telegraphed can be responded to in a timely manner.
- Hand-under-hand is essential during the Amber, Ruby, and Pearl gem stages. It allows you to use their dexterity to operate the tool or utensil while your loved one is still actively participating and moving their body parts toward their body (hand to mouth, hand to chest) as they have done for their entire lives. This automatic loop allows people living with dementia a sense of both control and involvement.
Finally, it provides the care partner or family member a way to get feedback on preferences, understanding, readiness, and willingness to participate. It provides a way to do with, not to do or do for.