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How It All Began: Ponies, Dementia, and Brushing Teeth

One of my first research studies involved mouth care and people with dementia. I received about $250K of taxpayer money (thank you!!) from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to test a mouth care method that was supposed to help nursing assistants improve oral health. The study was named OH:PONHE, or “Oral Health: Positive Outcomes for Nursing Home Elders.” Blondie, aka Legally Blonde, was the only horse smart enough to hold a toothbrush while posing for the camera. She became our “brand” for the study.

This study, which was completed in 2007 and resulted in some good publications, taught me an important lesson: mouth care for a person with dementia involved extra skills, such as preventing the dreaded “NO!” and other refusal behaviors. Or the person telling you, “I just brushed my teeth” and you know darn well that those teeth haven’t felt brush bristles in weeks, but you are just too exhausted to push the issue.

The study completely changed my understanding of dementia and care-resistant behavior; it helped me to develop a theory called the neurobiology of threat perception. I ultimately put together a collection of strategies that family and formal caregivers can use to help prevent and manage care-resistant behavior. This video is available on YouTube.  Click here to see the video.

Blondie, who is still running around a stable in central Alabama, epitomizes the blend of creativity, insight,science, and just plain WTF*-why-not-try-this attitude so important when decoding dementia-related behaviors. She’s on this site to remind you and me to use any and all techniques to reach our loved ones, no matter how silly (like a horse holding a toothbrush) may look.

Enjoy the postings! Please email or contact me with questions or suggestions regarding the content you would like to see. Until there is a cure, we will work together to make dementia our bitch!

*WTF=What the frell? Slang brought to you by the produces of Farscape, one of my favorite Sci-Fi series of all times.


Categories: Dementia Mouth Care Refusal Behavior

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Dr. Rita Jablonski

Rita Jablonski, PhD, CRNP, FAAN, FGSA is a nurse practitioner, researcher, tenured professor, and former family caregiver. Her research and practice involve all aspects of dementia management; she is best known for non-drug strategies to address dementia-related behaviors.

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