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What is Hands-on Dementia?

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

Hands-on Dementia is always evolving, and our most recent change is the opening of our new website which is dedicated to teaching people around the world touch and communication skills to connect at a deeper level with people who have been diagnosed with dementia.

The Birth of Hands-on Dementia

In 2007, after taking the Alzheimer’s Association’s year long course, I began volunteering in the dementia wing of our local senior center where I taught memory games. I also began giving short, hand reflexology sessions to some of center visitors.

I decided to begin with hand reflexology, rather than foot reflexology because it seemed easier to ask someone who might be confused to give me their hand, than to tell them to remove their shoes and socks and lie down. At the time, I thought that once my client would feel comfortable with me, I would try to change over to foot reflexology.

However, the results of hand reflexology were so amazing, that I never felt the need to use foot reflexology at the center. When a visitor became anxious, rather than call a family relative to come to the center to calm or take the person home, the social worker would ask me to give hand reflexology and the anxious person soon calmed down and returned to participate in the center’s activities.

Jeffrey Lieder, the center’s manager, suggested we teach hand reflexology to the Foreign Live-in caregivers so they could use it on their employers at home.

I needed to design a simplified version of hand reflexology that the caregivers could learn specifically to help their employers who had dementia. This is how, in 2008, Hands-on Dementia was born.

Teaching Foreign Live-in Caregivers

Our first course at the Senior center for Foreign Live-in Caregivers was an experiment. We didn’t know how many lessons/hours the caregivers would need to become competent in working the hand reflex points. The Caregivers would learn with me while their employers were participating in activities at the center.

In 2009 The first group of foreign caregivers completed their studies after 10 weeks and that became the base of our Hands-on Dementia workshops. The Senior Center has already sponsored five workshops with participants from the Philippines, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The caregivers report that Hands-on Dementia:

•Induces better sleep

•Prevents Anxiety

•Helps with digestion issues

•Creates a better relationship between caregiver and client

•Improves mood

This training for foreign caregivers also improves their own feeling of self-worth and their tremendous pride is evident when they are rewarded with their certificates of completion at a graduation ceremony at the center.

These workshops were so successful, that I was awarded the Geller Prize in 2017 for my work teaching foreign live-in caregiver’s Hands-on Dementia,

Teaching Nursing Home Staff The next stage in the development of Hands-on Dementia was teaching staff at a nursing home. I taught the first workshop to nursing home staff in 2013. In this framework professionals were able to evaluate how Hands-on Dementia effected their residents. For example, the physical therapist could measure any physically changes in a resident and a nurse could notice if there was a change how much a resident needed pain medications.

Nursing home staff who learned Hands-on Dementia reported that it:


•Allows better participation in activities

•Improves sleep

•Can reduce amount of medication needed

•Relaxes muscles (especially for people who have Parkinson’s)

•Promotes better digestion

•Allows for easier adaptation to the facility

This last item, easier adaptation to the facility is important. I have written before about how stressful change can be for someone living with dementia, especially the move to a new home or facility. We often hear people warn that a move can cause rapid cognitive decline. Well it may, but the reason for the decline may simply be stress. If we reduce the stress with Hands-on Dementia, we may stop the cognitive decline that it caused.

How Validation Was Added

When we do Hands-on Dementia, we sit across from each other and have eye contact which makes the client feel calmer and safer and allows them to communicate more.

As a reflexologist, communicating with my client is an integral part of the reflexology session. For some clients. the reflexology session can allow them to express things going on in their life.

I noticed that my clients with dementia would also try to express themselves during a Hands-on Dementia session. They might repeat the same story every time or they might feel something emotional. I felt like I was missing a way to understand them and communicate with them.

In 2013 I happened to see the famous clip of Naomi Feil validating Gladys Wilson and I knew immediately that I had to learn this method of communication! I didn’t know how or where – but I knew this was the missing puzzle piece needed for Hands-on Dementia.

I was so excited, that I sent this video to Jeffrey, our manager at the Senior Center and he answered, “oh yah – I just saw they are opening a course to teach Validation here in Israel in two weeks.” He also generously offered to pay for part of my tuition!

Sometimes the stars simply align! I signed up immediately for the very first Validation course here and was fortunate to have Vicki DeKlerk, Naomi Feil’s daughter, teach our Validation Worker’s Course. What I didn’t know at the time, was that I was going to continue studying Validation for the next 5 years. In 2019 I and 8 wonderful women, were certified as the first Validation teachers in Israel.

Today Validation is an integral part of Hands-on Dementia. We also teach Validation webinars and workshops on their own, but Hands-on Dementia is now based on both hand reflexology and at least some basic Validation techniques. You cannot work with someone who has memory loss if you don’t know how to communicate with them.

Lockdown Created an eBook

Once the lockdowns began due to covid, I was not able to teach or work in any of the senior facilities, nor work in my own clinic. I used the time to try to understand how family caregivers, unlike professionals who receive training, learn to adjust, and care for their loved one who has dementia.

When my mother was living with dementia, social media was at its beginning stages, so there weren’t support groups and info on-line like there are today. The advice we received was only from phone calls to caregiver organizations or to our social worker. It was wonderful to see how social media has changed and can be so helpful for caregivers to find info.

I joined on-line family caregiver support groups to see what difficulties they were having and gave some advice wherever I could. I interviewed family caregivers and asked family caregivers from around the world to fill out a survey so I could get a better idea of what help they needed.

From my research, I realized that family caregivers

1. Are suddenly thrown into a situation they have no training for

2. Are so busy as caregivers, that they don’t have time to train

How do you solve this type of dilemma? I gave it a try by finding the fewest hand reflex points that are easy to learn but are still effective, plus I tried to find a way to teach these points that was easy and fast. That is how the pandemic gave birth to my eBook “Hands-on Dementia for Caregivers.” I wrote it as an eBook because very few caregivers have the time to open a book and read it. This way family caregivers can download the eBook onto their phone and read a small section each time they have a free minute or two. They can also watch a short video that explains how to work each of the hand reflex points. Reading time of the whole eBook is only 45 minutes.

The pandemic helped create the next stage of Hands-on Dementia. I have teamed up with the amazing Nancy Brown – one of the top Validation teachers and we are launching this week our new website! We will be teaching webinars and validation workshops so people all over the world will be able to learn communication skills. Join us, contact us, let us know what you would like to learn and let us know you are out there by commenting on our blogs! Thanks. Visit us at: For info about the the eBook:

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