Habits of Meaning

WSF Class PictureGuest author Janice Ryan  discusses how she uses ongoing adaptive actions in her occupational therapy practice to empower her clients to strive for fulfillment of their own adaptive potentials. You may learn more about the enhanced neuro-adaptation environments she and others are applying in treatment here.

Janice also shares the philosophical seed of her practice, first voiced by Dan Wilkins, a man currently reshaping the Disability Culture. For more insights on why “Understanding Makes Tolerance Unnecessary” see Dan's writing. Thanks for sharing, Janice!


I am an HSD Associate and health care practitioner who has been using HSD tools to enhance the culture of long-term memory care programs and treatment since 2008. I began by embedding simple rules into the training of resident care providers. I also changed the more common role label of “caregiver” to “life enhancement coordinator”. By viewing people with dementia through a self-organizing system lens, I discovered that observing and using behavioral seeds can lead to more adaptive resident actions. In this context, behavioral seeds tend to be object cues, sensory experiences, activities or inter-relational patterns that the resident still finds meaningful and enjoyable. By offering “Habits of Meaning” from the resident’s past, more adaptive patterns of action and emotion can be facilitated in a resident with dementia. Positive actions and emotions often have a transformative influence on resident self-motivation and therefore on their adaptive behavior.

So What?

The lexicon of long-term dementia care commonly identifies people who work with and for residents with dementia as “caregivers”. This term developed from an old-paradigm medical model and behavior management approach. Through the lens of self-organizing systems, when a care provider manages resident behavior through over-use of medications, restraints or constant vigilance- self-organized adaptation is blocked. When adaptation is blocked, a person with dementia more quickly loses a sense of self that allows them to orient to their physical environment, social context and landscape of meaningful activity possibilities.  Activities that give them joy and hope are behavioral attractors for more self-motivated engagement and can be used as the behavioral seed for self-generated adaptive actions.  

Now What?

By combining HSD tools with mindful practice, I have developed ways to train life enhancement coordinators so that they too can nurture behavioral seeds as these grow into new and more adaptive resident actions. In this way my programs continue to be offered to memory care providers to support quality of life of people with dementia. Through this ongoing adaptive action process, I have discovered that Habits of Meaning seem to be tightly coupled for all of us to our sense of self and personal identity.

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