In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Dementia Care

  • Introduction
  • Essential Texts
  • Social Work in Dementia Care
  • Addressing Complex Family Dynamics
  • Philosophies of Person-Centered and Strengths-Based Care
  • Basic and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living
  • Dementia-Specific Communication Techniques
  • Responding to Behavioral Challenges
  • Approaches for Social Engagement
  • Approaches for Cognitive Stimulation
  • Environmental Modifications to Promote Safety and Quality of Life
  • Risk Assessment for Driving and Elopement
  • Self-Care and Social Support for People with Dementia

Social Work Dementia Care
Daniel B. Kaplan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0281


Social workers occupy positions in a broad array of practice settings. They utilize a range of practice skills to effect positive change and growth to address social problems and this work is done in partnership with individuals, couples, families, groups, and communities. Their work is informed by a unique set of values which balance competent service and integrity with a deep commitment to social justice, upholding the dignity and worth of each person, and celebrating the importance of human relationships. Neurocognitive disorder, or dementia, is a syndrome creating devastation in nearly every domain of human existence for those afflicted, with serious negative impacts which reverberate through families, communities, and society. As such, dementia should be understood as a bio-psycho-social-environmental phenomenon. The overall purpose of this entry is to prepare readers for effective practice with diverse individuals with dementia and their families from across practice settings. In order to understand and to respond effectively to the needs of their clients, social workers must appreciate the complex interactions of disease pathology, individual strengths, environmental conditions, informal supports, formal resources, and societal influences. For those social workers who serve people living with dementia, a comprehensive knowledge of dementia causes, symptoms, progressive prognosis, assessment and care techniques, and biopsychosocial-environmental considerations is an essential complement to the social work practice knowledge base. They must be able to identify the most appropriate, evidence-informed intervention options for clients throughout the unpredictable stages of dementia, as well as the benefits and limitations of the full array of formal support systems. This bibliography entry is organized into lists of essential texts and articles on social work practice skills and principles of dementia care, formal care services and family caregiving, effective and evidence-based interventions and communication techniques, safety assessment, stimulating activities, environmental considerations, and self-care and social support for the person with dementia. Many of the books and articles listed herein are written by the leading scholars in the area of dementia care, and any reader who is familiar with this area of practice is likely to recognize many of these authors’ names from the large body of literature which has informed dementia care for the past three decades.

Essential Texts

Social work practitioners, leaders, and scholars all require comprehensive knowledge of dementia in order to work effectively in the dementia care arena. There is a staggering amount of knowledge to obtain, including sophisticated concepts from neurology and medicine, best practices for clinical care, service strategies in diverse care settings, and ethical principles of care to undergird all of their work. For this reason, it is worthwhile to assemble and digest a small library of excellent books on dementia, dementia care, and social work practice with this population. The authors of the books and chapters listed here are the leading research scholars, clinical experts, and care advocates from the United States, United Kingdom, and beyond. There is an overlap of ideas represented in works listed under the various sections of this entry due to the necessity of authors to comprehensively explain dementia and dementia care elements in these publications. Yet each text offers something uniquely valuable to the social work practitioner who serves people with dementia and their families in any practice setting. The authors of Weiner and Lipton 2012 have edited an excellent resource for learning about the most prevalent conditions which cause dementia and the medical approaches used in diagnosing and treating these conditions. Downs and Bowers 2014 and Boltz and Galvin 2015 are edited texts which allow readers to obtain a holistic understanding of evidence-based strategies and principles for dementia care in multiple settings and across the entirety of the dementia journey. Cox 2007 and Marshall and Tibbs 2006 offer texts which define the base of knowledge for social work practitioners involved in dementia care and these books will allow the social work practitioner to excel in their work with this population. Social workers must also be familiar with texts to recommend for client education. Koenig Coste 2003 and Mace and Rabins 2017 offer books to guide families in their caregiving work with their loved ones with dementia and provide accessible explanations of the complex dementia syndrome and related care strategies.

  • Boltz, M., and J. E. Galvin, eds. 2015. Dementia care: An evidence-based approach. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International.

    This book offers comprehensive reviews of dementia care and treatment approaches, including overarching principles of care, biopsychosocial considerations, pharmacological and non-pharmacological approaches, unique considerations for varied clinical and care settings, and end-of-life care. Importantly, the book also addresses home- and community-based care, care transitions, and a focus on both the caregiver and the individual with dementia. This edited volume is an important resource for any clinical provider who serves this population.

  • Cox, C., ed. 2007. Dementia and social work practice: Research and intervention. New York: Springer.

    This book disseminates practical knowledge to support the clinical care of families facing dementia. It addresses models of care and essential practice information for a social worker involved in dementia care from pre-diagnosis to end-of-life care in a multitude of settings. The skills, cultural insights, and care philosophies described in the text will endure for years to come.

  • Downs, M., and B. Bowers, eds. 2014. Excellence in dementia care: Research into practice. 2d ed. Berkshire, UK: Open Univ. Press.

    This book is today’s preeminent text on dementia care. Any professional provider working in dementia care should make a study of this book. Chapters tap the expertise of thought leaders on care philosophies, best practices in care, communication, and behavioral responses, traditional and non-traditional interventions, diverse care settings, and implementation of culture change. Special attention is given to young-onset dementia, ethics, personhood, and elevating the voices of people living with dementia.

  • Koenig Coste, J. 2003. Learning to speak Alzheimer’s: A groundbreaking approach for everyone dealing with the disease. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    This book explains and celebrates the humane and empowering strategies of habilitation for people with dementia. This book is an important read for any family caregiver, and providers should partner with families in reviewing the care philosophies and strategies found within the text. The author succeeds in portraying the experiences of the person with dementia to build empathy in the reader and to justify a focus on habilitation and life enrichment.

  • Mace, N. L., and P. V. Rabins. 2017. The 36-hour day: A family guide to caring for people with Alzheimer disease, other dementias, and memory loss in late life. 6th ed. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    This book remains a seminal guide to understanding dementia for families of individuals living with the syndrome. This book is a “must read” resource for family caregivers along their journey through dementia care and providers should encourage families to use the text as new concerns and symptoms arise over time. The accessible material in the book is routinely updated and is organized to correspond with the evolving concerns of a family facing dementia.

  • Marshall, M., and M. Tibbs. 2006. Social work and people with dementia: Partnerships, practice and persistence. Rev. 2d ed. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

    This book offers a comprehensive review of dementia care philosophies, strategies, and skills for the social worker with unique and realistic assertion of the importance of the social worker’s role in mediating the interactions between clients and care systems. This focus is rare among texts on dementia care and supports the social work reader in understanding why and how to impact environments as well as practices among other professionals involved in dementia care.

  • Weiner, M. F., and A. M. Lipton, eds. 2012. Clinical manual of Alzheimer disease and other dementias. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

    This book provides a comprehensive guide to understanding diseases which cause dementia. Clinicians who work with this population will benefit from a close review of this text’s detailed descriptions of diagnostic criteria, assessment protocols, and treatments. Social workers need to maintain accurate knowledge of the differences in causes and presentations among diverse conditions which cause neurocognitive disorders in order to effectively counsel families and collaborate with interprofessional care teams.

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