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A Helpful Dementia Analogy: The Tree Analogy

Updated: Apr 15

Analogies can be incredibly helpful when used to explain something as complex as dementia. There are so many layers and elements to consider when it comes to the disease.

Some commonly used analogies to help people understand dementia are:

  1. A bookcase in a storm

  2. File folders in the drawer of a filing cabinet

  3. Layers of an onion

An analogy I love to use when giving educational presentations and training is The Tree Analogy. This analogy brings to light honoring an individual's life experiences and continued meaningful contributions to the lives of others.

The Leaves and Branches:

Leaves and branches symbolize the many different common characteristics and challenges of dementia including:

  • Problem solving

  • Sequencing

  • Attention

  • Judgment

  • Safety awareness

  • Aggression

  • No filter

  • falls

  • Changes in mood

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Difficulty eating

  • Weight loss

  • Temperature regulation

  • Sundowning

  • Word finding

  • Vision changes

  • Disorientation

  • Hallucinations

  • Delusions

  • Agitation

  • Wandering

  • Incontinence

The Trunk:

Memory loss is typically the first thing that comes to mind when an individual hears the word dementia. However, we know that dementia is so much more than memory loss. In order to support individuals and their families coping with dementia, we need to take a holistic approach to care. We need to dive deeper than just the dementia characteristics themselves and look at the "roots" of what makes an individual who they are.

The Roots:

Dementia does not define a person. Roots symbolize the many facets of a person's life that care partners and healthcare professionals must make a priority to dig deep into and get to know in order to enhance the quality of life of the individual and make meaningful human connections. For example:

  • Upbringing

  • Education

  • Career

  • Likes

  • Dislikes

  • Trauma

  • Fears

  • Life achievements

  • Motivators

  • Routine

  • Faith

  • Community

  • Lived experiences

  • Wisdom

  • Friends

  • Family

  • Hobbies

  • Travels

  • Identity

The Seasons

Dementia has its own "seasons" of the disease progression. Some new characteristics will present themselves, some will get worse, and some will fade. Through this progression care partners and healthcare professionals need to continue to honor the "roots" of the individual living with the disease.

The Gifts and Purpose

Trees give off the oxygen we need to breathe and provide fruit, flowers, and shade. Over time dementia will change aspects of the interactions we have with our loved ones but that does not change the gifts they have given us and the gifts they will continue to give us. As the disease progresses to the later stages we can continue to make meaningful connections through things such as reminiscing about fond memories, looking through old photos, enjoying music together, and slowing down and being present.

Free Dementia Analogy - The Tree Analogy Download

Click the button below to download your own free 6-page copy of our tree analogy educational tool.

Dementia - The Tree Analogy (2)
Download PDF • 3.75MB

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By: Jessie Hillock, M.A. CCC-SLP, CDP

Dementia Expert

Certified Dementia Practitioner

Geriatric Speech-Language Pathologist


Jessie works with families facing memory loss and cognitive challenges across the United States as the owner and founder of The Memory Compass. She is an expert in dementia care, a certified dementia practitioner, and has a background in geriatric speech-language pathology. Jessie helps families navigate dementia challenges through memory loss navigation consultations and dementia coaching. Through these sessions, Jessie equips families with creating solutions to their challenges, saves them time and energy, and reduces the overwhelm by developing their own individualized action plan for now and proactively for the future. If you are interested in learning more about Jessie's work supporting individuals and families living with memory loss, click here. If you are interested in scheduling a free 15-minute discovery call or meeting with Jessie, click the button below.

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