From antipsychotic meds to Zumba dancing, the Second Annual Culture Change in Dementia Care Conference, sponsored by the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities in Cromwell in September, opened a new world of treatment for dementia patients.

Introducing the program, Judie Ahmed, director of Clinical Services for TransCon long-term care facilities, welcomed more than 100 nurses, certified nurse assistants, administrators, and specialists in nutrition, recreation and exercise — every phase of dementia care. Wilton Meadows Rehabilitation and Health Care Center was well represented.

"The excitement and promise of the new dementia culture is a landmark advance," Ms. Ahmed said. "It changes dementia from dead-end status to the possibility of unprecedented improvements." Reducing the use of antipsychotic medications is one important change.

According to Dee Skidmore, acting director of nurses, Wilton Meadows is decreasing medications for residents who are receiving more natural fiber foods instead of laxatives and otherwise replacing certain pills, when indicated, with highly nutritional meals.

A surprise to many attendees was the presentation of Paro, a six-pound baby harp seal robot now being used at Wilton Meadows. Paro mimics the feel, sounds and bodily responses of a real pet.

Patients cuddle, kiss, pat and hug these robots and the effect is significant.

"The power of touch and the value of hugs can't be overestimated," said Shipe Hajdari, of Greenwich Woods Rehabilitation and HealthCare Center, which is a sister facility to Wilton Meadows. "Stress is decreased and healing improves. Patients who may have seemed totally passive and estranged respond to Paro almost immediately."

"We agree," said Andrew Krochko, Wilton Meadows administrator. "What matters is a new care plan, a change from the long-used, traditional medical model of care to a person-centered model, designed to reflect the patient's individual needs, not a "cookie-cutter" style of treatment."

The new culture recognizes the importance of food in the lives of dementia patients socially, emotionally as well as nutritionally. Making mealtime as attractive and appetizing as possible has been succeeding at Wilton Meadows.

A video showed how pureed food can be transformed, with culinary techniques of piping, tubing and molds, changing lumpish mounds of mush into real-looking food.

Another video showed how music can be used to brighten moods, and awaken memories of happier times. Many residents who seem unresponsive and passive will react to music of their generation with surprise and pleasure.

For more details about the person-centered care at Wilton Meadows, call Ms. Ahmed or Danielle Ancona at Wilton Meadows Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, 439 Danbury Road, 203-834-0199, or visit online at wiltonmeadows.com.