Bell completed her Master of Social Work degree from UK in 1982 at the age of 60. Bell began her social work career as a family counselor at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, where she also helped create and lead support groups throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky and worked in the Memory Disorders Clinic.
“During this time, it became clear that Virginia Bell was an innovative thinker and risk taker,” said William Markesbery, director, UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. “She wanted to develop interventions that would help the person with Alzheimer’s disease enjoy a more dignified life. To this end, she created Helping Hand, one of the first dementia-specific adult day care centers in the country.”
Bell served as director of the Helping Hand program for the first 10 years. In the last 20 years, the program provided critical respite care and creative activities for over 1,000 persons with dementia. Widely acclaimed as a source of innovative programming, Helping Hand was one of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s model programs in the 1980s.
Bell’s “Best Friend Approach” to working with persons with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia has proven successful and has demonstrated that quality care does impact behavior.
“This approach transcends the challenges and losses of dementia and nurtures the spirit,” said Tonya Tincher Cox, vice president of education and programs, Alzheimer’s Association, Lexington. “Her approach is now recognized as a model of care for persons with dementia in all types of settings. The model has been the subject of four books, co-authored by Bell, which are recognized as the ‘books of choice for person-centered care.’”
Bell continues to travel the world sharing her pioneering approach to care. She is often requested to speak at conferences internationally, having presented at more than 100 conferences in recent years. Bell retired in 1993 at the age of 70 and has remained a full-time volunteer for the last 11 years.