Thursday, October 25, 2007

Nursing Home Culture Change: Residents with Dementia (Video 4:06 mins.)

With all my experience as a hospice volunteer in nursing homes, I still have to be consciously aware of how I respond to patients living with dementia. Today I saw an approaching friend pushing her husband in a wheelchair. I immediately called out to her with a greeting. Within three seconds, I realized that I had only greeted her and had not said her husband’s name. I then called out to him.

My friend’s husband has dementia, which refers to a group of conditions that gradually destroy brain cells and lead to mental decline. I’m pretty sure that I would not have forgotten to say his name if he did not have dementia. I would have greeted them together. This is an example of the kind of conscious paradigm shift many of us must make in our thinking if we are serious about improving our interactions with people who have dementia. Culture change in nursing homes must include their unique needs. It is so easy to forget that they are adults with mental challenges.

No one wants to feel ignored, and residents with dementia are often very sensitive. They need to be recognized as contributors to conversations and honored as decision makers. Activities should be available for them to practice organization and communication skills that help them feel more like the adults they are. Time must be taken to investigate and implement activities that will help them experience life as adults with limited abilities.

Culture change in a person-directed environment includes meeting everyone’s needs. In this video, Megan Hannan explains the person-directed needs of residents with dementia.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
"Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes”
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

You’re Invited to a Nursing Home Wedding and Reception (Video 4:18 mins.)

One day, 75-year-old Virginia Hailey and 87-year-old Frank Foskett decided it was time to tie the knot at the Life Care Center of Plymouth nursing home where they met. Love had a lot to do with their innocent bingo games evolving into a wedding so beautiful and exciting that Frank almost cried. And the best part, after sealing their vows with a kiss, is that they’ll spend the rest of their lives sharing a room at the nursing home where it all began.

The Beauty of Love

The question is asked, "Is there anything more beautiful in life than a young couple clasping hands, and pure hearts in the path of marriage? Can there be anything more beautiful than young love?"

And the answer is given. "Yes, there is a more beautiful thing. It is the spectacle of an old man and an old woman finishing their journey together on that path. Their hands are gnarled, but still clasped; their faces are seamed, but still radiant; their hearts are physically bowed and tired, but still strong with love and devotion for each other. Yes, there is a more beautiful thing than young love. Old love." Unknown

Welcome to a celebration of old love.

Frances Shani Parker
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Hospice Volunteer Story: Meeting My New Patient

Pointing her out to me, the nurse aide said, "That's Henrietta sitting by herself at the table." I followed her finger to a caramel-colored woman who sat humming. She had just finished eating and still hadn't wiped her mouth. A light coating of chicken grease looked like high-priced lip gloss when I walked closer to her.

Henrietta was going to be my new hospice patient, my first at this particular nursing home. Later, she would become my first patient whose health improved so much she was discharged from hospice care. For now, she knew nothing about me, including the fact that I was coming that day to serve as her hospice volunteer. I only knew she was seventy-nine and declining mentally with dementia. I pulled up a chair next to her and said, "Hi, Henrietta. I'm Frances Shani Parker.”

Looking me straight in the eyes, like she'd known me all her life, she responded, "Girl, I know who you are, long as we've been friends. I've been waiting for you all day. I kept wondering when you were coming. I hoped you hadn't forgotten me, and here you are. What took you so long to get here?"

"Well, actually I got lost," I stammered, processing these new details concerning my whereabouts.

"Shucks, I get lost all the time. When you get lost, go to the lady at that desk over there. She'll tell you where you are. She'll tell you where you want to go. She knows everything. I'm surprised you didn't go to her before. We all do. How about some dinner? The chicken is something else, nice and tasty, just the way I like it. And I ought to know because I just had a wing that almost made me fly," she laughed.

"No, thanks. I'm not too hungry now. I'll eat when I go home. Some leftovers are waiting for me. I just came to visit you. I want to know if it will be okay with you if I come see you every week."

"Okay with me? Of course, it's okay. Look at all the years you've been coming to see me. If you stopped coming, I'd be wondering where you were just like I did today. So much is on the news, I'd be worried something happened to you. Keep on coming. I don't ever want you to stop."

"I'm looking forward to seeing you, Henrietta. We can talk together, and I can take you on wheelchair rides when I come. We'll get to know each other better. That is, better than we already know each other," I added, remembering our extensive "history."

"Sounds good to me. It's been working for us a long time. I think what you need to do now is eat something. You must be hungry after being lost all that time. Call the waitress over here and order some food. Don't worry about the money. Just put it on my tab. They know me at this restaurant. I eat here a lot."

So, this was Henrietta, an interesting oasis of serendipity. What would the future hold for us as patient and volunteer? I smiled to myself, buckled my mental seat belt, and prepared for another intriguing ride.

© Frances Shani Parker (excerpt from my book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.