Thursday, June 26, 2008

Nursing Home Technology: Aibo, the Robotic Dog, Eases Loneliness (Video 1:53 mins.)

I first read about Aibo, Sony’s robotic dog, in 2006 when it was being tested in nursing homes. I was so impressed with the pleasing possibilities this little charmer could bring to patients, especially lonely ones, that I included robotic dogs in my book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes. In the chapter titled Baby Boomer Haven, in which an imaginary tour of a nursing home based on current best practices is described, I say this:

“Watch out for Diva Dog over there, one of several resident pets. She’s just looking you over to make sure you look her over. In her spare time, she’s a certified psychologist. For residents who prefer the convenience of a responsive robotic pet, we have two mechanical dogs that operate with artificial intelligence. They provide playful companionship without the need for feeding, walking, and cleaning up after them. The best part about the mechanical dogs is that the more residents interact with them, the more responsive the dogs become to the residents. All the animals here are like our extended family. For some of us, they are our only family.”

After that testing period, Aibo disappeared, but a few months ago, I was glad to hear strong rumors about an Aibo resurrection. The new Aibo will have downloadable personalities. It will be fully Wi-Fi controllable and able to climb stairs. Referred to as Aibo PS (PlayStation), this mechanical dog awakens itself, senses sounds and motion, and pings e-mail. Wagging its tail, Aibo also bleeps with pleasure when petted, responds to several commands, and enjoys the company of others like a living dog would.

During seven weeks of tests at three nursing homes, researchers compared how residents interacted with Sparky, a living mid-sized dog, and Aibo. According to Dr. William Banks, professor of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University, “The most surprising thing is they (robotic dogs) worked almost equally well in alleviating loneliness and causing residents to form attachments.” To that I say, “Good dog, Aibo!” You can read more about this nursing home experiment with Aibo at  “Medical News Today” website.

Meet the amazing Aibo:

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback at many booksellers and in e-book form at Amazon and Barnes and Noble booksellers.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Children Talk About Grandparents and Dementia, Alzheimer's Disease (Video 6:30 mins.)

Dementia refers to a group of conditions that gradually destroy brain cells and lead to mental decline. Many conditions can cause dementia, but Alzheimer’s (Ahlz-high-merz) disease is the leading cause. Most people who have the disease are over sixty-five, with eighty being the average age of diagnosis.

So often, we hear about responses of adults regarding parents with dementia. But what is dementia like through the eyes of grandchildren? Imagine their emotions when a loved one forgets their names and can’t remember the relationship they have. What about the hurt feelings children experience when an agitated grandparent with dementia strikes out at them verbally or physically and they’ve done nothing to cause this?

Dementia must be explained to children in age-appropriate ways that can support them in their adjustments to the dementia of a grandparent. Listening to children’s concerns and encouraging them to express them are important. Family discussions can be helpful for everyone.

Parents should be aware of changes in children’s behavior at home and school. Children need reassurances that they are not the cause of a grandparent’s mood swings, that they are still loved by the grandparent who has an illness that sometimes interferes with the expression of that love. They should be reminded of the many good times in the past that they shared with a grandparent.

In this video, children talk about their experiences of having grandparents with dementia.

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

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Nursing Home Sex Offenders: Predators Living with Prey (Video 6:05 mins.)

Virginia Thurston, almost eighty years old and suffering from dementia, was sexually assaulted by another resident in her Jacksonville, Florida nursing home. The rapist, who had been sent to the home after being found homeless, had a twenty-page criminal record that included sexual assault and child molestation. A judge had declared him vulnerable and in need of protective care.

Unfortunately, most nursing homes are only required to do criminal background checks on employees. Residents with criminal records can be assigned to nursing homes with no one knowing their dangerous histories. Wes Bledsoe, an elder rights advocate, says he has tracked over 1600 sex offenders living in nursing homes. Most homes do not impose different supervision or separation requirements on residents who are known sex offenders.

The man who raped Virginia Thurston was found incompetent to stand trial and placed in a state home. What about all the other predators who remain? While some say that knowledge of residents’ criminal history does not determine their current conditions, others say sexual offenders should be in separate nursing home facilities. Oklahoma is the first state that takes registered sex offenders requiring long-term care out of standard nursing homes. In the meantime, caregivers must be vigilant in checking their patients for signs of emotional or physical abuse and personality changes. They should also be proactive in dealing with nursing home safety measures, including behavioral and physical patient assessments.

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

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Eden Alternative for Nursing Homes (Video 6:52 mins.)

The following includes an excerpt from my book, "Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes.” The chapter titled “Baby Boomer Haven” takes readers on a tour through an imaginary nursing home based on best practices of some, but not nearly enough, nursing homes that exist today. Animals and children are important additions to culture change of many nursing homes that are moving away from the stereotypical, traditional model.

“Watch out for Diva Dog over there, one of several resident pets. She’s just looking you over to make sure you look her over. In her spare time, she’s a certified psychologist. Other indoor animals on the site are located in our aviaries of brightly colored birds and in our aquariums with fish that mesmerize us with their antics. We have more animals outdoors such as horses and rabbits. It’s fascinating watching how all of our animals relate. They’re a lot like people, you know, and have much more sense than we think they do.

Employees seem to love working here as much as we love living here. Most have years of seniority, and hardly anybody is ever absent. Low staff turnover saves considerable money in overtime and in hiring temporary help. Two things all employees like are our flexible scheduling and childcare on the premises. This allows them to personalize their time and accomplish more at home and at work with fewer worries. If you look to your left through the window of the childcare center, you can see two employees having lunch with their children. The older gentleman is a resident reading to a small group. I love spending time with the little ones. I jokingly call them my little “ankle biters” when they aren’t around. Some of them call me, “Grandma,” and a few like to say “Big Mama,” which really tickles me because that’s what I called my grandmother.”

© Frances Shani Parker

There are several models of culture change for nursing homes. This video examines an approach known as the Eden Alternative.

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

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hospice Book Review by Dr. Peter A. Lichtenberg: Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes

Hospice Book Review: Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes
Author: Frances Shani Parker
Book Reviewer: Dr. Peter A. Lichtenberg, Director, Institute of Gerontology, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan

Frances Shani Parker makes death and the dying a vivid part of life in her book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes. Ms. Parker describes the beginning of her journey into the world of hospice in the early chapters, engaging us in stories about men she knew who had HIV/AIDS and were dying. Her writing is excellent, and we see these men as whole individuals and not just as people dying. Ms. Parker brings her extraordinary gift of being able to see the many aspects of a person even when often these are covered up by pain, disease, or dementia.

Part One of the book contains many stories of people and her experiences with them in nursing home settings. Ms. Parker astutely observes the challenges of nursing home staff as well and eloquently writes some of their stories. Ultimately, we are treated in this first section to Ms. Parker’s love and compassion for those she serves and her humility in serving them. Her writing is tinged with profound respect for the individuals she worked with and helped. Each chapter closes with her lessons learned and her own poetry, much of which is compelling.

In Part Two, Ms. Parker broadens her book and gives advice and resources for the problems of caregiving, funerals, bereavement, hospice, and her dream for the future: Baby Boomer Haven. This part of the book is full of useful guides and facts, which will benefit all people caring for a loved one.

Ms. Parker was a school principal by profession. That title conjures up images of authority and power. It is thus striking that this book brings the stories of urban elders to the fore. Poverty, which so often makes people invisible, is not ignored here, but the stories of the human struggle, fear, kindnesses, and hopes predominate. This may be Ms. Parker’s greatest gift to her readers: bringing to life people and events that are indeed so often invisible. This book is truly a gift. The writing is eloquent and powerful, and the stories are instructive and lasting. After finishing this book, I wanted to do more for other individuals who are dying, for as Ms. Parker so clearly imparts, the dying teach us so much about living well.

Praise for Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes from Roger Woodruff, Director of Palliative Care, International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care, Austin Health, Melbourne, Australia

"A school principal and hospice volunteer, Frances Shani Parker relates her experiences with dying people in nursing homes. The second part of the book is about what we as individuals and as a society must do to improve things for those who are dying. I particularly enjoyed the guided tour, conducted from a wheelchair, of Baby Boomer Haven."


"I have been working in the hospice industry full time for several years and I have not seen a better depiction of this topic. Ms. Parker's book gives the most descriptive and genuine look into the true nature of hospice. Most people don't truly know the many benefits of hospice. Ms. Parker's book is informative, straightforward, factual, and timely. I think her book should be used for training in hospice courses and within hospice organizations across the country."

Stephanie Bowden, Palliative Care Liaison

"Frances Shani Parker used to be a school principal. Then she became a hospice volunteer and has written about her experiences in nursing homes. I received a copy of her book and it is excellent. I recommend it to anyone who works in a hospice setting, and for all CNA’s as well. I will venture to ask that DON’s and Administrators have a look too. Sometimes people in higher places at nursing homes forget some of Frances’ important lessons."

Patti Green, Co-Writer of CNA Blog Titled Nursing Assistant Resources on the Web



Alice Hedt - Director, National Citizens Coalition for Nursing Home Reform
Karyne Jones - President, National Caucus and Center on Black Aged
Dr. Naomi Long Madgett – Editor, Publisher, Poet Laureate of Detroit, Michigan
Dr. James C. Kielsmeir - President, National Youth Leadership Council (Chapter on Intergenerational Partnerships)
Nelda Brown - Executive Director, National Service-Learning Partnership at the Academy for Educational Development (Chapter on Intergenerational Partnerships)


You can view excerpts from Becoming Dead Right here, including a video poem with over 23,700 views.

You can read another review of the book here by Dr. Naomi Long Madgett - Editor, Publisher and Poet Laureate of Detroit, Michigan


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.