Caring compassionately for the elderly with dementia or mental illness.

Elizabeth Simpson’s article in today’s Virginian Pilot pointed out the great need that exists in healthcare for the thousands of people who suffer from dementia or mental illness, combined with other diseases or conditions, and further complicated by advanced age.  I have been up to the 3West wing at Chesapeake General Hospital (mentioned in the article) and have seen the dismay and confusion on the faces of the patients who are there because they don’t have anywhere else to go.

And we have seen frustration and loneliness in nursing homes.  Workloads are great and staff can not do it all.  I would love to see more community involvement with these seniors.  As Dr. Yetter said in this piece, “Why are we not taking care of our own?”

There are simple and very effective tools to use when working with people with dementia, and with five million people living with this debilitating and deadly disease in the US today, I think we owe it to ourselves to make training more widespread. We also need to be willing to learn the tactics.

One of the most common and effective tactics is redirection.  In at least one instance mentioned in the article, redirecting or refocusing the patients could have resulted in cooperation instead of argument.  Here’s how it works, simply:

If someone says, ‘I want to go home,’ an appropriate redirecting response is, ‘Tell me about your home.”  Keep acknowledging and asking questions to move the person from thoughts of leaving and to other ideas, like dinner or an activity.

Similarly, if someone says, ‘I miss my wife,’ the appropriate response is, ‘would you like to tell me about her?’   It’s fine to acknowledge the missing that person feels, but it’s also good  to acknowledge the love that they shared or that they feel when they think of this person.

Googling ‘redirecting Alheimer’s patients’ results in lots of good material.  I recommend our (TAO) artists and volunteers take a look, to increase their understanding of those we serve.  Half the nursing home residents today suffer from Alzheimer’s and/or related dementia.  These people still have joy, purpose, personality and so much more.  They deserve our involvement.  Thankfully, the arts present an impactful, effective and very beneficial way to connect with these individuals.


About maryann4tao

Executive Director at Tidewater Arts Outreach. Former Volunteer Hampton Roads Training Manager and United Way/Salt Lake City Major Gifts Officer.
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