By: Wendy Wu, R.D., M.S.
Mrs. Sanchez is a vibrant, eccentric, rambunctious schizophrenic patient who can be spotted a mile away with her rosy cheeks, red lips and blue eye shadow. Her favorite outfit is this flower pattern dress (with one strap that somehow always end up falling off her shoulder) paired with white sandals. She never leaves her room without her beautiful rings, bracelets, watch and layered necklaces. Her hobby includes strolling around the nursing home checking out the young men at work by the lobby, chit chatting with her sisters on the payphone, attending recreational activities like the baking club, music, or piano playing and going to Catholic church services. Most of the time, Mrs. Sanchez will walk around the nursing home, but once in a while she will try to walk out the front door to “go shopping”. The nursing home will be in big trouble if any of the patients goes missing. So in order to prevent patient elopement, wander guards are placed around the ankle (or wrist) of patients who have attempted to leave the building or are at high risk. When a patient with a wander guard passes the front door, bells go off alarming the security guards.
When the nurses told Mrs. Sanchez she had to wear a ugly white box around her ankle, she was furious! Many attempts were taken by her to remove the annoying white machine. One day, a nursing staff came up to me (as she knows I am quite crafty) and asked if I would be willing to decorate the wander guard. I thought, what a wonderful idea! And I jumped at the chance to help. I took some leftover rhinestones and hot-glued them on…now it might look tacky to some, but Mrs. Sanchez LOVED it, and that’s all that matters. We face many challenges when working with the elderly each and everyday. It’s an easy way out for us to document “patient non-compliant” but we need to take some time out of our busy day to think outside of the box. It would be wonderful if we can all do more of the little things that matter most.
If you’re a nursing home staff, family member or would like to volunteer at a nursing home, here are some suggestions for putting a smile on a patients face (most of the time):
2) Give them crossword puzzles or word search hand-outs. Make sure to get one with LARGE PRINT.
3) Tell them what’s going on in the world. Read the newspaper to them (it may be best to skip bad news which may cause them to worry).
4) Dig out their inner talents. Get Crafty. Knit a scarf. Make a tissue paper vase. Draw. Be creative.
5) Play Cards with them. Teach them UNO! Be flexible with the rules.
6) Perform-Sing. Dance. Do Magic. Read a Poem.
7) Clean their glasses. They get dirty often. With soap if it’s greasy.
8) A simple Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening or even a wave of acknowledgment.
9) Photos are one of the most prized possessions for the elderly. With fading memory, they rely on photos to fill in the gaps. Ask family to bring in photos and surround the room with family love. Decorate the walls but also have a album handy for the moments when family are not around.
10) Give them a heads up on everything you are about to do will decrease anxiety dramatically. Ask for permission. Give them choices. Get them involved in their own care. Encourage independence.
Mrs. Jones, What would you like to wear today?
It’s time for breakfast, may I wheel you into the dinning room?
May I help you open that drink?
Would you like coffee or tea? Milk and sugar?
What would you like to eat for lunch today?
Can I cut that up for you?
11) Music to sooth the soul. Ask the patients to list their favorite songs, musicians, etc and search for them on pandora (you may need to ask for permission to use cellphones) or see if the recreation department can provide some CD’s.
This one brought a BIG BIG Smile to a very special patient.
12) Get them involved. Give them a little push. Go over the calendar of recreational activities, highlight some of the events the patient may enjoy and let the staff know to encourage patient involvement. You’d be surprised at how the patients spirit can be lifted. Pet Therapy is my favorite!
13) Check to see that their belongings are labeled. Clothes. Socks. Eyeglasses. Bag. EVERYTHING! If it’s not labeled, it will be lost.
14) Help them make a phone call. Most of the elderly have poor vision or failing memory, so dialing a 10 digit number may be difficult. For the Nursing Home Administrator: It would be a good idea to purchase large print telephones with extra loud volume setting. Speed dialing would be great too!
15) If permitted by the nursing facility, it would be wonderful to set up a day where the patient can go home to visit, out to their favorite restaurant, get a manicure, go to their favorite park, watch a movie, go to a ballgame, or even just to get some sun. Just ask the nursing staff if its possible.