Nature Deficit Disorder and Nursing Home Residents

April 22 is Earth Day. A perfect time to reflect on how nursing home residents may suffer nature deficit disorder. Our world has become increasingly high-tech, consequently our connection to nature has diminished. I’ve often heard this associated with our kids but I see it in senior care, too.

Author Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” in his popular book, Last Child in the Woods. Children experience anxiety, depression and poor attention span when they don’t spend time outdoors.

Training senior caregivers takes me to nursing homes all around the country. It’s striking how little exposure long-stay resident have to nature. The kind that gets us dirty and we get our feet and hands in soil, water, leaves. Sounds of wild birds and wind.

Nature pre-schools create playgrounds out of logs, sand, ponds, trees, rather than playground equipment made from metal and plastic. I visited one in Michigan and it warmed my heart to see kids outdoors playing like I remember doing. Running and getting all sweaty and making mud pies! I believe we are hard-wired as humans to be connected to nature. It feeds our souls, no matter if we are 10 or 100.

In elders, nature can promote  physical, mental, and social health of older adults. One study points out “that their roots, identity and good memories were closely linked to … a life lived in nature and the outdoor environment.”

Above all, anytime we have a chance to share nature with an elder, let’s do it.  We’ll all be better for it!

Share an experience of connecting an elder with nature.

Ann Catlin is a team member of AGE-u-cate Training Institute.

Are Robotic Pets the Next Big Thing in Dementia Care?

Pet therapy is well-known for comforting people with dementia. Snuggling a four-legged friend brings on a smile, soothes anxiety and encourages physical activity. People connect to memories of their own beloved pets. Can a robotic pet replace the real thing?

An NBC news article says robotic pets may be the next big thing in dementia care. I’m a baby-boomer who didn’t grow up with all the technology we have now. At first I bristled at the idea of robots taking the place of real animals. Or humans  for that matter.

But after exploring a little further, I realize it’s no-one’s intent to replace human care.  Known collectively as Socially Assistive Robots (SAR), it seems like there are actually some pretty exciting possibilities!

Robotic pets take on the look and feel of the real thing. while they move, respond to touch, and make sounds. Cats purr and turn over for a belly rub. Dogs bark, snuggle and wag their tails. Examples on the market include Ageless Innovation’s Companion Pets and PARO, a baby harp seal.

A Growing Field:
Research of therapeutic and assistance robots has emerged in the last decade. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are on the rise world-wide. With it comes greater need for creative approaches to ease  behavioral reactions so common in people living with dementia.  Consequently, robotic pets may well be a valuable tool for caregivers.

In conclusion, do you have experience with robotic pets? What do you think of the idea?

Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT serves as a consultant with AGE-u-cate  Training  Institute. For 25 years she has helped caregivers  rediscover compassionate touch in person centered dementia care.

Rural Healthcare: Helping Caregivers and Persons Living with Dementia

Access to quality rural healthcare, resources, education, and support is a growing challenge in the US and around the globe.  What does this mean for the growing numbers of persons living with dementia and their families who are caring for them?  How does this affect the quality of care being offered by nursing homes and other care providers?

There are no easy solutions as options are dwindling for many rural communities.  Closures of hospitals mean less health care professionals to diagnose Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.  Community education for families, often a service offered by hospitals and clinics, is then not available.  When the infrastructure of healthcare, private providers and community-based services is compromised, access to much-needed support dwindles quickly.

I recently had the honor to work with the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy who collaborates with the Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health, both in Ontario Canada.  The University will be training its pharmacy students using our Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch® programs and beyond that, they are will be working with Gateway to reach rural communities with desperately needed dementia education and training for families and professionals.

Reaching the indigenous people of the province will be part of this project.  In the 2016 census, the indigenous or Aboriginal peoples in Canada totaled 1,673,785 people or 4.9% of the national population.   Many of the indigenous peoples live in rural areas where access to services is limited.   Bringing dementia awareness and education to rural areas will help to spur collaboration amongst various organizations who need to work together to serve their aging populations and families.

Limited access to rural healthcare is a growing initiative in the US and other countries as the aging population swells.  Because family caregivers make up the vast majority of those caring for persons with dementia, providing quality training, support and access to resources is a top initiative for healthcare, long term care services providers and community-based organizations in urban areas who can collaborate with local services, faith communities and others who have a direct reach to many of the families who are struggling.

Finding local champions who see the value of collaboration, education and support services is ultimately the best measure of success, as the communities themselves embrace the challenges and solutions for their aging communities and the unique needs of persons living with dementia and their families.

Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate® Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.  


From Dementia Activities Round-up to Person-Centered Care Practices

Activities for Persons with dementiaI am humbled and honored to work with such amazing and talented people.  As a trainer, I believe we learn as much from those we are training as they learn from us.  We are all practicing when it comes to dementia care.  Every day is a new day and no matter where we fit into the spectrum, we all need each other to learn and grow.  Let’s talk about person-centered care practices.

Just today I had a conversation with one of our newest AGE-u-cate trainers, and she shared how wonderful it will be to have a new person-centered care tool to share with Activities Directors.  A tool that will provide meaning to a person living with dementia;  that will engage the other person and build a trusting relationship with the person who is caring for them.

Sadly, often activities for persons with dementia looks like the big round-up.  Bring the troops into the activities room in a big semi-circle, and have them either interact with each other with a game, listen to a singer, musician or another performer.   And 5 of the 25 people in the room will be engaged, while 20 are asleep, some slumped in their chairs.

We can and should do a better job of practicing person-centered care.  If only 20% of residents are engaged in an activity, then 80% are not receiving any benefits.  Let’s assess the time and energy it took to get residents to the activities room and ask if there might be a better use of care partner time.

One-on-one time can often be much more valuable for both care partners.  This might be looking through a photo album, playing music that is meaningful to that person and singing together or simply engaging in quiet time that leads to a break in the stress and noise and will benefit both care partners.

I don’t at all dismiss the importance of getting residents out of their rooms and attempting to engage with others and certainly enjoy appropriate entertainment.  What is important, however, is that this activity not be identified as a person-centered care practice.   Despite the challenges of staff time and mandated activities, if small bits of quality- time were interspersed throughout the day, I suspect it would provide much-needed respite for staff from the round-up routines and provide opportunities for them to engage with their care partners at a much deeper level.

Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate® Training Insitute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.  Pam, along with Ann Catlin, OT, LMT, created the Compassionate Touch® program to help improve the lives of persons living with dementia and end of life, transforming care for thousands of elder adults in assisted living, nursing homes, hospitals, and being care for in their homes.


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