It’s 10:30 in the morning. Your job is to facilitate the reading of the morning newspaper to a group of dementia care patients and you have a choice as to how to best carry it out.
Option #1. You gather a group of thirty or so people into a large circle while you summarize the newspaper headlines and articles aloud.
Option #2. You gather a group of five around a small table. Each holds a copy of the paper, turning the pages while one, or more, read the headlines, taking the group in a multitude of conversational directions.
As the leader, which would you choose?
Now put yourself in the place of a person living with dementia and imagine you have difficulty, integrating sounds, figuring out the environment, seeing and hearing who is talking and wondering if they are even talking to you.
Most of us don’t give much thought to items we use in our everyday lives. But the memories of these seemingly benign objects reconnect us with moments of meaning in our lives.
One woman found a moment of joy in… a sponge roller? Who thinks of a sponge roller anymore – or even knows what one is? But for this woman, it evoked sweet memories of her grandmother “putting up” her hair on a Saturday night to get ready for church the next day. With tears in her eyes she told about swapping stories and memories about laughing and eating yummy snacks as her grandmother wound her hair around rows of pink rollers that she would later sleep in. She relived those sweet times and reconnected to her grandmother- sparked by a sponge roller!
Everyday items have the power to ignite our senses and memories about people, places, experiences, and emotions of all kinds. Our days are filled with the “stuff of life”. A phrase usually meant philosophically is quite literal too.
I have an old, scratched up metal recipe box that lives among my cookbooks. It was THE recipe box in my mom’s kitchen. It’s filled with recipes cut from newspapers- lots of things made from Jello and marshmallows. But it’s the hand-written recipe card for peanut butter cookies that gets to me. You see I made dozens and dozens of those cookies. The card is stained with butter and there are little bits of fossilized cookie dough stuck to it. Hold it, and I’m right back with the memories of making a mess in the kitchen baking with my friend Shelly. I even still use the same old aluminum measuring spoons. Someone else might wonder why I don’t get rid of those old things. But there’s history in those spoons- and it’s MY history.
What “stuff” causes you to say, “Oh wow, I remember that!” How might caregivers use this same reaction to help people living with dementia reconnect with meaningful moments.
Sustainability in training programs that improve patient and resident outcomes is critically important. Upper and middle managment must embrace change initiatives in order to successfully compete in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
But what happens after these programs are implemented? Far too often we hear that wonderful “culture change” programs faded in time, often because the champions were no longer with the company, or had moved to other positions. Unfortuantely for the organization, this means an investment of time, money and resources had gone to waste. This may be a result of poor planning and program implementation or simply a matter of not enough staff to oversee the program to ensure its success. In addition, many such programs are limited by proper funding and acceptance by upper management to the extent that there is never a cohesiveness to keep the elements of the program working smoothly.
It IS possible to have program sustainability. With proper planning, collaborative efforts with training partners and the placement of champion leaders throught the employee spectrum, sustainable programmming is very possible. In fact, we know that it can work! Below are just some examples of how programs can be made sustainable.
- Champion leaders are made of upper, middle management and staff. All team members working together on change initiatives is vital.
- Management should encourage problem-solving skills among all staff as new programs are implemented. Without idea generators, how would new practices every get off the ground?
- Provide incentives for staff who practice culture change initiatives and embrace these in their everyday care routines. By including simple accountability systems using champion leaders, this will insure that new tools are being used effectively and efficiently.
- Make certain that everyone understands the big picure of why new practices are being implemented.
- And finally, sustainability is afterall, not just about how you run your business but how you treat your staff.
Let’s imagine that you have dementia. What would you miss? What would you forget about that you enjoy? We all forget the details of our lives and often take the little things we enjoy for granted. People living with dementia can rarely seek out enjoyable activities independently and often even forget what used to bring them pleasure. That is unless memory is triggered. Knowing that, how might you activate pleasure linked to past experiences?
One great resource is the small book titled, 14,000 Things to be Happy About by Barbara Ann Kipfer. She gives us hundreds of things that make us smile because they conjure up the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of what it’s like to experience them. Dairy farms, fresh flowers, the sound of tap dancing, a camping tent, finger painting, candy apples, the smell and color of fresh fruits, bubble gum, bridges, and puppies are a few examples. You can pick up her book at any bookstore or even thrift stores to prompt memories.
Or, along with elders, come up with your own “Happy Book”. Then think of ways to bring those experiences back again for people living in your community. For example, we put up a tent in the backyard at our community and had a campfire in a small charcoal grill. That changed the whole feel of the backyard; it became a campsite that one family had enjoyed on vacations. The stories shared around that fire were priceless and they would never have relived the time together without the simple trigger of a tent and campfire. From such stories you will find even more things that you can use another time to bring enjoyment to so many people.