Love is in the Air: Keeping Elderly Parents Happy and Engaged
During this time of year, many seniors find themselves feeling a loss of love and may even feel a bit lonely. Some may have lost a spouse or partner while others may be losing close friends and neighbors. Most seniors have been in one area for most of their life and haven’t experienced moving from the home they bought for their family with all of its treasured memories into a new home. For those that have, they would call it a very stressful event as they enter into a new point in their life with new friends and new things to learn. Most people move with the anticipation that they will be moving, however, when it comes to moving into a nursing home or memory care facility, the transition may be quick and very scary because something traumatic may have happened not allowing them the return home. Poet’s Walk, a Spring Hills Memory Care Community, opening its first location in April of 2016, works with this demographic all the time, specializing in Alzheimer’s and Dementia care.
If you are in the phase of your life when it is time to find assisted living housing or an Alzheimer’s Facility for your parent or parents, we at Poet’s Walk understand what you’re going through. Moreover, we know what your parent is going through.
One thing that many don’t consider in this tumultuous time for their elderly parents is the feeling of depression. Sure, it’s easy to think that the new change of living arrangement is going to be hard on them, but it may not be understood just how much they are going through. Imagine not knowing if you will be able to do the special things you love in life or if you will be able to make new friends.
We put this article together to raise awareness on the issue of elderly depression. In 2012 it was discovered that seven million Americans over the age of 65 suffered from depression, and this number may only rise if we don’t work together to truly understand the factors that may cause, as well as how to work towards curing elderly depression. To create this article, we interviewed key employees within the Spring Hills Senior Communities organization. They all had incredible insight into what really occurs for their residents as they go through this emotional time.
When you think of most large companies and look at the executives, you normally think of them as managing from a top down approach. While talking with Lesa, Amber, and Robin (all of whom did not know who else was being interviewed) they all gave the same answers with their approach to their residents. Being an administrator at Poet’s Walk does not mean paperwork and being isolated from residents; it means getting to know each and every resident they are responsible for and working alongside their staff rather than managing their staff from afar. It’s important to understand that the job is tough as each resident has different needs. Good Administrators have an easy time seeing what is going on, like signs of depression, because they are directly involved and can provide that second pair of eyes to make suggestions and recommendations for the residents.
Poet’s Walk will be upholding this high standard as it expands from Spring Hills Seniors Communities to reach more seniors in 2016 diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
7 Causes that May Contribute to Elderly Depression
The first step when talking about elderly depression is to diagnose the symptoms before they occur. The main focus of Poet’s Walk is to make sure that their residents don’t encounter depression, but if they do, all staff is able to identify signs early and address them. There are a lot of things that can cause elderly depression and understanding the causes can help alleviate elderly depression.
1. Unfamiliar Surroundings
When residents first enter into a facility, it’s not a familiar environment to them, so depression can set in. Poet’s Walk, a Spring Hills Memory Care Community, has a warm, home like atmosphere so when a resident moves in, it feels like home as soon as they walk in. Residents don’t live where Poet’s Walk associates work, they work in the resident’s home and the staff respects their dignity at all times. They will be encouraged to pick things up, relax where they want, and engage in every detail, just like they do in their own home.
2. Not Making Friends Quickly
It’s important for seniors to socialize, have companionship and make friends when they’re older. When they first move in to an assisted living or Alzheimer’s care facility and don’t connect or make friends quickly, they feel more isolated and lonely. At Poet’s Walk, we make a point to assign our social worker to be proactive in that move in process. This is the time they need to be introduced to people and know where things are and the resident’s associate makes that happen right away.
We call this our 30 day adjustment period and believe this is unique to Poet’s Walk and Spring Hills. The 30 day adjustment period is meant to make sure within 30 day’s time, our residents are introduced to other residents based on their interests and we make sure that they know where everything is in the facility.
3. Being forgetful
It can disrupt a senior’s life when basic memory recall is a struggle. These residents feel shame with their peers and they are less likely to participate in the community. This leads to Isolation as residents feel like they are separated from the rest of the world and aren’t able to leave their room without feeling lost.
4. Embarrassment of having the diagnoses.
Many seniors are so embarrassed that they have been diagnosed with dementia that they can potentially shut down and shut others out. Poet’s Walk makes sure that these residents don’t feel embarrassed for having Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. We work to keep them engaged every day to avoid depression altogether.
5. Relying on Other People for Basic Tasks
Over time residents are unable to do things for themselves which can bring more shame and disappointment. It’s our job to encourage as much independence as possible to give our residents a sense of achievement.
6. When Families and Grandchildren don’t visit
When families don’t visit too often, residents may feel unloved. This leads to loneliness and more isolation. Dementia can contribute to depression automatically. Many times families do come to visit, but the resident can’t remember the visit. Through our Signature Trends family engagement program, we can show images and videos of the important people who do visit to help reminisce about the ones they love. Diverting their attention to something more positive is important to help chase away the blues.
Holidays can really have a negative effect on people with dementia. For example, if it’s Christmas, they will be looking for their loved ones. If they don’t see familiar faces or the tree isn’t how they would decorate it, this can cause them to get depressed too. Keeping them involved in the process, and talking to them about the things they do remember enhances their experience.
What Can Help Keep Elderly Residents/Parents Going Through Depression Happy?
Many Elderly residents have mixed emotions when they enter into a new environment. It’s not an easy move, but Poet’s Walk, A Spring Hills Memory Care Community does their best to not only identify depression, but help reverse it with meaningful activities.
Finding a Purpose and Meaningful Activities
The best possible way to keep seniors happy is to give them a sense of purpose. Participating in activities that give back are really important. The key is to treat each resident as an individual and make sure their needs are not only being meet, but to a level that exceeds their expectations. Providing them with programs during the day to give them that meaning and joy helps keep depression out, allowing them to remember their good times.
We like to help our residents Stay Active and Engaged as if their life before entering the facility hasn’t changed. We call these Life work attractions. For example, we once created a nursery for residents and called it Cuddle Therapy. We allowed residents to nurture baby dolls which gave them a sense of calm and purpose and brought back memories when they were young mothers. They could bath the dolls, change them, and brush hair, and allows them to feel safe and secure.
We also created a fishing attraction for men. They had access to safe fishing poles, sounds of fish in the background and include their own tackle box with real fishing lures. To ensure the surroundings were safe to all, their were no hooks and or other materials that could be harmful if swallowed. The goal was to create a safe environment where they could still enjoy that part of their life when they were younger.
Other scenarios include small classrooms, equipped with abacus, blackboard, and books the residents actually used, as well as a country store, where residents could shop with a register & money, a vanity area where residents could dress up, and more! All of these allow our residents to feel safe, secure, and calm.
We feel residents are less likely to become depressed if they stay connected with loved ones and families after they enter Poet’s Walk. It means the world to our residents when their families visit and bring in their children and grandchildren. It helps the resident stay included.
Scenarios in Which Care Takers Helped Elderly Residents Overcome Depression
For the purpose of this section, we did not disclose any names of residents or care takers.
I had a resident who used to play the piano. When she moved in, she was high functioning and could play piano very well. At the time, she played a few songs regularly. As her disease progressed, she stopped playing and when anyone asked her to play (when her husband would come) she would get frustrated because she couldn’t recall the songs anymore.
We decided to bring a pianist in to play with her. As she got further along, hearing someone play the piano brought her joy even though she couldn’t play anymore. Music therapy made a huge difference in her behavior and coping with her disease.
One resident we worked with in the Spring Hills organization loved to sing and enjoyed singing her favorite song. She loved it so much, she would sing the same line over and over, very loudly. All of the care takers knew and recognized her in the facility because of it.
2 years later, sadly, she entered hospice and became non-responsive. Our team got together to say goodbye, and they brought in the song she would always sing and played it for her. Sometimes they say miracles happen and you can’t explain them unless you encounter them. At the moment we played the song, she opened her eyes and started singing!
We make it a point to explain to families, even though your loved one is in a non-responsive state, hearing is the last thing that goes, so they could potentially still hear. We always encourage the families to keep talking so that their loved one knows they are there for them. We also ask families to leave the room when talking or arguing because we want our residents to be at peace in their final moments.
We had one resident who used to be a clown, Suzie the clown. Every year we would host a family fun fest before June when it wouldn’t be too hot for sac races, tug of war, and various other games. It was an event for residents to invite their children and grandchildren. Suzie would wear her full clown costume because she got a lot of joy from being a clown.
The last event she participated in, Suzie couldn’t do balloons anymore as she had progressed in her disease. Knowing this, we invited another clown to the event. During the family fun fest event, the clown ran up and said, “is that you Suzie!?” The clown knew her and she was the one who taught her in clown school. The second clown said Suzie was the reason why she became a clown. Suzie was so excited that she was the inspiration for another, fellow clown. Its small moments like this that become big moments and enhances the lives of the seniors we care for. These are what we call Signature Touches.
Back when I was new to working with residents with dementia I had a resident that was so mad and depressed because his family never came to see him. At the time, I knew he enjoyed music so I put classical music on and asked him to show me how to dance. He jumped up and for 40 minutes all we did was dance. He taught me how to Waltz right there! He was laughing and smiling and so happy that he could share his joy with someone else.
He then asked about his wife, and I told him she was here yesterday, but he couldn’t remember. He said he missed her so much and wasn’t sure if she was ever coming. In fact, his wife did come and she came every day, but he couldn’t remember because of his condition. After dancing, when I assured him his wife was coming, he was happier and the music really helped.
Another part of our Signature Touches is discovery. One resident, well before coming to the community, was in the army special ops. He saved people and prisoners of war.
When he moved to our Spring Cottage Memory Care Environment, and saw it was the “cure area”, he thought, in his mind, he needed to help more people. All day long he would find out how he could bring these people out of this area and would look at the keypad. He recognized the most used keys to figure out the password to leave like any good soldier. We needed to come up with a way to keep him occupied so he wouldn’t focus on helping the people he wanted to save “escape” with him.
To divert his attention, we got him an old typewriter, papers, and a desk and told him he had work to do. It worked, he would sit there and do his work. This kept him occupied and he felt like he was contributing to the cause. Engagement in something he could relate to really worked and gave him purpose. This technique allowed us to better keep him and the rest of our residents safe.
What Assisted Living Facilities Can Do To Help Residents Avoid Depression
1. Understanding resident’s life before entering Assisted Living
When our professionals understand the resident’s life and what it was and where they are now, they are more likely to engage them in activities that have meaning. When staff is aware of what residents did in the past, they can connect them to things that encourage engagement.
2. Knowing Likes and Dislikes
Deciphering things in our residents’ “past life” that we can bring to our residents is key. For example, we had a patient who used to garden, but it was hard to do it anymore because she couldn’t bend or get on the ground anymore. We made a table top gardening station and brought the garden to her. This allowed her to still engage in the things that brought her joy. Knowing your residents goes a long way.
3. Have an Overall Understanding of Each Resident’s Health Care Needs
Being in a community like Poet’s Walk allows for 24 hours of care and supervision with a lot of eyes seeing if changes are going on. We also include an advanced technology system that can track trends for our residents to see if residents are having a hard time getting out of bed, sleeping, or something seems out of the normal routine. With the simple use of this technology for our seniors in their room, it is easier to identify when something out of the norm is occurring. Our team then opens up a dialog of conversations with the resident, loved ones and other professionals that are part of their care.
4. Understanding Resident Capabilities
When we understand our resident’s abilities and allow them to do the things they can and not do it for them, this allows them to feel motivated and independent in the activities they need to do for their daily life.
5. Engaging in Conversation and Listening
Taking a few minutes to listen to residents can be the difference between a good situation and a bad one. Everyone wants to be listened to. Being present with your residents and allowing them to reminisce about their lives can do wonders for their psyche.
Everyone needs to keep in mind, whether you are working at a memory care facility, or if you are working directly with your loved ones, that a lot is taken away when your parents enter a facility. Poet’s Walk works to hard to keep them from losing the things that mean the most to them.
Depression seems to coincide with dementia. If a person was independent, then they get diagnosed, it changes that person’s life and they may not want to participate in activities anymore because they are embarrassed. A lot of times with dementia, the person can’t follow basic conversations anymore, which leaves them feeling left out, so they isolate themselves from others.
If your loved one is feeling embarrassed because they are going through these symptoms, it’s important to stress that even though it’s nice to stay independent, being somewhere like Poet’s Walk, is important to help with socialization and understanding of these symptoms. We have a great and supportive staff who are ready to help out.
The main takeaway for seniors with depression is finding the meaning and purpose for them, even when they’re at their end stages. Residents need dignity and respect of course, but sometimes all they may need is for you to hold their hand. Let them know you are there, even though they may not remember or know who you are. Everyone needs to feel loved; it’s a language everyone knows.