In recent years the treatment of dementia in nursing homes has gone from a medication-intensive regimen ruled almost completely by intense psychiatric medications such as Thorazine to a flurry of low-cost ideas that staff members can implement in a harried environment to lessen the pain residents feel as they slowly lose touch with reality. To help nursing home employees keep up, the John A. Hartford Foundation and the University of Rochester School of Nursing are working with area nursing homes to explore new ways to ease dementia among residents.
"There's a lot that can be done to improve the quality of life for people in nursing homes who have dementia. There are a lot of simple measures, a lot of low-tech, inexpensive tools that nursing assistants in nursing homes can do to improve the lives of residents," says Nancy Watson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Clinical Research on Aging at the nursing school.
A good example is a simple water bottle. Linda Buettner, Ph.D., author of Simple Pleasures and the featured speaker at last week's gathering, has found that giving an agitated resident a warm fleece-covered water bottle often reduces screaming and keeps the person calm for an average of 40 minutes. She's also found that fleece muffs on the hands also help sooth a person.
At one Rochester nursing home, staff members encourage residents to create memory boxes of items that focus on past events, weddings, jewelry, or gardening, as a way to stave off the effects of dementia, remember happy times in their lives, and even provoke conversations among residents.