New Program Highlights Personal Background of Nursing Home Residents

A new program – The Person Within – recently launched on the Elant at Fishkill Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center campus to help those who offer care to Alzheimers & dementia to have a stronger understanding of th resident beneath the disease.

Nov 15, 2010 – Fishkill, N.Y. – Fannie Pasquale had guts, a sense of romance, and a strong commitment to family. She was a skilled seamstress, a believer in tradition, and a matriarch to a growing family that now spans five living generations.

But the Fannie that her family knows has changed. Alzheimer’s has taken its hold on the 95-year-old, who can only display brief glimpses of herself to the staff at Elant at Fishkill Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center. That’s where Fannie has called home since 2006.

But because of a new program – The Person Within – recently launched on the campus, those who offer Fannie care each day have a stronger understanding of who she was before, who she still is beneath the disease.

“Our goal is to offer our staff and volunteers a true sense of the person receiving care, an insight into who they are,” said Pat Long, Elant at Fishkill director of Nursing, who conceptualized the program. “Those details can be invaluable when trying to make that personal connection.”

It’s a simple concept, really. The family of a resident is asked to help create a written biography of the resident’s life. The text is coupled with a large photograph display illustrating the resident during different times in his or her life. In Fannie’s case, hers includes an array of photos, most of which show a younger Fannie laughing or smiling while enjoying her large family.

“My grandmother, Fannie, taught me the concept of family,” said Donna Browne-Atkins, an RN and System MDS director for the Elant system. “I grew up with every Sunday being ‘family day’ at her house, and we were all surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins.”

Then a reception is held with the resident and members of the resident’s inner circle. Friends, family, and the staff who care for the resident are all included. The biography is read, and other memories are shared. Then the staff typically sings a song that has particular meaning to the resident.

“During one of our receptions, the resident – who suffered from Dementia – tapped her toe along with the music,” said Long. “Another had tears in his eyes.”

Fannie’s family featured an amusing ditty, “Peppino The Italian Mouse,” that Fannie used to teach the kids when they were young.

“I can still hear her sing that on Sunday mornings,” said one of her children as she wiped tears from her cheeks.

After the reception, the display is posted in a large shadow box just outside the elevators for everyone to see – and to learn – over the next two weeks. When the board is removed, a smaller version is created and featured in a permanent shadow box that is then posted outside the resident’s room.

“It’s a reminder to all that the person in that room has a rich history that is worth sharing; those personal details can be very helpful when trying to calm a resident during a difficult moment,” Long said.

Still, the program isn’t just for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Instead, others have been included, like the resident who was painfully shy and spent the vast majority of his time in his room. After the reception, everyone got a glimpse into his background and interests and had a stronger ability to initiate discussions and create a greater sense of family for him.

“Now the staff has an open door to communicate with him, and he was so grateful,” said Long. “It made him feel as though we all had a personal interest in him.”

“Several attendees of the program have said that the person they see upon completion of the receptions is vastly different than the one they saw before the program began, and that is just what we are trying to accomplish,” Long added.

“This program has brought back the feeling of ‘family’ that I remember so well,” said Browne-Atkins. “The staff now knows what was important to my grandmother and can reminisce with her about those special times.”

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Elant, Inc., a community-based, not-for-profit organization, has been a part of the Hudson Valley healthcare landscape for the past 25 years. Its seven campuses, located across five counties, serve an estimated 3,500 people daily and provide sub-acute care and rehabilitation services, nursing home care, assisted living, adult day care, retirement community living, home health care, and a managed long-term care plan. Elant’s mission is to provide personalized, high-quality care and lifestyle options to persons of diverse generations, cultures, means, and needs.

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