Nurturing the Nurturer: The Use of Doll Therapy for Older Adults

Nurturing the Nurturer: The Use of Doll Therapy for Older Adults

As Aging Life Care Professionals®, when we are asked to assist with securing placement in a nursing home, there are many questions we ask beyond the physical and cognitive conditions that are prompting the move. Primary among those questions is: what was mom or dad’s occupation? Those families who have parents in their mid-eighties and beyond often reply by giving dad’s occupation and the fact that mom was a homemaker.

Remembrances of lifelong professions can be retained long after actual employment or the responsibilities of raising a family have ceased.  Take Gene, a retired fireman who had been diagnosed with dementia.  On the day he arrived at the nursing home, being the conscientious firefighter he once was, he spotted a fire extinguisher and was headed straight to his job. Fortunately, his daughter positioned herself to block his access.

For mothers and wives of this era, the role of family nurturer is often rooted in the person. This is not to say that fathers have not played prominent roles, but for mothers or other women that have been employed in caregiving roles, it is not a job that finished at five. In later years, should there be cognitive loss accompanied by agitation we, as Aging Life Care Professionals, look to guide the family in ways to lessen the anxiety their loved one may be experiencing. Nonpharmacological approaches are preferable. One such method is doll therapy.

Doll therapy is just what it says. It is providing a person with a doll, that she/he can hold, cuddle, talk to, even dress and undress.  The latter helping with finger dexterity and hand-eye coordination. The doll can give a person a sense of comfort and purpose with the goal being redirecting the anxiety and bringing a parent to a sense of calm and contentment. Beyond this, a doll can be a starting point for reminiscence, asking a parent to recall their days as a new parent, bearing in mind that it is the long-term memory that is most vivid.

Research studies have shown both increased happiness and increased social interaction using doll therapy. But doll therapy is not without controversy. Some feel the dignity of a parent is compromised using a doll.  Other concerns are that dolls are demeaning and infantilize older adults. A passerby may look at a person with a doll and remark that the senior looks “cute” holding a doll. Not the way a relative wants their spouse or parent to be perceived.

As Aging Life Care Professionals, our approach is a person-centered one. To each client, we bring a toolbox of suggestions, techniques and resources. While the use of doll therapy is one such example, we customize the guidance, recognizing the unique needs of each client while working together with families to ensure practical and realistic outcomes.

Can an Adult Senior Remain at Home? …That is the Question

Can an Adult Senior Remain at Home? …That is the Question

As an eldercare consultant, I am familiar with the statistic that close to 90% of adult seniors, have expressed a desire to remain in their homes for as long as possible. The terminology in the world of eldercare is “aging in place.”

My lack of surprise about aging at home, while corroborated by AARP, has its source in the adult children who visit my office frustrated that their parents feel there is no compelling reason for them to move out of their house. A typical scenario as described by a son or daughter: no bathroom or only a half bathroom on the main floor, stairs that must be ascended or descended to get to the kitchen, no direct access to the outside without holding on to a hand rail that is unstable accompanied by a walkway that is crumbling, nonstop repairs both large and small.

Sitting across from these adult children, I understand their unease. They are often wakeful at night, distracted at work, consumed with the responsibilities of calling the plumber, roofer or making sure a path has been shoveled after a snowstorm.  I also know from talking with adult seniors the comfort that comes with continuing to reside in a lifelong home. Change is never easy or welcomed.  So, what’s an eldercare consultant to do?

For this consultant, the major consideration is safety. There is no compromise on this issue. To ensure this safety there are three necessary requirements. First, the willingness of a parent to agree to whatever modifications should be made to the house. First, the readiness of the parent to accept home care if necessary and first, the financial wherewithal and/or community support services to achieve these outcomes.  Yes, they are all number one priorities.

To this end, I frequently visit the parents in their home. Often, mom and dad need to be heard and understood, with a focus on empathy. Once they know I understand their situation, it is easier to start to effect change. The secret is small steps. With each step, it is validating their willingness to undertake necessary changes. That validation provides the incentive for the next step until a safe living environment is accomplished.

But please don’t think I come with a magic wand. Sometimes the ideal, or even close to it, becomes unachievable. It may be the staunch autonomy of a parent or it is the symbiotic relationship of husband and wife who create such a strong wall (yes, this one is achievable), that adult children, the family favorite, or even this eldercare consultant cannot convince them that they are putting their safety at risk. Then Father Time steps in and removes aging at home as a choice. A fall, noncompliance with medication, or one of those all too frequent storms we’ve been having here in Westchester County, may result in a whole new aging in place definition and destination.

From Hospital to Home:  Post Hospital Syndrome

From Hospital to Home: Post Hospital Syndrome

Recently I addressed the Post-Acute Care Continuum in White Plains, New York. An organization whose goal is to educate and share best practices in post-acute care and care transitions. I was asked to speak about how geriatric care managers can help to ensure that patients return home and remain home beyond the initial 30-day period. Of course, we do not want our clients to return to the hospital at any time, but there is a reason for the specific 30 days.  In 2013, the United States Department of Health started to penalize hospitals for re-admission of patients within thirty days. The Department of Health wanted patients to be discharged responsibly with adequate follow-up care, hence this law was enacted.

Because of this act, the rate of 30-day re-admission has dropped from 20% to 17%. But often, while the reason for hospitalization has been addressed, the consequences of a hospitalization are just being felt when our clients return home. Dr. Harlan Krumholtz, MD of Yale-New Haven Hospital refers to this return as the Post Hospital Syndrome. He attributes this re-admission within 30 days to five major factors:

  1. Sleep deprivation: The patient is in a new environment. The illness combined with being in a different bed, in a different place will impact on cognitive and physical performance. A situation of perpetual jet lag has been created.
  2. Malnourishment: Certain tests and procedures require nothing by mouth for the day or evening prior. And if the test is cancelled and then rescheduled, another period goes by without nutrition. This results in protein-energy malnutrition. The consequences of such a scenario is that wound healing is impaired, there is a chance of increased infection and one’s immune system is compromised.
  3. Pain and discomfort: For any of us, especially those dealing with pain in the hospital environment, pain can lead to sleep disruption, mood disturbance, impaired cognitive functioning and may also impact on the immune system.
  4. Altering medications: Stopping one medication and adding another can have its impact on cognition and physical functioning: too much of a medication, too little, the wrong medication, an allergic reaction to a medication. A patient’s body becomes a roller coaster of experimentation in an effort to cure.
  5. Deconditioning: Time in bed for rest can put a patient at greater risk of accidents and falls. While physical therapy may take place in the hospital, Dr. Krumholtz questions if there is still too much inactivity. The result being once the patient returns home he or she is at greater risk for developing blood clots.

As discharge approaches, what must be done is a TOTAL evaluation of the patient. This evaluation should go beyond the reason for hospitalization. Attention must be given to sleep, nutrition, activity, strength and how all symptoms are treated and managed. As a geriatric care manager, it is my responsibility to observe, question and advocate for clients whose care has been entrusted to me.

Our Parents: Their Resistance our Frustration

Our Parents: Their Resistance our Frustration

This Aging Life Care consultant is giving you a test:

The question: Why do your adult parents love to say “No” to their adult children?

  1. Because they like to be in the driver’s seat, even thou they may no longer be driving.
  2. Because they like things just the way they have been for fifty years, and change is just not necessary.
  3. Because they have lost so much of what they were once able to do, that they are going to hold on to what is still in their clutches?
  4. All the above.

If you have answered all the above, chances are you are whirling around in the vortex of the caregiver cyclone.

 Question two: What are the correct reactions to such a situation:

  1. Damn it! They were always stubborn and now it’s getting worse.
  2. If feel so guilty making them move out of their home, but I just can’t do it anymore.
  3. They make me so angry, I’m ready to just walk away and let them do whatever they want.
  4. All the above.

If you again answered, “All the above,” I now know for sure you are in the thrusts of the caregiving role.

Resistance by parents becomes more common with loss. It is an instinctive reaction to try to hold on to what you can when you know control is slipping away.  Counselling adult children, I have found three effective strategies for handling this struggle:

  1. Say it once. After the second time, it becomes nagging and will distance parents from further discussions.
  2. Pick your battles. It is more important that mom see her neurologist once month than getting her hair colored so she looks likes the mother you want to remember.
  3. Use the “escape hatch” approach to areas where you would like to see change. Ask dad to “try home care for just two weeks, we can always make a change if it doesn’t work out.”

As an Aging Life Care consultant, I have seen how frustrating the resistance of adult seniors can be. Yet, none of us have been old so how can we possibly understand fully what our parents are going thru. With empathy and employing the three strategies, perhaps we can come a little closer to lessening our parents’ resistance and, in turn, our frustration.

Tea with a Purpose

Tea with a Purpose

Too much coffee and tea can be a good thing. Let me explain. A few days ago, after visiting a client at White Plains Hospital Center, I stopped by their recently opened café for a cup of coffee and a freshly made gluten free blueberry tea cake. The hospital is known for its good care and the café is now following in that tradition, albeit gastronomically.  As for the tea cake, it was delicious. I do not have food allergies, but a weakness for a good piece of plain cake.

Twenty minutes later, I arrived in Harrison, New York at the home of a nearby client.  The taste of the coffee was clinging to my palette and I secretly wished I had bought another of those sweet treats for later. Hearing the bell, Helena reluctantly opened the door, always suspicious of who is knocking (not a bad thing). Recognizing my name, she let me in. Sometimes I am sequestered in her foyer for the visit and other days I am escorted into the kitchen. Today was a kitchen day. We started our conversation and then, as it progressed, she asked if I wanted a cup of tea. Did I really want to forgo that lingering taste of coffee for tea?  Truthfully, no, but I happily accepted.

Why did I say, “Yes” when I could have just as well said “No?”  It all has to do with purpose in one’s being. It’s a life quality that starts to wane as one gets older. You’re told to stop driving because you had a couple of fender benders. So now you can’t visit your home bound friend or be a volunteer driver for Meals on Wheels. And then the greatest upset of all, your spouse passes away. No one to cook that special dish which brought such accolades despite its simplicity.  Such was the case with Helena. There was no longer anybody to make that cup of tea for, so how could I ever think of saying, “No.” I sat at the kitchen table and watched her take the crackled and stained mug out of the cabinet.  Water boiled, she carefully handed me my tea, mystified as always, that I take it plain.

The act of making the cup of tea for this geriatric care manager, was both an act of kindness and the momentary gift of purpose. As for the taste of the coffee no longer lingering on my palette, it was surpassed by the opportunity to return to Helena a memory of time sweet, if not sweeter, than my blueberry teacake. It was a very good visit.

Mi Casa Su Casa…Not All the Time

Mi Casa Su Casa…Not All the Time

Mi Casa Su Casa, “my house is your house.”  With a bit of variation, that is what a caregiver, who thought she was doing the right thing, said to this Aging Life Care specialist. There was only one problem, Winnie, my client, had no interest in achieving that feat. She wanted her house left alone, just as she wanted to be left alone.

The story went like this:  It was Cinda’s first day on the job. She wanted to do what she could to make a good first impression. But in her need to succeed, she was not taking into to account the wishes of my client. For starters, it had taken more than six months to have Winnie just be willing to try a caregiver. She told me that little by little she could get her cleaning, cooking and grocery shopping done. It just takes longer, is what she said. A fall reluctantly changed her mind. A caregiver was necessary.

Resistance met necessity when Cinda arrived. I interviewed her prior to her starting the position.  I talked with her about how fiercely independent Winnie was and how,  for this relationship to succeed, Cinda had to ask before doing anything. On the first day, after the introductions, I left. It was a six hour shift.  Within ten minutes of Cinda’s departure, I got a call from Winnie instructing me to notify Cinda that she is not to return.  I couldn’t blame her.

She explained that without asking Winnie, Cinda started to wash top shelf dishes, the china that is saved for special occasions. Following up with Cinda I asked what she was thinking. She told me with genuine sincerity, she wanted to help to make Winnie’s home as spotless as hers.  I reminded her of our discussion, ask before doing. Cinda was asked not to return.

When an Aging Life Care specialist, or anybody who is going to work for an adult senior, enters their home, the first step to success is respecting the home which is another way of saying respecting the person who inhabits that home.  It is a house filled with memories and mementos. But most importantly, indefatigable people trying to hold on to what they have left…their dignity, independence and their ability to self-direct.  Winnie has gone back to doing her chores at her pace. And her house has returned to being her home.  As for me, calls are accepted, but her door has yet to be reopened.