Guest Columns

A new approach to Alzheimer's care

Charlotte Dell
Charlotte Dell

A few years ago, I saw the movie “50 First Dates,” starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. In the movie, Drew Barrymore's character has memory loss, and the only way that she can acclimate each day is by watching a video, created by Adam Sandler's character. In the video, he gently reminds her about key aspects of her life – her relationship with him, the year it is, where she lives, etc. Beyond just providing a few laughs, the movie triggered a connection – if watching a video could help this character with memory loss understand her surroundings, perhaps it could be applied to Alzheimer's care. That was the beginning of “Good Morning Mom and Dad.”

To bring this concept to life, we took an interdisciplinary approach – including administration, and memory care staff composed of nursing, therapeutic activities, physicians, nutritionists, and social workers in its development. We wanted to make sure there was value in this idea from all different perspectives of one's care before determining if we should move forward. The team was excited and felt there was potential. 

We launched this as a pilot program and focused on morning care for residents with early to moderate dementia who may have an unpleasant mood in the morning. These were residents who may not want to get dressed, take a shower, take medicine, or eat breakfast. Our hope was that by asking a family member to create a brief video message that could be incorporated into the daily morning care of our Alzheimer's residents, it would help to improve the resident's mood, make them more receptive to care and set a positive tone for the day. 

Family members were supportive and enthusiastic about the program. Since so many family members lead busy lives, not able to visit as much as they would like, creating a video message proved to be the next best thing to being there. We knew that seeing a familiar face and hearing a familiar voice would provide comfort and support for residents. What better way to start the day?

We provided each family member with a script, to serve as a guideline.  Each message begins with a good morning greeting, a remark about how it is a beautiful day, followed by a personal story or special shared memory. This could be a time they spent together, or even a song they sang together. The family member also provides supportive instructions, specifically that staff will be coming in soon to help start the day. Each video concludes with words of love and affection – and that they will see them soon.

These videos are wheeled into rooms on a cart with a laptop and are incorporated into the residents' daily plan of care. They are shown to the residents while they are still in the bed prior to rendering care. 

A vital component of this program is measurement. We developed a behavioral monitoring tool, which monitors residents' behaviors before and after viewing the video. We are collecting data now and will evaluate how the program is working in mid-April.

Good Morning Mom and Dad is a creative, non-pharmacological approach to Alzheimer's care that aims to stimulate memory and improve mood. Alzheimer's is a challenging disease – our approach has always been to view family members as our partners. The initiative is an extension of that philosophy which celebrates the power of love that exists between family members and our residents.

Charlotte Dell, L.M.S.W., is the Director of Social Services at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale.

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