Painting and opera lessen agitation in resident

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Jack York, It's Never 2 Late
Jack York, It's Never 2 Late

On our journey last month in McKnight's, we were introduced to a pilot from Brookdale. Our stop this month is at Vetter Health Services, undoubtedly one of the most progressive organizations It's Never 2 Late has had the pleasure to work with since our inception in 1999.  

Vetter stays somewhat under the radar when it comes to progressive work in long-term care. Maybe it's just their humble Nebraska roots!  (As a personal confession, my roots are all from Nebraska, and I can ramble on endlessly about Nebraska Cornhusker football trivia!)

Vetter is remarkable in every sense of the word. They are like that phenomenal restaurant tucked away in the middle of a big city: Not everyone knows the name of the venue, but once you eat there you always keep coming back! They live their mission and their vision on their sleeve, so it's certainly no surprise they have taken their implementation of what iN2L does to a unique and special place.  

Every team needs a rock star. For Vetter, it's a humble, passionate woman who changes the world one resident at a time. Her name is Cameo Rogers, and beneath her humble, Midwestern charming smile, lies a fierce defender of her residents' rights to live every day to the fullest.  Everyone at iN2L is on notice that whatever Cameo wants, Cameo gets. It's not that we're afraid of her, but rather we're in awe of her! Cameo, keeping her humility in tact, gives all of the credit to the culture that Jack Vetter put into place when he founded Vetter in 1975 with his wife Eldora.

The stories from Cameo stretch far and wide, and she'll be the first to tell you it's not her work that matters, it's the dedicated Vetter staff that takes her passion and implements it to the residents being served. Let's take a quick trip to a rural city in Nebraska in a city where the nursing home is a focal part of the community. I want to introduce you to the poster child of how Vetter works, and how technology can integrate care in way not always considered.

Elia, like every resident, has his own story. He was an immigrant from Italy, originally born in Argentina. Elia spoke three languages: Italian, Spanish, and English. He was very successful as an artist in Italy and took great pride in restoring artwork in cathedrals. He was incredibly proud to become a United States citizen. His historical interests included painting, traveling, gardening, bird watching, and cooking. Elia has a very supportive and tight-knit family. 

As the years have gone by, and dementia has relentlessly slid into Elia's life, changes have come into play. Out-of-character responses included agitation, a loss of an ability to speak fluid English, and an increase in speaking his native Italian. He experienced depression and combativeness. 

These realities, or variations thereof, are certainly not unique to Elia, nor to Vetter. The difference, from our outside perspective, is the way Vetter, in a poignant, humane way, attacks the issue, leaving no stone unturned in getting to the core of the individual.  We're delighted that iN2L was a useful tool in the process, but our tool is irrelevant if not for the passion Vetter exemplifies as they dig into the core of Elia's humanity. 

For most organizations the changing state of Elia's reality would lead to medical model solutions, most likely psychotropic drugs at the top of the list. Not so for Vetter. The needle in the haystack for revitalizing Elia was an odd combination of a paint brush, opera music, and engagement technology. 

This resident's past is not just his reality of being Italian, it's his reality of being a talented Italian artist who was sought after by prominent Italian families to paint intricate designs on their ceilings. Staff learned he had completed remarkable works in multiple cathedrals in Italy. Somehow opera music, in conjunction with a paint brush lighting up a touch screen paint program, brought his talent back to life.

Elia has remarkable hands that have retained the muscle memory of various grips on his paintbrush that create unique strokes on the iN2L screen. When offered a touchscreen-sensitive paint brush and simple cues of pointing to the screen Elia's hands began to meticulously move about the screen, his eyes focused on his work. As Elia engaged, an opportunity presented to bridge his work from technology to traditional paint and canvas. 

Remarkably, Elia not only began to paint on the canvas as well as he had done on the iN2L, but he also began by attempting to re-create the shape of the rose he was painting in on the iN2L on his canvas. While watching out a window on a sunny day, observing the green branches of a tree in front of him, Elia changed the position of the brush in his hand and began to eyeball the size and shape of the tree before beginning to create that shape on his canvas. Through the beauty of technology, the Italian opera music he loved played in the background as he closed his eyes and seemed to take a breath in and realize he was at home in who he is again.

In the grand scheme of the battle with dementia, its easy to get lost in the numbers and the enormity of the problem. That enormity can lead to a sense of futility as the nation races with the reality of changing demographics. It's easy to grow obsessed or lose hope. But there are tens of thousands of residents such as Elia, out there. These are people full of life, or promise, of hopes and dreams, but caught up in the reality of a disease that makes traditional expression difficult.

Through all of these difficult, difficult realities, if you need a place to go to feel that there is hope after all, I suggest you head west on I-80 from Denver and meander towards Omaha. Cameo and Vetter inspire us to become better and better

Jack York is a co-founder and president of It's Never 2 Late.

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