Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D.

Given that the bulk of my prior knowledge of Oklahoma came from a 72-year-old musical performed by my class during grade school, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I arrived in Norman for the 2015 Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers/Oklahoma Assisted Living Association conference.

The upshot (based on the journey between the airport and the hotel): No fringed surries. Plenty of flat, open, grassy expanses. Chain stores. A bustling well-run conference. Animated conversations with attendees invested in providing enhanced care for their residents. Life-altering products in the Expo Hall.

Younger adults in senior living

I was invited for two talks, the first of which was on younger adults in senior care. The group focused on ideas for handling the challenges of younger residents, from those with illnesses such as ALS or spina bifida to people who led rough lifestyles prior to the disabling injuries (e.g. gunshot wounds) that led to placement in long-term care.

The talk addressed the emotional reactions caregivers have toward younger residents that can make it more difficult to work with them than with the typical older population. It also got into ways of unifying the team through training and policies, and strategies to engage younger residents in positive activities.

As I wrote in this 2008 article, meeting the needs of our younger residents now will help prepare our facilities for the differing expectations of the coming Baby Boom generation.

Addressing mental health in LTC

My second presentation focused on the need to address mental health problems in long-term care. Not a week goes by without a news story about a behavioral health problem in one of our facilities, such as an assault by a resident on a peer or staff member.

I offered a three-tiered model for addressing mental health care as part of our general healthcare. None of the three tiers — engaging mental health professionals, creating a healing emotional environment, and improving customer service — cost anything more than staff training and increasing the priority paid to behavioral health issues. Well worth it to avoid being the next facility with a negative news headline.

Rocking the expo hall

Between talks, I visited the expo hall in search of exhibits that offered solutions for my residents.

The first thing that caught my eye was the mod-looking geri-recliner. When I first began working in long-term care, I couldn’t believe people were being wheeled around in those clunky old geri-chairs. They reminded me of the “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” generation. Twenty years later, the same unwieldy recliners are still being used.

But then I saw this geri-chair. Cue the lights. Cue the sound of angels singing.

Do you remember when luggage companies replaced traditional wheels on suitcases with wheels that could rotate 360 degrees? They took the schlep out of travel.

That innovation has now been applied to the geri-chair, creating an ease of movement that, along with a lighter frame, will allow your staff to easily get residents in recliners out of their rooms and into the social scene of your community.

Once I got over marveling at that breakthrough, I discovered — get this — a wheelchair that rocks! Yes, here I am, rocking in the expo hall. It was very soothing. Apparently I’m not the only one that feels that way: The salesman said that the rocking motion calms residents with dementia and reduces problems with unsafe wandering. Nice.

Dr. El rocks at the show.

The third chair offered by this company allows residents to be shifted into a fully reclining position. It also allows for removal of one of the armrests so users can receive personal care while still in the chair. This is a game-changer for my residents who, once they need to be changed, generally find themselves in bed for the rest of the day.

Vegetarian’s delight

The other exhibit that got me jazzed was the food service booth. I’ve been a vegetarian for a few years now and I was thinking that I might have to rely on mushy broccoli and rice to survive my long-term care years. You can imagine how thrilled I was to find Ron at the food service booth serving up a tasty batch of stir-fried mixed vegetables that included cabbage and kale. Kale!

Apparently you can buy bags of shredded vegetables, or “superfoods,” according to Ron, in bulk bags, mix them with different seasonings and transform them into completely new cuisines. The day before, the shredded vegetables had been coleslaw in vinaigrette dressing. Perhaps I won’t have to spend all my personal needs allowance money on takeout food after all.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is a 2014 Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is the Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category of the 2014 American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with nearly 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.