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When IU Health Saxony social worker Claire Shawver and nurse Tai Oliver set their minds to helping a specific patient population, it became a passion project.
By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
They come in for knee replacements, heart ailments, and other illnesses. They don’t come in because they have memory loss. But the patient population at IU Health Saxony includes a high number of friends, parents, aunts, and uncles who show signs of dementia.
The term “dementia” is an umbrella for a variety of symptoms that ultimately are caused by memory loss. Patients may show signs of confusion, sadness and irritability.
When social worker Claire Shawver and nurse Tai Oliver noticed a trend, they began looking into ways that hospital caregivers could help – not just nurses, and doctors – but every employee at IU Health Saxony. They learned quickly that even employees not directly involved in patient care are part of a support system for patients with memory loss, their family and friends. So every employee at IU Health Saxony has completed a “Become a Friend” workshop making it the first hospital in the state to implement the program, administered by CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions.
“Because of this training, IU Health Saxony staff now can better engage, care for, and create the best experience possible for a patient with dementia,” said Dustin Ziegler, CICOA’s vice president of community programs.
“A patient may be standing in line at the cafeteria and need help counting money; they may be filling out forms at registration and need help with important information. We’re all here to help,” said Shawver who has worked at IU Health for five and half years.
The U.S. Census reports 86,550 citizens in the area between the ages of 45 and 64 and an additional 40,862 over the age of 65. On any given day one of those citizens can become a patient of IU Health Saxony. Now all staff members are equipped to recognize signs and symptoms of patients with dementia.
“We get involved at the point of admission. If a patient doesn’t remember what day of the week it is or what they had for breakfast, that may be a sign that they need assistance,” said Shawver. The memory loss doesn’t necessarily signal signs of dementia; it could be caused by certain medications or life events. But now, patients are recognized as needing a “dementia friend” – someone who advocates for their wellbeing.
What does that mean?
Once a patient is identified as having dementia or memory loss, a family member is given a “Getting to Know Me” worksheet to provide more information about the patient. Talking points include “The best way to communicate with me,” “Things that help me sleep,” and “The food I like to eat.” The paper remains in the patient’s room so that all caregivers may refer to the tips. If a family member isn’t available when a patient is admitted, a social worker may contact a family member to help provide information.
Some patients with memory loss have difficulty completing menu options and may need special assistance. Others may show signs of anxiety about being away from family and friends.
“During the process if we find a diagnosis or have a suspicion, staff members are alerted about the memory disorder and also certain triggers that we discover through the personal approach with the patient,” said Oliver, who has worked with IU Health for almost ten years. A tiny flower is then attached to the patient’s door – discreetly recognizing that this is a patient with memory loss.
Workshops are designed to help caregivers assist patients and their family members. Included in the workshop are “conversation tips:” Approach the patient from the front, identify yourself and make good eye contact; call the person by the preferred name; use short, simple phrases and repeat information as needed; speak slowly and clearly; wait for a response while the patient processes information. Other tips offered in the workshop include: Provide statements, rather than questions; offer visual cues, and try writing notes as reminders.
“Claire and I had talked about dementia patients before we started the Dementia Friends Indiana program. We wanted to find ways to make it a positive experience for nurses working with the patients and also for the patients,” said Oliver. “It’s already scary when you have a loved one come into the hospital and then a loved one with memory issues can make it more scary. This makes the staff more compassionate toward patients.”
Since the completion of the workshops, they have already assisted about half a dozen patients. In addition to understanding the patient’s communication needs, staff members have also been introduced to ways to help the patient cope. They may offer special activities such as word searches or activity balls to help with the stress of a hospital stay.
Over time they hope to offer the workshops in more IU Health facilities.
“So often this is something that goes undiagnosed. We want to meet the patient and family members where they are,” said Oliver. “Our goal is to provide a safe and compassionate environment. If family members want additional resources after the patient leaves the hospital, we will follow up and help guide them toward the next steps.”