Pathways of communication

It is often found that communication falls to the wayside when a person is diagnosed with Dementia. Expressing and understanding language becomes difficult, frustrating and in some instances impossible. The reality is that even though a person is “quiet” it does not mean he/she has nothing to say. As Occupational Therapists we have the responsibility to find ways to stimulate improved communication between our residents, their loved ones and outside parties. This is the only way our residents will be able to express their thoughts, feelings and unexpressed emotions to others and achieve the Livewell goal of retaining and enhancing their individuality.

At Livewell we endeavor to focus on the expression of care and pride ourselves in the new quality of life we create in our resident’s lives. We endeavor to use the latest international best practices of non-intrusive, holistic approaches to meet the psychological and physical needs of our residents. Examples in this regard are the newly introduced sensory therapy sessions in our facility called the Sensory Room as well as music as. form of therapy. Both of these approaches have been found to be effective in our endeavor to stabilize the emotional state of our residents.

Dementia is a brain disease causing a person to gradually lose all normal brain functions. The awareness of the person of his / her anticipated decline in cognitive functioning immediately creates a “red flag” that distorts their outlook on life. As Teepa Snow, a renowned researcher / practitioner in Dementia care, so aptly puts it, “The lid has come off”. The dementia patient loses the ability to effectively filter information and their responses thereto. In this mindset all stimulation from their surroundings is experienced as equally important and at the same time overwhelming. It presents itself as a sensory attack which leads to feelings of anxiety, fear and anger as well as excessive confusion.

To counter this terrifying experience, it was found that the introduction of a person to a controlled and calming environment, specifically a Sensory Room, can turn this situation around. As referred to before, the outcome of sensory room applications has proved to restore the balance of a person’s overstimulated mind and sensory system. A calming atmosphere is created by dimmed lights, gentle music, comfortable chairs and snug fabrics that leads to the person feeling secure and cared for.

Through the Ages music has been known for its calming effect on the mood and emotions of people. A study by the Miami University of Medicine, conducted on the effects of music on those suffering from dementia, proved that music helps the brain to release feel-good hormones such as Serotonin. The inability of a person to communicate effectively leads to high levels of frustration. By exposing that person to soft and calming music diverts the focus from such mental blocks and diverts it to a pleasant experience of relaxation in a known environment of peace, calm and security. Selected classical music can play such a calming role to a person during bath time.

“Sing-alongs” was found to be an excellent activity to stimulate engagement and cognition with others. On an individual basis, one needs to use music that is familiar to that person. If necessary, one can supply a sheet with the lyrics to the song. This can be applied in group sessions where dancing to music is a fun way to keep persons active communicating directly and indirectly with others. This fulfills the need for recognition, acceptance, trust and involvement in the lives of others. Even those who are not mobile enough to dance, simple arm and foot movements in tune with music may have similar effects.

Often the first response of a person to the Sensory Room is that of relief and awe. Relaxing in a comfortable rocking chair, hugged in a soft blanket, observing light effects that instigate various focal points, creates an ambiance where the person can focus on hand-picked objects placed strategically in the room. This stimulates reminisce in the person. Sensory stimulation is a very specialized and individualized medium of treatment and is carefully monitored and noted by the therapist. No time limit is enforced as each person has his/her own rhythm in settling down.

At Livewell we are all too aware of the effect that music has on our residents. In our application of this approach we found that music has the ability to bring back pleasant memories and evoke positive feelings. Even persons in the most advanced stage of dementia have shown the ability to respond to music and underscores the fact that it is one of the last remaining abilities of those living with dementia.

At Livewell we apply a variety of musical activities, including singalong sessions and dancing to old favorites. For those who enjoy more relaxed and soothing music, our program caters for live weekly violin contributions and on Sunday afternoons with soft piano music. Music is played throughout the Livewell facility on a daily basis. At the end of a busy day, we ensure that our residents get the opportunity to enjoy tv broadcasts embracing beautiful nature scenes with soothing backtrack music.

Our occupational therapy approach at Livewell, regardless of the methodology or techniques used, is always focused on our contribution of care and endearment of our valuable residents, whether individually or as a group. We continuously endeavor to find new and better ways of communication, and we are stimulated to renew our thoughts and creativity through the ongoing understanding of international research outcomes and applications in the world of the persons suffering from Dementia. It is a privilege to be part of Livewell residents on this difficult journey will always endeavor to treat them with respect, sensitivity and the necessary dignity.

Article written by Corlia Schutte

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Arrive as family, live with dignity and purpose.

Since 2011, the Livewell Group has been at the forefront of dementia and Alzheimer’s care in South Africa. We are motivated by a personal and heartfelt concern for the dignity and care of our elders and our efforts continue to be encouraged by the strong market need for specialised individual care.

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