As a Social Worker and Operations Leader in the Memory Support Neighborhood at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center at NewBridge on the Charles, I am privileged to work with a care team that is committed to helping our residents and their families negotiate a very special, but often challenging stage in their lives.
I have found that there is nothing more important to our residents’ quality of lives than the special bond that develops between their families with other resident families and our senior caregivers. Just as we want our residents to feel safe and at home with us, we also want their families to feel welcomed as part of our extended family. Life in our neighborhood should feel just as natural and inviting as it did at any other point in their lives.
Mealtime represents a great opportunity for our resident assistants to collaborate with families to create a warm and communal experience for everyone. As dementia advances, meals and dining become a challenge for both residents and their caregivers. Residents become less able to feed themselves, often forgetting how to use utensils, or confused about what utensil to use when. Staff must know when to cue and encourage residents to self-feed or when to start assisting them. It requires finding the right balance between promoting autonomy and ensuring the resident is getting proper nutrition. This is where families can help.
On one of our households we have many husbands or wives who come to assist their spouses at mealtime. They help make dining more social, fun, and lively for the entire household. Their involvement also serves as an informal support group for other spouses who have not found traditional support groups helpful.
Music is played and old stories are shared, and the staff gets to see the family members and their loved-ones in a new light. Visiting families “adopt” other residents, and include them in their stories, encourage them to eat, and provide hugs or smiles on days that may not be going so great. Not only do visitors help their own spouses, but they enjoy a sense of being able to make dining, which can be difficult, go more smoothly, helping keep the experience normalized and social. Residents tend to eat better, try harder to feed themselves, and become more animated during this time.
Understandably as those we love decline it can feel like a time of great loss. On our memory support households we demonstrate that caring for these special residents can still be a time for building new relationships and experiencing rewarding interaction with members of their loved-ones’ new community.
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