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Dementia training fills NICHE at Presence Saint Joseph

Presence Saint Joseph RN Becky Hamman attempts fold towels as part recent dementitraining hospital. She was asked wear gloves filled

Presence Saint Joseph RN Becky Hamman attempts to fold towels as part of recent dementia training at the hospital. She was asked to wear gloves filled with beans, earmuffs and dark sunglasses, and given five instructions to complete in three minutes to emulate what a senior may feel. | Janelle Walker/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 20, 2013 6:08AM

ELGIN — Setting a table for four, putting on a sweater, writing a note for your family, folding five towels and sorting four pairs of socks all sound like easy tasks for most adults.

But imagine getting those five assignments in rapid-fire dictation, and having to finish those tasks in three minutes inside a dimly lit room with strobe lights flashing and radio static blasting in — and, on top of that, while wearing weighted-down gloves, ear coverings, and sunglasses covered with petroleum jelly and stickers.

Those tasks, and even remembering the list of tasks, would become frustrating if not impossible for many adults.

That frustration is what it often feels like for seniors experiencing dementia, loss of hearing, cataracts and arthritis, said Kathy Bergner, clinical manager at Presence Saint Joseph Hospital. When in the hospital, or even at home, tasks that were once routine and easy become difficult and overwhelming.

Over the next few months, Bergner wants all hospital employees to go through the Virtual Dementia Tour and feel for themselves what seniors often experience. Hospital staff go into the darkened room one by one and come out understanding a little better what aging feels like.

The dementia tour is part of the overall plan to certify the staff as a NICHE center — Nurses Improving Care for Heathsystem Elders, Bergner said.

“I am passionate about working with the elderly,” said Bergner said, who first heard about the NICHE certification at a Philadelphia conference.

‘Walk in shoes’

Many of those who end up at Saint Joseph Hospital for extended stays are the elderly — up to 85 percent of its patients are age 65 and older.

“My floor is stroke and cardiac care,” Bergner said. “We see the percentage of older adults that is not so healthy.” Those often hospitalized come with underlying problems including obesity, diabetes, strokes and in some stages of dementia, she added.

The dementia tour allows staff “to walk in their shoes,” she said.

Bergner’s nursing staff, including occupational and physical therapists and nursing assistants, began doing their own turns through the dementia tours this past week.

One nurse, asked to complete the list designed for men, gave up after just completing one of the tasks, Bergner said.

“He just became frustrated. He stopped and gave up” because he couldn’t remember the other tasks on the list, she said.

Jamie Garcia, a 10-year certified nursing assistant, said she works with seniors on day-to-day tasks such as getting dressed, washing up, and brushing their teeth — things they would also need to do at home.

“As soon as you put on the earmuffs, it changes all of it. You have to really concentrate to hear what they are saying” while getting the directions, Garcia said. “It gets disorienting pretty quickly.”

The hardest part was writing a note while wearing the surgical gloves. The fingers were weighted down with lentil beans — making finger dexterity nearly impossible.

“You can’t see the paper, and you can’t hold a pen,” Garcia said. “It throws you off, and it is things that you do every single day.”

Learning to go slow

The list of five things is rattled off quickly to make a point, Bergner said. “It makes us think about how we give instructions,” often too much too quickly for seniors.

“We are used to going at a faster pace,” added Becky Hamman, an registered nurse who took the tour.

“For older people, it does take a lot more time” to complete the tasks, Hamman said.

By the time she came to a sweater piled with the towels she was supposed to fold, Hamman didn’t put it on as the instructions asked but folded it, too.

Tanvi Desai, an occupational therapist, said the tasks also reminded her to slow down with her patients — and remember to make sure they knew where everything they needed might be. When it was time to write her note, she couldn’t see the purple notepad laying on the table — just the envelope she was supposed to put the note in.

“I could see white — I couldn’t see anything else,” Desai said.

“These are the kinds of things we should be doing with seniors every single day,” she added.

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