Five Great Ways to Work with Geriatric Patients
1. Remember that they like to have fun just
like the rest of us. I'm not saying that Mickey Mouse coloring books
or Sponge Bob videos are appropriate (though I do know some nursing home
residents who love coloring books; as it turns out, I do too!).
I have found that many of my adult patients enjoy
puzzles, games, and activities that I used to use in pediatrics. We play Bingo,
bowl, play memory matching games and use word-searches and even coloring pages.
I have searched long and hard for fun games and creative
materials that are adult-appropriate. It's fairly easy to know when an adult
client does not like a certain activity; they will tell you so!
2. Remember that they deserve just as much
respect as any other adult. Don't talk about them as if they
are not in the room, even if they cannot respond, and don't let other people do
Look at their facial expressions. Are they confused?
Interested? Watch their body language. Are they frustrated? Afraid? Happy? Tell
them what you are doing ("I am going to give you a small drink of water now
through this straw,") and why ("I want to see if you can take a small sip
3. Get to know them. One of
my recent patients loves animals. She is fluent, but often her speech seems to
make no sense. She repeats numbers instead of words. But once you get to know
her, she presents with clear islands of intelligible language.
I brought in my Chihuahua to visit with her, and took a
picture for her daughter (with permission, of course). Her daughter phoned to
say how much it meant to her that I remembered what was important to her mom,
and that I kept working with her on multiple ways to communicate (words,
gestures, communication book, etc).
4. Avoid references they won't get. Most
of my older patients have no idea what viral videos are, so references to YouTube
phenomena are going to slide right past them. Ditto with many current songs and
I often see patients looking confused, left out and even
angry when caregivers use current expressions and pop culture references. They
sometimes feel they are being laughed at.
One of the best ideas I ever saw used was music. An OT I
worked with had a stack of CDs from different eras and genres and patients took
turns picking the day's work out music. Sometimes they even wanted to try out
some of the modern offerings.
5. But on the other hand, don't assume that
they don't get it! I have seen patients who loved computers, Wii,
and video games. One patient I recall had a collection of over 100 DVDs; he
knew more about recent films that I ever did!