Several residents from Seymour Place gathered in a common room at the nursing home on a rainy afternoon last week.
It wasn’t for a social hour, game time or lunch. It was to help others.
Each had a tool in hand and was ready to help members of Schneck Medical Center’s NICHE group construct activity boards for elderly patients who have memory difficulties at the Seymour hospital.
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NICHE is a nursing education and consultation program designed to improve geriatric care in health care organizations.
By the end of the work day, the group took 15 activity boards back to the hospital.
Each board was painted red — an important color for those with memory difficulties — and included a zipper, clips, lights, hinges, small mirrors and other items to keep patients occupied.
The idea is for the boards to primarily be given to patients with dementia to keep them occupied while receiving treatment at the hospital.
“Being out of your normal setting is difficult for elderly patients, and they get confused many times,” said Veda Strange, a registered nurse and NICHE member who helped lead the group during the activity.
“A lot of times, we will have to bring them out of their room to a nurses station and we need to give them something to do during that time,” she said. “This will keep them occupied while they’re there rather than them saying they’re going to leave to go home.”
Strange said the activity boards can even reduce the amount of medications Alzheimer’s and dementia patients need while receiving care.
By keeping them occupied, patients are less likely to wander or become agitated, which helps hospital staff avoid the use of sedatives.
Dale Pettit, a resident at Seymour Place, spent time putting hangers on boards throughout the day.
“It’s going to a good cause, and that’s the way we wanted it,” he said as he was on the way back to his room. “This was a good project for a rainy day.”
When told it would help patients with memory problems, he was even more willing to help.
“I think it’s great,” he said.
Before the boards, patients were given simple items like towels to fold for the hospital to keep them occupied. Schneck also has used activity baskets but wanted something easier to maintain.
“We decided to make these because they can be easily cleaned, and we’re going to make them for each unit,” Strange said. “We will probably even share some with the nursing homes because we work so closely with them.”
The group found the boards were expensive to purchase, so they decided to make their own.
Schneck has been involved in the NICHE program for about a dozen years, Strange said.
“It helps us stay on task on how to take care of the elders,” she said. “That’s a real focus for us because so many of our patients are elderly.”
That’s the whole goal of the group — who are advocates more than nurses — and they lead the hospital through training and initiatives for the best practices for elderly care.
“We just educated about 50 to 60 nurses at Schneck and local nursing homes on caring for the elderly during a program,” Strange said.
Local doctors spoke about pain, physical and occupational therapy, depression and dementia during the two-day training.
At the end of the training, nurses were given pens to show they are trained as a geriatric resource nurse.
“It was 21 continued education hours,” Strange said.
They also have implemented the Red Plate Program at Schneck. The program encourages hospitals to use red plates when they serve meals to the elderly and those who have conditions that could confuse them.
Research suggests red plates help dementia and memory patients distinguish foods because they’re able to see them better, Strange said.
That’s another reason the activity boards were painted red.
“Eating is a big thing for people with memory issues,” Strange said. “This improves their eating because things are much more clear to them.”
Strange said she felt the day of assembling the activity boards was a win-win.
“The residents seem to be enjoying themselves,” she said. “It’s great that we have been able to have help make these.”