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ElderServe at Night

Published on July 3rd, 2009

The NY Times had a great article about an alternative way to treat residents with dementia who are at risk for wandering at night.  The article discusses the success of a night-care group that takes care of demented residents at night including supervised strolls around the facility.

The article specifically discusses seven women with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and are part of the Hebrew Home’s ElderServe at Night, a dusk-to-dawn drop-off program intended to strengthen their decaying minds while sating their thirst to be active after dark.  Alzheimer’s is an irreversible brain disease that destroys memory, and it is one form of dementia, a disorder marked by the loss of mental functions. Nighttime can be treacherous for people with dementia, who are often struck by sleeplessness or night terrors and prone to wandering about. This agitation and disorientation, called “sundowning,” is especially vexing for relatives trying to care for them at home, and often hastens their placement in nursing homes.

ElderServe at Night began a decade ago, and is the only one of its kind in the country.  It should be the standard.   Participants spend 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. painting, potting plants, dancing and talking — or, for those immobilized by their disease, relaxing amid music, massage and twinkling lights. The patients rest as they need, for a few minutes or a few hours. 

The program was born in 1998, after Daniel A. Reingold, now president and chief executive of the Hebrew Home, began hearing horror stories from people who jury-rigged alarm systems or slept on mattresses pulled across thresholds to stop their sleepless parents from wandering at night. Sleep deprivation, he learned, was causing many guardians to put relatively high-functioning patients into nursing homes rather than day care programs.

The activities mirror those done during the day: arts, crafts, exercise, and holistic remedies like meditation and pet therapy. Rather than give agitated patients mood-altering drugs, ElderServe aides might lead them by the hand into a softly lighted room, slip off their shoes and socks and massage their feet with a warm washcloth.

The staff indulges the urges that dementia and Alzheimer’s induce, walking with patients who crave a 2 a.m. adventure or taking evening trips to the circus or restaurants.   Mr. Reingold has made presentations to professional associations, hoping others might copy the program. But a spokeswoman for the Alzheimer’s Association, a nonprofit research and education group based in Chicago, said she knew of no other nighttime drop-off program like it. Though it has not been independently evaluated, organizers say the program has helped patients maintain a discernible alertness even as their minds erode. It has also given their relatives desperately needed breaks.

I wish all long term facilities could have this type of program. 
 

Joe Pioletti
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