The Guinness Book of World Records recently acknowledged the longest living cat on earth--one 26-year-old Corduroy, a truly geriatric cat. Yet Corduroy looks and feels fit and is clearly still enjoying life on the Colorado ranch he calls home. When asked what the secret of Corduroy's longevity is, his owners emphatically stated that it was because they had let the cat "be a cat." They allow him to hunt, roam, enjoy the sunshine and breezes and give him a lot of loving attention when he is indoors. This "natural cat" is still going strong and is in full possession of all his physical and mental faculties.
Do we let seniors "be people"? Maybe if we did, caregivingwould be less stressful and fewer caregivers would experience burnout. We might have happier seniors too.
Laura Gitlin of Johns Hopkins University made a discovery with her aged dementia patients: they were less agitated when they were encouraged to participate in activities they genuinely enjoyed. This common sense and natural approach to senior care yields many benefits.
TAP into Five Extra Hours Per Day
Gitlin calls her program TAP--Tailored Activity Program, and the "tailored" part of it is key. Gitlin's activity program seems to work precisely because it is "tailored to the patients' abilities, needs, and interests--activities the patients will enjoy, like games, music, and crafts. The goal is to use activity, rather than drugs, to keep patients calmer, safer, and more engaged."
Aren't we all less agitated when we are allowed to pursue hobbies we enjoy? Why should the elderly be any different?
Caregivers will be thrilled to know that TAP saved caregivers five hours--that's right--five full hours of caregiving time per day. Their patients were happily and constructively occupied; they were calm, safe, and caught up in their activities, many of which the caregivers participated in. Dementia patients perked up, calmed down, and were more cooperative.
A More Natural, Humane Way
Agitation in dementia patients is a serious concern for both patients and their caregivers. Agitation can present as restlessness, including wandering, pacing, manifest anxiety, crankiness, and refusing care. It can even escalate to verbal and physical abuse. Certainly agitation is a big stressor for caregivers.
Pharmaceutical treatments, the most common medical response, are effective only in short bouts and can also make the patient experience digestive discomfort, including feeling sick, experiencing diarrhea, and even throwing up.
What kind of TAP activities can seniors with dementia do to relieve themselves and their caregivers of agitation? Card-playing, crafts, games, playing or making music--simple, hobby-like activities--seem to do the trick.
Dementia patients are human too. Let's let them be people, enjoying simple activities with their caregivers. A calmer, happier, and more cooperative patient will result, lifting some of the burden off the caregiver's shoulders.
Crazy Eights, anyone?
What are some activities the seniors you know and love enjoy?
Bowerman, Mary. "Corduroy Becomes the World's Oldest Cat," USA Today, MSN: News, August 14, 2015. Available online at http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/offbeat/corduroy-becomes-the-worlds-oldest-cat-at-26/ar-BBlILaf?ocid=ansnewsUSA11.
Brooks, Kelly. "Dementia Care," John Hopkins Magazine, Health, Winter 2013. Available online at: http://hub.jhu.edu/magazine/2013/winter/dementia-agitation-activities-program.