Category Archives: Support for Caregivers

Posts mention resources and suggestions that can help caregivers stay healthy.

Making Dreams Come True for Dementia Patients

For many families, placing a loved one in a nursing facility is a dreaded choice made only when every last option (and caregiver) is exhausted.  But a move may be necessary once a person’s medical needs exceed our expertise and stamina. Care in a nursing home can still be very personal if family members visit often and get involved. Here’s a story of how one loving caregiver enriched the lives of dementia patients at her mom’s skilled nursing residence by starting a “dream fulfillment” program.

Ms. Z. began her work by persuading the facility to add more cultural activities that resonated with the lives of the residents. That meant putting rice and beans and soul food on the dining menu for the home’s many Latino and African American patients. She helped find volunteers to paint bright, live-affirming murals in the drab hallways. Then, after completing these smaller scale projects, Ms. Z helped launch a campaign to raise funds for a Second Wind Dream program. This program is operated by a national organization headquartered in Atlanta, GA. Second Wind Dreams works with communities to discover and fulfill the dreams of elders living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospice centers. A primary goal of the Second Wind program is to change the perception of aging.

According to the organization, “A Second Wind Dream® is when a group of visionary believers enable an elder to awaken their dreams, often hidden or forgotten.” When such a dream is fulfilled, it “renews hope and champions further dreaming.”  The program works with member communities to discover and fulfill the dreams of elders at the member site. In the facility where Ms. Z.’s  mom lives, they were able to get a local philanthropist to donate the fee required for membership in the national network. To fulfill one resident’s dream, the group had Mario Andretti visit the site for an afternoon. To link the resident’s dream to other community activities, they also had a mural of Mario Andretti, Larry Holmes, and Chuck Bednarik — local heroes for the home’s Lehigh Valley residents — painted in the hallway. Staff and volunteers developed a process to get elders to tell them their dreams which are now fulfilled once or twice per month. In addition, the facility now has a “dream celebration” every three months.

The volunteer group has organized fundraising events to pay for some of the dreams which have included flying family members in for visits or taking a resident to Niagara Falls. But the nursing home has a multi-ethnic population and some dreams have been as simple as having a favorite childhood food — like collard greens or sweetbreads — served on a special day. One resident had an eyelid that never went down and was able to get a new prosthesis to help her lower the eyelid. You can read more about  fulfilled dreams at , the URL for the Pennsylvania site. Second Wind Dreams is celebrating a national anniversary on January 13th ,2011 and hopes to fulfill the dreams of many people across the country that day.

For Ms. Z.’s mom, the dream was seeing her whole family together. This involved transporting 25 people from around the U.S. to celebrate her “half birthday” in July, when snow could not ruin their travel plans. What a joyful day that must have been! Fulfillment of a dream like this make our waking lives more vivid and rich. Consider helping an elder realize a long-held dream at this emotion-filled time of year. Next week I’m taking my mom to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. It may be our last chance to make this trip, and I want her to be as happy as possible. Plus, she’s not the only dreamer in the house.

Cultural Sensitivity in Dementia Care: A Latina Caregiver’s Story

Culture may not make our hearts beat, but it shapes the rhythm and texture of our lives from birth to death. Elders passed down the traditions our families shared at our first birthdays, first Christmas, bar mitzvahs, and quinceaneras. Long after elderly dementia patients forget how to eat, many still remember the holiday songs they learned as children. When families must place a loved one in a care facility, some find it challenging to find a setting where the power of these cultural memories will be honored and preserved. For Zulma, a caregiver with Latino roots, finding culturally sensitive care ranked high in importance, along with safety and quality of services.

From the beginning, Zulma found that placing her mother in a skilled nursing home was a wrenching experience. It is a transition that many Latino families avoid. I asked Zulma to explain why Latinos are so reluctant to let their parents get care outside the home. She said, “The relationship between Latino parents and children goes very deep and Latinos feel the need to preserve that.” She also mentioned that many Latinos are Catholic, “So the guilt of putting a family member in a nursing facility would be very great.” She was only persuaded to place her mother in a skilled nursing facility when she was told by her doctor “that her own health was in jeopardy and she had to make a choice” if she wanted to preserve her well-being.

Another deterrent for Latino families is the potency of negative media stories about nursing homes. Latino children strive to protect their parents as they would a child. Zulma says that “The attachment between Latino parents and children may not always be healthy but it’s very, very strong.” When it was time to move her mother, language issues were also key. Zulma’s parents were born and raised in Puerto Rico, then moved to Pennsylvania as teenagers. Although Zulma’s Mom learned English and raised a bi-lingual family, dementia had erased much of her ability to communicate in English. Before choosing a home, Zulma visited ten skilled nursing facilities. In the end, she picked a site because it employed multiple Latino staff members and she appreciated the accessibility of the dementia care unit manager. Zulma liked the way the manager took time to speak with her – while still stopping the conversation when a resident needed attention. The manager also embraced the idea of family members taking an active role in the care of their loved one.

At first, the transition from providing home care to visiting a nursing home was difficult for Zulma. But her activism as a volunteer has allowed her to continue playing a significant role in her mother’s care. With Zulma’s help, the staff at the home has added a Spanish mass and Latin music sessions to their regular schedule of activities. Zulma has also worked to introduce domino games and traditional foods like rice and beans to the facility’s menu of offerings. While she still misses her mom, Zulma is gratified to see that she is well-cared for and has built strong friendships with other residents. It amazes Zulma to see her mother speak Spanish to a resident who doesn’t know the language. The friend replies in English and somehow the two understand each other perfectly. Relationships like this show exactly where the limits of culture break down, and the power of humanity steps in.