Luther Burbank once said ” The greatest happiness in the world is to make others happy”. What a profound truth this is. We as workers in long term health care often spend most of our time meeting the needs of our residents, but rarely focus on making the residents happy. How can one “make” happiness for a dementia patient?
Well, I think there are several ways we can achieve this. First of all, we must know the resident well enough to know what they will find happiness in doing. Secondly, we must be creative to compensate for the physical and cognitive defiects the resident has. Thirdly, we must put forth an effort to create the atmosphere of happiness.
Just because a person has dementia does not mean they cannot express emotions, including that of happiness or sadness. If you looked at the statistics of depression in the elderly; the use of ant-depressant medications in long term health care facilities and the overall rate of suicide rates in the elderly population, I think we could all agree that happiness is not a common emotion felt by this population.
Dementia patients tend to live in a world that is limited to their own reality. However, if we focus on what they focus on; engage them in meaningful conversation, regardless if what they are saying makes sense to us, we can give the person validation. Validation leads to a sense of self worth and self esteem. We have become a nation of pill pushers, including those of us working in long term care. We pass out pills to make the resident ” feel better”. How about take the resident outside for a ten minute walk, or wheelchair ride? Fresh air, sunshine and one on one human contact that does not involve feeding, dressing or changing incontinence briefs? How about greeting our residents with a hug instead of a “let’s go to the dining room Ms. Jones”. How about listening, really listening to what they are saying, instead of redirecting them because “they don’t make sense?” How about offering the resident a cup of coffee, not the half cold cup that is leftover from breakfast? How about we speak kindly to the resident, every time we pass by, complimenting them on their clothing, their shoes or their hairstyle? How about we smile when we provide care instead of moaning about how many hours are left on shift? How about we show interest in the resident, talking to them about their former occupations, former places of travel and the things they did “back in the day”? Even if they cannot remember, we should be able to remind them of the highlights of their life. We should know Mr. Jones served in the US Air Force for 43 years. We should know Ms. Smith has 32 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren. We should know Mr. Davis raised pure bred German Sheppard, of which 4 were world champion show dogs. We should know Mrs. Saber won not 4, but 5 ribbons at the county fair for her blueberry pie. We should know Ms. Daisy grew up on a cattle ranch in Montana, and can identify every type of cow known based on its bellow.
Kindness. Caring. Consideration. Respect. Understanding. These are the ingredients to happiness when caring for our dementia patients. We must put forth a better effort to make our resident happy. Effort. Effort does not come easy, but neither does making another person happy. Until we chose to determine ourselves to change the way we provide care, we will remain a yellow pill, blue pill, red pill society.