“Awakenings” Program Helps Improve Quality of Life for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients

alzheimers.jpgAll too often, nursing home residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia are overlooked and over-medicated. Perhaps this arises from serious miscommunications, or – more likely – a deep misunderstanding from staff.

What makes the situation so tragic is that these are the very patients who truly need the most sensitive care. Luckily, a nursing home chain in Minnesota has caught on to this fact, and is now trying to effect a national change.

At the “Awakenings” program in 15 Ecumen nursing homes, staff focus on the “personal” aspects of relationships with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients – not just the pharmacological.

“It’s a person-centered model,” said Awakenings’ Executive Director Janet Green. “It’s added focus and time. We think it’s going to change statewide and nationwide how we care for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.”

Staff at Ecumen homes are trained to pay great attention to the smaller details of patients’ lives, such as: What time does the patient like to get up in the morning? Does the patient like to have coffee before breakfast? And on what day does the patient enjoy getting her hair done?

“A lot of it is little things,” said Green. “We can’t bring their memories back, but we can bring back the quality of life.”

The first, and primary goal of Awakenings is to wean patients off of their psychotropic medications – a challenging task for any health care provider. More than a quarter of all nursing home patients receive some kind of psychotropic drug, and the drugs can be notoriously hard to kick.

Still, at the Scenic Shores Nursing Home in Two Harbors, MN, Ecumen persisted with its goal – and received astonishing results.

“In six months, the home eliminated the use of antipsychotic drugs among all residents, and decreased their use of antidepressants by 30 – 50 percent,” a recent Ecumen report said. “As a result, many residents were literally ‘awakened’ to a fuller life. What was once a quiet nursing home is now a much more bustling, vital community.”

For Terri Jernberg, whose father George has dementia, the changes she witnessed in Ecumen’s Emmanuel Nursing Home were dramatic.

“He’s totally transformed, and the change has been unbelieveable,” said Jernberg, in a recent news article. “My dad has turned around. It’s like he’s truly awoken from a sleep.”

Awakenings began in 2009, after Ecumen received a $3.8 million grant from the state.

Learn more about the laws applicable to Minnesota nursing homes here.
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