Great iPhone Interventions for Nursing Home Residents

Now that I know I’m not going against State regulations (see Dr. El Goes Undercover with the NYS Department of Health), I’ll confess I love to use my iPhone with the residents. In nursing homes that don’t yet have computer access, the iPhone and other web-enabled mobile devices bring the world right to the residents. (For more on the subject, see Therapeutic Use of the Internet in Nursing Homes.)

Here are some therapeutic interventions I’ve used during my psychology sessions. Please add your experiences in the Comments section.

  • When I arrived at the door of his room, Jim was sitting with his head in his hands. He looked up and I saw the worry in his eyes. “What’s up?” I asked him. He said, “I put all my stuff in storage before I got here, but now I can’t remember the name of the place. I’m worried I’m gonna lose my things.” Pulling out my iPhone, I Googled the storage center based on the general location, and handed him the phone number. Relieved, he was able to discuss his other concerns. When I ran into him later in the day, he’d phoned, made arrangements for his belongings, and was now smiling and relaxed.
  • “My old doctor gave me different medication,” Ms. Garcia told me. “I never had this problem before.” “Do you have your doctor’s phone number? Maybe your old physician could talk to your doctor here.” “I don’t have the number. But I know her name.” After a quick search and a couple of phone calls, Ms. Garcia was on the phone with the MD she’d had for the last fifteen years. “Hey!!! How you doing??? Listen, can you call my doctor here and tell him about me?” Two days later, the MDs had conversed, the meds had been changed, and the problem was solved.
  • Ana’s usually energetic demeanor had faded and my attempts to engage her were met with glum, monosyllabic replies. I switched gears. “Would you like to listen to music? We could play some of your native Romanian songs.” She was unenthusiastic until my YouTube search came up with the Romanian Ballad of Ciprian Porumbescu. Her face lit up and she listened intently, eyes closed, appearing to drink in the music. “He is very famous in my country,” she told me, and when the ballad concluded, she reminisced about her past, revealing more about her youth than she had in our previous three months of psychotherapy.
  • Once I worked briefly with a man who was new to the nursing home and appeared lost. Trying to anchor him, I asked if he had any hobbies. “Irish dancing,” he told me. I searched for Irish dance music in YouTube and found a video of some Riverdance-type performers. His eyes brightened and, from his wheelchair, his feet jumped and pranced with remarkable skill. From the knees down, he was a Riverdancer; from his neck up, he was a happy man. After this intervention, I spoke to his children and asked them to bring him a CD player and some Irish music, and also shared the information with his recreation therapist so she could play his music on the unit.

2 thoughts on “Great iPhone Interventions for Nursing Home Residents”

  1. Dear Dr. El,

    We don't have computer access for our residents yet, but that hasn't prevented me from bringing technology to the residents. I have been using an iTouch without the internet, (we do not have wifi). I have used my iTouch to:

    – Play trivia: Trivia games and competitions are among our favorite recreation groups. There are many great trivia apps. I have combined this with our closed circuit TV system and have a monthly trivia competition among all floors. Staff/residents call in with the correct answer and receive pts. The unit with the most points at the end of the program win a party with live entertainment and refreshments.
    – Music: Coupled with our portable P.A. system I have appropriate music at my finger tips for any occasion. I also use it to play a kind of name that tune program, easily accessing a huge collection of music.
    -Photos: I have used select photos to stimulate group conversation during discussion programs, as well as engage individuals on a 1:1 basis.

    In just a few short days, I will be receiving my iPad with wifi & 3g. Although this is my own personal toy, I rationalized getting it with all the things I will be able to do with the residents. For one, it is a decent size, large enough for residents to see, small enough to walk around with.
    I plan to:
    – Travel: Residents and I will visit places many of us have never been, I will also take residents home, both using Google Earth.
    – It will be my no. 1 resource tool, invariably discussions I have with residents lead to the desire for information that none of us know, but would like to. I will no longer have to say to them that I will look it up and get back to them at the next program, a week later.
    -Resident education on healthcare issues: providing useful and necessary information on the spot.
    – Games: I will have a huge selection of games at my fingertips, enabling me to match up resident interest with the goals of both fun and therapeutic benefit.

    Can't wait to figure the rest out!

  2. Wonderful ideas, Sue. Thanks for posting them. The iPad should open up a lot of exciting possibilities. I might have to get one too — just for the residents, of course!


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