Helping Others: Residents Like It Too

“Excuse me,” I said to the lady sitting across from the nursing station.  “We’ve been saying hello for a while.  I’m Dr. Barbera, the psychologist.  You’re Ms. Patel, right?”

“Yes, that’s right.”  She looked up at me from her wheelchair and smiled.  “Nice to meet you.”

“You too.  Listen, I wanted to ask you a favor.  It’s perfectly okay if you say no, because not everyone is comfortable with this, but I’m trying to find a place to meet in private with a neighbor of yours and her roommate is in her room.  I was wondering if I might be able to sit and chat with her for a few minutes in your room, since you’re out here.  We wouldn’t touch anything, we’d just sit and talk.”

“Oh absolutely, honey!”  Her face lit up and she waved her good arm in the direction of her private room.  “Any time.  You don’t even have to ask.”

“Really? That’s very kind of you.  Sometimes it’s hard to find a quiet space.”  I don’t think I’d be quite so generous if the circumstances were reversed.  On the other hand, perhaps other staff members would be using my room without permission, and I’d be so pleased someone had actually asked that I’d give them carte blanche.  Maybe I’d be mellower in my older years…nah, I don’t think so.  I’d want to be asked every time.

A study in the October-December 2010 Clinical Gerontologist looked at “The Effect of Helping Behavior and Physical Activity on Mood State and Depressive Symptoms of Elderly People.”  The participants lived in senior housing, had mild physical and cognitive disabilities, and had an average age of 78.  The researchers found that “helping behavior was positively correlated with cheerfulness and vigor” and “negatively correlated with depressive symptoms.”  In other words, helping others made these seniors feel happier, more energetic, and less depressed.

Would helping others benefit our residents, who tend to be older and more impaired?  Yes!  We just have to create opportunities for success.  In this case, I:

  • picked someone who was friendly, in a good mood, and whom I thought was likely to say yes without later resentment or suspiciousness
  • asked a favor that didn’t cost anything
  • gave the opportunity for an “easy out” by providing the words to say no: “not everyone is comfortable with this.”
How have you helped residents help others?  What was their reaction?  

6 thoughts on “Helping Others: Residents Like It Too”

  1. This to me, is one of the single, most important things we can facilitate (I am in Recreation ) A Resident wants to "BE OF USE". Sometimes I will thank and point out to a Resident that I really appreciated how he/she advocates for another Resident who might be in distress, or in a pickle. I am constantly thinking of ways where Residents can be useful. This to me is so much more important than any structured program I can offer.
    Greeter/meeter/receptionist in the lobby
    cutting coupons for staff
    setting the tables for Happy Hour
    Calling out Bingo #'s
    putting bar code stickers on nursing supplies
    arranging centerpieces for dining tables
    dog sitting for our facility dogs
    "Could you hold her hand (another Resident) for me?"
    and on and on…….
    To be of use, no matter how simple should always be a goal for Residents of all functioning levels!!!!

  2. Geney, thanks for those excellent suggestions. I often remind residents that they can do "God's work" by simply saying hello to their neighbors and acknowledging them as people. This is something almost every resident is able to do.

  3. Dr. El,

    I do think you have to be careful who you are asking to do what for whom, however, I have found most people are pleased to be able to help or assist in anyway they can. Like Geney, I have residents helping in all sorts of ways; residents acting as "Librarians," group leaders, resident advocates etc. I have found engaging residents in more subtle ways very effective in helping them feel useful. That is, I believe residents feel most useful when they are actually helping with the completion of a task, not kept busy with a "job.". This is fairly easy to accomplish; asking a resident to "hold" papers when your hands are full and trying to push a wheelchair, (even if you just ask the assistance of someone's help regardless of whether they physically hold the papers or you just lay them on their lap), asking a resident to pass something to another resident, asking a resident to interpret for another, etc.

    While it is often faster to do things yourself or ask the assistance of another staff member, the psychological benefits are well worth the effort.

  4. Yes, Yes and Yes!!!! The subtle layers of allowing Residents to "feel useful" is equally if not more important.

    Another thing I like to do is the "subtle" asking for permission/choice. For example when we leave their room together; "Is it OK if I close the door to your room?"…. Is it OK, if I turn out the bathroom light?"…. Is it OK, if I turn off the TV?"…. "Is it OK if I give you a ride to the dining room or would you like to do it yourself?"……"Is it Ok, if I ask you a question?" Asking their permission and offering them choices about minuscule aspects of their environment gives them a semblance of of what they have lost on so many levels: CONTROL !!!

  5. Sue, great suggestions, and you're right about knowing the residents well enough to ask favors. When in doubt, start very small.

    Geney, those are excellent ways to increase residents' sense of control, and a great reminder that the residents don't live where we work, we work in their homes: they deserve to be asked and in control of their own homes as much as possible.


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