Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services directives ask facilities to be more attentive to behavioral health issues such resident depression and trauma, and to manage dementia and other behavioral problems while reducing or eliminating psychotropic medications. Providers wondering how to accomplish this tall order might consider turning to a generally overlooked resource — their residents.
Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that past traumas, long-standing mental health problems, and depression and anxiety triggered by the tumult of admission should be addressed by mental health professionals such as consulting psychologists like me.
Just as firmly, however, I know that positive connections between residents can alleviate many of the problems associated with physical decline and institutional living.
Shared friendships can give meaning, purpose and joy to the lives of elders, including those with advanced dementia. I know I’m not the only one in the field who has witnessed nonsensical conversations between two confused elders who delight in each other’s presence — and the challenges that come when one of the pair departs.
Moreover, just this week McKnight’s wrote about a study reporting on the success of a peer mentoring program between residents. The “Java Mentorship” offered residents weekly training sessions incorporating 26 different modules, including “how to be a mentor” and “how to support someone who’s grieving.” When they completed the educational program, the trainees visited with other residents who were socially isolated. At the conclusion of the program, the mentors — mostly women about 80 years old — showed significantly reduced feelings of depression and loneliness.