Posted Jan. 27, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

All Care Hospice social worker Deb Amato of Marblehead, right, assists client Phyllis Burke of Saugus with the help of an iPad

Wicked Local Marblehead
Marblehead, Mass.

Walk into a room where an All Care Hospice social worker is caring for a patient with dementia, and you might see something unusual: The two may be viewing “I Love Lucy” reruns, taking a tour behind the scenes of Fenway Park, laughing along with giggling babies on YouTube, listening to Frank Sinatra songs or even playing piano or bowling — all on an iPad.

“Our social workers and chaplains are an amazingly creative group of people who have been doing things like this with patients for many years, but now they can do it with one device,” explained Trish Crean, bereavement coordinator. “The new iPad Program is a way to make caring for patients more individualized and meaningful for each patient. The iPad serves multiple roles in achieving this goal.”

To begin with, the iPad enables staff to gather extensive information from the patient or family members, not only on a patient’s background and family, but, Crean said, “also on places they have traveled, former occupations, favorite music, TV shows and sports, past hobbies, and so much more. All this ties into how we interact with the patient.”
Armed with such extensive information on a patient who may no longer be engaging well with others, the staff can “breakthrough to the patient,” she said.

“Once we learn what they love, we can locate and access so many activities that are meaningful to them,” Crean said. “It’s the little things that promote laughter and connection. Anyone in any stage of life has the potential to respond to this type of sensory stimulation. We believe that the patient who may not appear as they used to when healthy is still ‘in there,’ and we are trying to tap into what is still functioning.”
One woman in the mid to late stages of life learned how to touch and drag buttons on the iPad and now controls it herself in order to view impressionist pictures, a treasured hobby from her earlier years.

“This was someone who wasn’t always engaging in realistic conversations before this,” Crean said. “She was often anxious — a common trait of people with advanced dementia. Now we can engage her for a while, and she can experience a break from her worries. You have to look at the small victories.”
The iPad may also help patients who can’t find words for basic needs. Now they can point to photographs of specific foods to select lunch, or point to photos to express levels of pain they are experiencing.

All Care’s Kristina Neumann, hospice operations director, instituted the Dementia Program two years ago to ensure they were reaching the patient for who they are. The iPad program is an extension of this.
“A lot of research has proven that sensory techniques engage patients and help the staff focus on the person instead of a diagnosis,” she said. “The type of work we can do now with the iPad has been shown to reduce anxiety without having to put in place medication, and it is an attempt to reduce geriatric psych hospital admissions.”

Rachel Russo, clinical director and hospice administrator, expressed pride in her staff for grasping an opportunity and taking action to deliver it to All Care dementia clients.

“It is great to see clients recognize what is on the screen and make eye contact,” she said. “This is particularly exciting coming from people who may have been sitting in an unengaged state and not interacting. It helps us as caregivers to know we are making a difference and helping bring value and quality of life. The hospice mission is to increase quality of life by managing symptoms and also providing patients an opportunity to be the best that they can be at the end of life. The iPad program helps support that.”
Founded in 1911, All Care VNA is a Medicare/Medicaid-certified agency offering services of nurses, home health aides, specialists in geriatrics, oncology, diabetes, physical, occupational and speech therapies as well as palliative care. For more information, call 800-287-2454 or visit allcare.org.