Open mindedness helps residents living with dementia at Vonlea Manor, Geelong
Facility Manager Judy O’Brien’s different approach has led to fantastic results.
After witnessing the mistreatment of those with dementia in the early 90’s when she was a nurse, Judy developed a passion for the treating these people with dignity.
“I believed there had to be a better way to support these terribly vulnerable people” She says.
“I wanted to see real change”
There has been change, and it’s been driven at Vonlea Manor by Judy over the past 16 years, using a method called “Validation Therapy.”
This therapy has been around since the 1960’s with the basic idea that you should treat people living with Dementia in a way that provides them dignity and respect for their reality and communicate with them as such. “Many care homes still operate using ‘reality orientation’, where residents are constantly corrected.” She says.
“Such a response only distresses a resident living with dementia further.”
This is why at Vonlea, there is a different approach; one that accepts that for someone living with dementia, perception is their reality. This sometimes means taking the time to be patient with an individual, to really understand them.
“It’s up to us to be patient; to give them our time. By being really present with that person, you’re able to ask ‘how can I help you? What is it that’s hurting you?’”.
To complement this approach, the environment in which residents live has changed. Ensuring that staff members have an open mind to the way they work has been vital in the success at Vonlea.
“I encourage them to not see anything as ‘too big’ to do. The key is getting involved and understanding that it’s our residents’ home here. Not just a place to stay, but their home.”
Judy has made sure that Vonlea employs multi-lingual staff to support the multicultural nature of the home, whilst maintaining the focus on validating their reality. She says this has helped to relax many residents.
“When an elderly person is upset or agitated, being able to call on an employee who can speak in the same tongue is enormously helpful in de-stressing a resident and taking their anxiety away.”
“It really strengthens Vonlea Manor’s community feel.” Judy states proudly.
The staff have also implemented music therapy to help make the residents more comfortable.
“It’s brilliant to see the sheer delight on their faces when they hear pieces they can really relate to,” Judy says.
With one resident, who lost her husband 5 years ago, and has short term memory loss as a result of dementia, Judy actively encourages her to write a diary. This woman is also a fantastic singer, and has been able to move between the present and the past with no anxiety.
“That diary has been her map that prevents her from feeling lost” Judy remarks.
Another form of validation therapy at Vonlea is Doll Therapy, whereby a resident helps to look after a doll. This has been proven to help improve cognitive function, and reduce anxiety in people living with dementia.
Getting to this point however, has had its challenges. Judy says the biggest of these was changing perceptions about what people living with dementia can and can’t do, and how they should be treated. “Residents’ physical needs came first and everything needed to look well presented. Those priorities often came at the cost of seeing the resident as a real person,” Judy reveals.
Allowing residents to do activities, and actively encouraging staff members, from lifestyle to cleaning staff, to ask them to help out where they can, enables those residents to live the best life they can. Whilst Judy admits it is a fine line to make sure risk is appropriately assessed, the benefits far outweigh this. A great example is a resident who loved to mow the lawn, and wanted to do this at the home. This has been mutually beneficial for him and his home.
“We could have said ‘no’ outright, but I did a risk assessment first and he’s been absolutely fine. He’s so happy and we’ve got a beautiful looking lawn.”
“These are jobs and activities residents are familiar with. It’s not rocket science; it’s just thinking what gives them a feeling of security, comfort and a sense of usefulness.”