Since hospital visitors are limited because of COVID-19 surges, you and your colleagues’ faces are among the only ones that patients are seeing. Think about your patients with dementia. You are unfamiliar to them to begin with, and wearing a mask too! Imagine how frightening or confusing this experience must be for them. Fortunately, you likely have a simple tool available that can help you provide function focused care, calm them if they are anxious or scared, and make your job a little easier.
Does your hospital use a “Get to Know Me” or “My Story” board in patients’ rooms? (Click here for an example.) This information-gathering tool helps staff learn more about patients’ preferences during their hospital stays. For patients with dementia and other cognitive impairment, learning about their careers, families, favorite things, and hobbies can be invaluable.
For example, if you know what kind of music or TV shows a patient enjoys, you can talk about these things as you are cueing them brush their teeth or do some stretches. They may miss family members or pets, so knowing about their spouse, grandchildren or dog can help you encourage them to tell you more about them, which can decrease their anxiety and build trust with you. Knowing about their career can also spark conversation, as well as remind you and your colleagues that this person—no matter how cognitively impaired they may be now—had a career with experiences and achievements they are proud of and can share. This can also inspire ideas for activities they may enjoy to keep them occupied. For example, a former accountant might like adding numbers on papers you provide. The “Get to Know Me” board has places to note what causes stress to a patient (e.g. loud noises) and what cheers them up (candy or singing a song!). Knowing this can help you prevent or mitigate stressful situations, and help engage a person if they seem withdrawn or sad.
With many hospitals at or close to full capacity now and staff stretched to its limits, it may help to designate someone on the care team to complete these boards with the patient, or ask family members for answers during a quick check-in call. While it can take 5 to 10 minutes to complete, if can save you much more time in the long run, and help you and your team provide patient-centered care to the most vulnerable.