HANCOCK - A gentle stroking of a head or soft lighting and certain smells can be beneficial in calming people with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, and that method of care was a topic of discussion Tuesday at the Finlandia University Jutila Center for Global Design and Business.
Joyce Simard, master of social work and adjunct professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Western Sydney Australia, spoke Tuesday of her development and use of Namaste Care for dementia patients and people with other illnesses.
Simard was introduced by Tammy Carroll, director of Portage Health Hospice, who said the health system's hospice program started seven years ago and now they have a focus on dementia care, which is helpful in comforting those with the disease.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Joyce Simard, master of social work and adjunct associate professor at the School of Nursing at University of Western Sydney Australia, speaks Tuesday to one of the people attending her talk about her Namaste Care for Alzheimer’s patients at the Finlandia University Jutila Center for Global Design and Business in Hancock.
"Hospice is not about dying," she said. "Hospice is about living while you're dying."
Simard said although Portage Health Hospice is relatively small, it is one of the few in the country using Namaste.
"That's pretty spectacular," she said.
Namaste is a Hindu word, which gives honor to the spirit within a person, and Simard said that philosophy guides the Namaste Care method.
As a result of her 35 years in social work, Simard said she eventually realized she couldn't always ask Alzheimer's patients how their disease was progressing, so she decided to keep them busy with trivia, word games and exercise, activities which can be beneficial to those without the disease, also.
"When you keep the mind active, you lower your risk of getting Alzheimer's," she said.
Some people with Alzheimer's know they have it, at least in the early stages. Simard said knowing can lead to depression.
"Our seniors know there's no cure for Alzheimer's," she said.
In the middle stages of Alzheimer's, Simard said short-term memory is affected. Those with the disease may ask about long-dead relatives or mates, and while most caregivers and family members will keep telling that person the person being asked about is dead, she doesn't do that. Rather than say someone is dead, she says the person is away somewhere.
"We join their journey," she said. "Most of the time you fix the problem and they feel better."
Simard said because of the loss of short-term memory, Alzheimer's patients can easily become agitated. Namaste Care provides a room or other location with soft lighting, soft music and odors, such as lavender, which has a calming effect.
"What we want to do is create a very quiet, loving surrounding," she said. Stroking a person's head and noticing things about their clothing is calming, also, Simard said.
"Quality of life is not possible if you're not comfortable," she said. "The foundation of Namaste is the power of the loving touch."
When people with Alzheimer's are calm, Simard said the use of anti-psychotic drugs can be reduced.
Simard said she's had success, also, bringing comfort to people with other afflictions, such as Parkinson's disease.
Even with the devastating effects of Alzheimer's, patients using Namaste are able to have a degree of comfort and even laugh sometimes.
"The giggle is there almost until the last breath," she said.
Carol Pfefferkorn, Omega House hospice outreach and events coordinator, said the facility in Houghton rarely has residents with Alzheimer's, but she thinks the Namaste method could be helpful there, anyway.
"The calming, meditative aspects can bring (some) benefits," she said.