Covenant Health
This week's reflection

This week's reflection

I believe the second half of one's life is meant to be better than the first half. The first half is finding out how you do it. And the second half is enjoying it.

Frances Lear

Baby doll trumps antipsychotics

January 26, 2016

Resident flourishes from creative approach to Alzheimer’s care

Gerry Harvey and her daughter Laura Krefting enjoy a magazine together on a bright January morning.

Gerry Harvey and her daughter Laura Krefting laugh as they sit near a sun-lit window in the long-term care unit at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre. The ladies flip through a magazine, enjoying the colourful pictures and reminiscing about old times.

Despite being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease nine years ago, Gerry’s tender heart and gentle spirit have touched many families, including her own. She graduated from the University of Alberta’s nursing program in 1949 and raised her three children while volunteering extensively in the community.

“She was very involved in the church and the Women’s Auxiliary and even visited people at the Edmonton General,” says Laura “She took care of people.”

Laura remembers Gerry’s move to the Edmonton General as extremely stressful for Gerry and her family. She was not her calm, smiling self during those first few days. She was uncooperative and resisted staff and family trying to care for her.

“It was her first move in 59 years, and it was really distressing for mom,” says Laura. “She was on antipsychotics to help manage her dementia, but they made her a completely different person. She was non-verbal and barely recognized anybody.”

Luckily for Gerry and her family, the medications were quickly replaced with what originally seemed a strange alternative—a baby doll.

“She’s never without the baby,” Laura says. “Her vocabulary has doubled since she went off the antipsychotics and started caring for the baby, and the stimulation helps her personality come out.”

The principle of reducing the use of antipsychotics to manage dementia-related behaviours such as wandering and yelling comes from the Appropriate Use of Antipsychotics (AUA) program. Instead of using drugs to treat dementia in residents who don’t have psychosis, the program challenges care teams to investigate other treatment methods. That’s just what Geraldine MacInnis, Manager, Units 4A/B at the Edmonton General, did for her residents.

“Antipsychotics can keep residents from eating, communicating and socializing, and they can increase their risk of having a fall,” says Macinnis. “We need to investigate the resident’s past and see if they have a need we can meet without giving them medication.”

At the Edmonton General Units 4A/B, there is an activity chest that helps staff do exactly that— it contains a variety of activities including puzzles, games, colouring books, dolls and stuffed animals. While these items seem trivial, MacInnis says they put residents’ minds at ease by keeping them busy and engaged.

A sample of some of the items in the activity chest including: stencils, blocks and a Rubik’s cube.

“We work with our residents instead of masking the problem,” says MacInnis.

For Laura and Gerry, this work is priceless. Laura visits her mom often, and she’s glad to know she’s back to her smiling self.

“My mom became alive after the drugs were stopped,” says Laura. “Despite her dementia, she is now alert, very social and a joy to visit with.”