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Back to Basics: Alzheimer’s care with a human touch

🕐 5 min read

The James L. West Alzheimer’s Center is transforming its facilities into “residential apartments” with more of the comforts of home and is training staff in an innovative form of therapy that has proven effective overseas.

One new therapy protocol, called “Humanitude,” is a specific series of steps that elicits physiologically beneficial responses in elderly patients. Continuing its reputation as an innovator, the West Center will be the first medical center to bring this therapy protocol to the U.S.

Humanitude is based on little things, such as knocking three times and calling residents by name before you open their doors, making eye contact when you speak to them, touching them, helping them make their own appointments for things like baths and haircuts and talking directly with them – even when there is no response.

Humanitude care methods were developed in France 30 years ago by Yves Gineste at the request of the French government to meet the challenge of so many uncooperative and hostile patients and to help prevent so many injuries to caregivers. Humanitude is a method of nursing care that “changes the way that you do everything,” said Susan Farris, executive director of the West Center.

“They did some surveys and what they learned was that caregivers did not have relationships with their patients,” Farris said. Gineste developed Humanitude care to build bonds, and it resulted in fewer injuries, happier staff, happier patients and happier families.

The Humanitude method is aimed at establishing relationships that promote the over-all wellbeing of both patients and their nurses and other caregivers. The idea is that gentleness and kindness beget cooperation and trust.

Perhaps most important, Farris said, plans call for teaching the Tarrant County community at large to provide the same kind of care at home.

“Our future focus is on helping families care for their loved ones at home,” Farris said. “The money is not there to provide in-patient care for everybody who needs it. People are going to have to do this at home.”

The two major changes – in both the physical space and the therapy protocol – represent a significant shift for the now more than 20-year-old center.

“When the center was built in 1993, it was finished like a hospital – a nice hospital, but still a hospital with the focus on medical care and safety, protecting people from themselves,” Farris told Fort Worth Business during a recent tour of the renovated facilities.

“The idea now is to go beyond quality of care and promote quality of life,” Farris said. “Independence, variety, spontaneity, interactions and normal home activities are incredibly important to well-being.

“Medical services have been our strength and will remain a pillar of our care. What will change is the addition of comfort, familiarity and opportunities for meaningful, normal activities in the living spaces,” she said.

To that end, the West Center’s $12 million transformation includes existing resident rooms, common and patio areas, a sports bar (also referred to as “the man cave”), beauty salons, accessible kitchens and spas. Staff workrooms are replacing nursing stations, and microwaves and computers will be readily available for everyone’s use.

“The bones of the building were very good. They are still good, but we’ve learned that people with dementia need as much variety in their ‘normal’ as anyone else,” Farris said.

The West Center should be a better place to live if it looks like a home, she pointed out. “In a home, you know where the kitchen is and what it’s for,” Farris said. “Food doesn’t just magically appear on a tray someone sets in front of you. You get brain cues from the smell of food and the rattle of pots and pans and dishes. Seeing food dished up or dishing it up yourself alerts you to the fact that this is what eating is all about.”

The West Center is re-opening the first of five complexes, each with 12 to 15 residential apartments, in September. A total of 66 apartments offering graduated levels of nursing care are to be completed and phased back into service in the next year.

And with the more inviting living spaces will come “Music and Memory,” a program that uses iPods and digital music technology to bring personalized music into the lives of every resident and help those struggling with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.

Also, an interactive, dementia-specific computer system should make safe and easy Internet access and email possible, improve socialization and communication with families and friends, enhance independence and increase cognitive stimulation, Farris said. The IN2L system, or “It’s Never 2 Late,” is loaded with games, music, travel and learning experiences geared to any level of functionality.

An estimated 5.3 million Americans now have Alzheimer’s disease, and the number is projected to grow as the size and proportion of the population 65 and older increases. By the year 2050, the number is projected to hit 13.8 million.

There will always be people who need in-patient care, but there is no way to provide that much care, Farris noted.

In a cooperative program led by the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Tarrant County Hospital District and United Way, the West Center will begin organizing classes and training programs to teach families and friends, emergency medical personnel, police, restaurant managers, attorneys, nurses, nursing students, medical students, store clerks and others how to use Humanitude care concepts to better understand, get along with and care for people with Alzheimer’s.

Gineste will be in Fort Worth Sept. 18 to introduce and discuss Humanitude at a noon meeting of the Downtown Rotary Club at the Fort Worth Club.


1111 Summit Ave,

Fort Worth 76102


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