Meet my brother, Adam, age 80. He is blind and has been living independently in his own condo until now. With increasing cognitive confusion, balance problems, falls, and general weakness, he can no longer live alone and has moved into an assisted living facility.
Adam has lived a full and active live even after losing his sight at age 53 due to detached retinas. He has managed well for these last 27 years, keeping his positive attitude and generally cheerful nature.
But Adam lives in the big, black box of blindness. Imagine what it must be like to move into a new care setting.
Imagine: You live in a black box. The door to your box opens. A person comes in, makes some random noises, then leaves. Who is that person? What do they want?
Imagine. A person comes in and starts talking. Who are they talking to? To you? To the person in the next bed? The person pricks your finger and leaves.
Imagine. Someone hoists your feet up onto your wheelchair footrest. Why? Your wheelchair moves. Who is pushing the wheelchair? Where is this person taking you?
Many people check on you during the day in the course of their duties. Who are all these people? What are their names? What are they doing?
How would these nonverbal interactions make you feel? Confused? Irritated? Frustrated? Hopeless? Helpless? Depressed? All of the above?
Adam experiences all these feelings regularly. VIPs need lots of verbal interaction in order to become oriented to the care environment. Here’s how you can help.
1. Orient the VIP to people he will encounter each day.
Greet Adam. Identify yourself and your reason for being in his box every time you enter.
Hi Adam. I’m Valerie. I’m here to give your meds.
HI Adam. I’m Sarah. I’m going to check your blood sugar level.
Hey Adam. Simon here. I’m going to move your wheelchair away from this doorway so people can come in.
2. Get to know Adam as a person who has a wealth of experiences. Take a few minutes to engage him in conversation.
Our family posted some pictures in his box, and these became conversation starters for people who came in.
The speech therapist saw this next picture and asked about it.
Therapist. Oh, is that your dog? He’s really cute.
Adam. Yes. Her name was Peaches. She had cancer and died. (Peaches was a big part of his life in his early blindness. Adam still chokes up when he talks about her.)
Therapist. Oh, I am so sorry to hear that. I bet you loved that little dog.
This therapist made a personal, empathetic connection with Adam in this short conversation. She treated Adam like a person with feelings.
Brief interactions with Adam make him feel comfortable in new surroundings, and these new caregivers soon become friends. Personal connections are critical to the successful orientation of VIPs.
3. Wear your name tag every day.
Adam can’t read your nametags, but family and friends can. It’s hard for them to remember all the personnel who interact with Adam every day. Help them out. Wear your name tag. And post your name on a whiteboard in the room. Family members can help Adam remember your name and your role in his care.