Nov. 22, 2004

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Contact: Karen Henry, Schiefelbusch Life Span Institute, (785) 864-0756.

KU research offers aid to nursing home residents with dementia

LAWRENCE -- Gerontology researchers at the University of Kansas offer practical, research-based solutions for nursing staffs in two studies published in the October Journal of Gerontological Nursing.

The cover story reports on a study by R. Mark Mathews, professor of applied behavioral science and associate director of the KU Gerontology Center, and Beth Nolan, a University of Pittsburgh postdoctoral fellow and KU graduate. The researchers tested a simple and inexpensive solution to one of the most vexing problems for nursing staffs in dementia units -- repetitive questions by residents about mealtimes.

They found that hanging a large clock and a sign listing mealtimes in the dining area of a special care unit significantly reduced repetitive questioning by residents with dementia about the time of the next meal.

“ Repetitive questions and requests for information are common in older adults with dementia and often cause distress for themselves as well as nursing staff,” Mathews said. “We believe that when staff are not constantly confronted with repetitive questions, they are likely to have more -- and more pleasant -- conversations with those in their care.”

But conversations marked by “elderspeak,” baby talk on the part of nursing staffs, may cause residents to have lowered self-esteem and depression and even to withdraw from social interaction, according to research by Susan Kemper, Gerontology Center senior scientist and Roy A. Roberts distinguished professor of psychology.

In a related study Kristine Williams, assistant professor of nursing; Mary Lee Hummert, professor of communication studies; and Kemper trained nursing assistants at five Kansas nursing homes to use elderspeak less often. The participants watched real and dramatized videotaped interactions with residents and listened to their own conversations with residents before and after training.

The training program of three one-hour sessions, designed to accommodate nursing home schedules, resulted in communication that was perceived by residents to be more respectful, less controlling yet still caring, the researchers said.

“Nursing staff can overcome elderspeak by periodically fine-tuning the messages they give older adults,” said Williams. “Communication is a powerful tool to promote the health and well-being of older adults.”

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