Kidron Bethel Village recently hosted staff training sessions facilitating therapeutic small-group activities for people with memory impairment.

Kidron Bethel Village recently hosted staff training sessions facilitating therapeutic small-group activities for people with memory impairment.

The sessions were led by nationally recognized educator and consultant Erin Bonitto of Gemini Consulting.

“Involving people with dementia in therapeutic small-group activities offers a compassionate way to deliver genuine pleasure, purpose and peace,” Bonitto said.

Therapeutic small groups are driven by a pre-selected theme featuring “kits” made up of dozens of props.

Each prop is carefully chosen to cue parts of the brain that still “work” but may be buried beneath severe language difficulties.

In addition, the three-dimensional props relate to all senses, allowing them to be looked at, held, used and experienced.

Trained staff facilitators use a variety of nonverbal and verbal techniques to carefully draw out deeply stored, long-term memory.

Special techniques also are used to create a genuine connection between the residents. Bonitto provided training for Kidron Bethel staff members who will facilitate the program.

During therapy sessions, residents are encouraged to interact with each other, make choices and share their thoughts with the group.

A small-group training session focusing on a beach theme featured props, including bathing suits, beach hats and towels and decorated sunglasses.

Participants in the group were encouraged to choose their favorites from the assortment of props, and each dug their fingers into beach sand to extract a buried shell. Holding their choices from a basket of “keeper” seashells, residents then shared their memories of visits to the beach and playing with their children.

“What would you do with this sand if we really were on the beach?” Bonitto asked.

“I’d dig in way down,” replied a resident. “I’d look for jewels.”

“I’d dig in with my hands,” said another participant.

“Toes would be better,” added a third, giggling as she spoke.

One resident modeled a pair of oversized pink and blue butterfly sunglasses sprinkled with gold flecks, and chose a bright, multicolored swimsuit for her “trip” to the beach. She soon traded them for sunglasses shaped like pineapples and a hot pink one-piece swimsuit. The session ended with residents holding hands and singing a song.

Therapeutic small-group activities training at Kidron Bethel follows the implementation in 2007 of Bonitto’s Alzheimer’s lounge concept.

The lounge program is ongoing at Kidron Bethel and involves strength-based stations, with residents pursuing an activity appropriate for their abilities and interests.

Each station features authentic props and activity supplies known to be engaging for residents with dementia.

“Allowing a resident to touch, smell and experience common objects such as dirt, flower bulbs and watering cans can help unlock the gateway to precious memories,” Bethel Health Care Centre activities director Beth Penner said. “We will be expanding our ‘kits’ to include weddings, fishing and other areas of interest, to help residents remember more of the happiest times in their lives.

“This program is a gift that allows us to help our residents recover their ‘lost’ memories,” Penner said. “They deserve these moments of pleasure that they might not receive in typical large-group activities.”

Bonitto will present a workshop, “Alzheimer's Lounge: Interdisciplinary Program for the Real World,” this summer at the International Association of Homes and Services for the Aging conference in London, England. Kidron Bethel is one of 13 locations in the United States to implement the Alzheimer’s lounge program and provide survey results related to outcomes. The results of those surveys will be included in Bonitto’s presentation.

“Kidron Bethel is the only provider in the state of Kansas to invest in ongoing training, coaching and development of Life Enrichment Systems for Dementia,” Bonitto explained. “The community is blessed to have this caliber of dementia expertise. I'm thrilled to be sharing Kidron Bethel's successes with an international audience in London.”

“The lounge and therapeutic small groups programs are more than just activities on our weekly calendars,” said Bethel Health Care Administrator Leigh Peck. “Each program is designed to enhance quality of life by bringing moments of true peace, pleasure and purpose to our residents with dementia. The sensory stimulation of using props helps residents express memories that staff and family members may not have heard in years.”