Each nursing home resident has a right to be heard and understood.

However, communication is often difficult because many resident have physical or mental disabilities that limit their ability to speak.

Marshall Manor Nursing Home in Guntersville developed an activity that helps people with Alzheimer’s and dementia express themselves. The program is called Memory Lane because it stimulates memories and life experiences to create feelings of enjoyment.

Memory Lane takes place twice a week in the nursing home’s dining room. Several activity stations are set up and each centers on a particular theme. Old and familiar songs softly play in the background while residents view pictures of babies or pets, sand blocks of wood or play with costume jewelry. To limit distractions for the residents, only one staff member is in the room during Memory Lane.

“Each activity serves a different purpose such as feeling useful, bringing about excitement and creating happiness,” Marshall Manor Administrator Pam Vogt said.

The results of Memory Lane have been nothing short of remarkable.

“We have one resident who is paranoid and sits at the nurses’ station all day,” Vogt explained. “We brought her in Memory Lane and she began to sing. Other employees said they could never keep her focused on an activity more than five minutes and she stayed in there and sang with me for two hours. One man sat at a table sanding blocks and you could see the look of determination on his face because he feels useful.”

Memory Lane is supplemented with sensitivity training to help staff members better understand the challenges people with Alzheimer’s and dementia face each day. An example of the training is staff members wearing goggles covered in Vaseline to simulate impaired vision. It is part of the skilled nursing care center’s drive to create a communication culture.

Special Inspiration for Memory Lane

res pic 008

Patrick Cryar at Marshall Manor Nursing Home.

The idea for Memory Lane was inspired by the remarkable story of Marshall Manor Nursing Home resident Patrick Cryar. Patrick, who lives with cerebral palsy, was unable to speak until nursing home staff and therapists outfitted his wheelchair with a specially equipped iPad and trained him to use it.

“Patrick was able to convey for the first time in his whole life his wants and needs,” Vogt said. “The thing that got my attention was he told the speech therapist one day that he did not feel good because he had a bad dream the night before. It got us thinking what about how residents diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia aren’t able to tell us what things upset them and cause them to exhibit abnormal behaviors. That’s when we began researching communication methods that led us to develop Memory Lane.”

ANHA.org documented Patrick’s incredible story in 2014. You can read it here.

After Patrick’s experience and the positive results of Memory Lane, Vogt has some words of encouragement for nursing home employees.

“I’ve been in the nursing home profession for 30 years, and this is the first time I truly realized how important it is to be able to communicate with people who are unable to talk,” Vogt said. “They may not be able to tell you what they need, but if you can put a smile on their face and stimulate a memory that brings them joy and happiness the look on their faces is so rewarding.”

Marshall Manor Nursing Home staff will present “Look Who’s Talking” at Alabama’s Best Practices in Birmingham on August 27, 2015, to display the success of the Memory Lane program and Patrick Cryar.

Click here for detailed information on how to implement Marshall Manor’s best practice in your nursing home.