Tales of an iPad
by Susan Anderson, HPCCR Social Worker
Editor’s Note: A couple of years ago, a social worker at HPCCR found that she could get many of her formerly unresponsive dementia patients to engage with her if she brought her iPad to their visits. And just like that, an entire organizational program was created around using iPads with dementia patients. Realizing both the success and the potential of the program, what quickly followed was an effort to raise money to purchase iPads for all HPCCR social workers. While many of them are fortunate to have one, there are still others — like Susan Anderson — who share one with another social worker. Our fundraising efforts continue; if you are interested in learning more about supporting this worthwhile program, visit the dementia care page on our website, or contact our Development Department at 704.375.0100. Meanwhile, let Susan’s stories below awe and inspire you!
Mrs. E is a 96 year-old dementia patient who lives at home. She is bedbound but does enjoy occasionally sitting up in her wheelchair. As with all dementia patients, Mrs. E has better days than others but she recently went through a difficult time of not responding well. She was sleeping almost all the time and our team thought this was her final decline; that she was transitioning. One day I went to see her and I found her lying peacefully in bed, eyes closed, and unresponsive to touch or sound. I took the iPad (that I share with another social worker) and pulled up some of Mrs. E’s favorite music (which happens to be the Gaithers) on YouTube. I played several selections but then chose one of her favorites called No More Nights. When I played it, I watched an incredible transformation in her responsiveness. I could tell she could hear the music as she began to move about and raise her hand up into the air. She even cracked her eyes open.
Since then, Mrs E has rebounded a bit and now sits up in her wheelchair for some of my visits. When I bring the iPad, it is quite delightful to see her respond to it. I still play her favorite music but now she looks at the iPad, pokes at the picture of the people singing, and tries to figure out how the video works. She is interactive and appears to enjoy the music very much. Even in the darkest recesses of this disease, I have seen music touch the soul of our patients. Sometimes, music is the only thing that will reach a dementia patient when they are not responding and speaking any longer.
Mr. W had a diagnosis of lung cancer and was my patient for several weeks. The patient was originally from the Virgin Islands and was homeless there, suffering from bi-polar disorder and OCD. As a result of these mental health disorders, my visits with Mr. W were very difficult. Quite often he was in a manic phase and visits were rambling and challenging. I decided to take my shared iPad one day following a long discussion with the MD and RN regarding additional medication changes to address the manic phases. When I entered the home, the patient was less manic and was able to have a sit down visit for the first time.
I brought out the iPad and Mr. W’s son-in-law and I sat with him on the couch. I pulled up some wonderful photos of the Virgin Islands, specifically of St. Thomas where he, his daughter, and son-in-law are originally from. At first he was not very interested in the pictures, but as I continued to continued to scroll through them, I landed on a photo that was an aerial view of the island. All of a sudden, he pointed to the picture and said, “There’s my home I grew up in.” He was now fully engaged, and his son-in-law was as well. His son-in-law started pointing out houses saying, “There’s my parents home; there’s my cousin’s home; there’s my aunt’s home.” From this picture, I learned all about Mr. W’s life. He told me about the bay at St. Thomas and how he had almost drowned there as a boy. Hearing this story helped me understand how such a traumatic experience had caused him to be afraid to die.
Shortly after that visit, Mr. W died peacefully. I was able to provide some supportive counseling during the next week and brought the patient’s life to a close in a peaceful and dignified way — because of great team work and a one-time session of reminisce therapy using an iPad.
Mrs. S is an 87 year-old patient with a diagnosis of dementia. The patient has no ability to have meaningful conversation, babbling but alert during my visits. I tried for many weeks to find some connection to her. One day, I brought my iPad and engaged the patient with music therapy. I struggled to find a piece of music she might enjoy but then I landed on a classical version of Amazing Grace. Up until this song, the patient would look at the iPad but had no interaction with it. I started the song and within a few seconds, the patient became totally engaged and kept saying, “How beautiful!” I played it a second time and, believe it or not, she began to sing the words and sang the first verse all the way through. The caregiver was absolutely amazed at this! (As was I!) This was possible only because of the iPad.
Mrs. G is an elderly patient who does not have dementia but is house-bound. She is particularly fond of gospel music. Because she is not able to leave her house very often to get to church, I started playing gospel music on the iPad. Mrs. G has enjoyed it so much that she now expects it when I come to visit. She absolutely beams from ear to ear as soon as she starts to hear the music; it’s very therapeutic. Unfortunately, I share the iPad with another social worker and don’t always have it with me on my visits. But since Mrs. G expects it, she gets it! Sometimes I have to use my phone (which will do in a pinch), but it’s always a joy when the iPad is available.