Once a routine/habit is set in place, it can be quite hard to change it. So setting up good ones in the beginning is crucial. As one ages and health issues make things harder, it is even more important to put healthy routines in place to facilitate day-to-day activities. Also, when the elderly find themselves transferred to a different environment – like a hospital – this can feel incredibly overwhelming and actually disorienting.
Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist Vera Sullivan has been on this mission for nearly a year now in New Zealand’s Hutt Hospital. She explains that, for the elderly:
“hospitals [can be] quite challenging environments because in hospital our routines are so different to our home ones, so we’ve been looking at ways to improve things for [the elderly] so they can understand what’s going on.”
Thus Sullivan has put signs on bathroom doors, made sure there are lights on in places where they could be helpful and also organized a table in the middle of a room for patients to gather and engage with others. She has found that small act – where patients share cookies and play games – to be “the biggest change…because it gives everybody a focus. If you’re at the table then you automatically chat to the person next to you. Even if patients aren’t well enough to engage they can still be there keeping track of something, like a card game. It can often help jog memories.”
They are also working on an idea taken from the UK called “pyjama paralysis”, which, as Sullivan explains is
“the idea that if you’re in pyjamas you feel like you have to be in bed, but we don’t want older people sitting in bed because they lose strength very quickly, they don’t know what time of day it is and they feel like they’re waiting for things to happen.”
There are clearly many ways – that do not have to be complicated to implement – that can make a huge difference to the elderly and frail when they are faced with a new environment or just looking to establish good habits for a healthful existence.