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Mindful Care Unit makes all the difference for dementia patients

For a person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, a hospital can be a scary, confusing place. It’s an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people, and it can be hard to communicate their needs and wants.

Adding to the problem, few hospital staff members are trained to take care of dementia patients. Often, these patients leave the hospital in worse shape than when admitted. Right now, one in four hospitalized older adults has dementia — a number projected to increase in the coming years.

Creating an environment that nurtures those with dementia

Enter the Mindful Care Unit at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. This unit is specially suited to the needs of hospitalized adults with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or similar cognitive impairments.

On the 10-bed unit, two Patient Engagement Specialists, or PES, are trained to anticipate the needs of dementia patients. Similar to caregivers who understand that babies act out when hungry or uncomfortable, PES are trained to read signs of distress and discomfort in elderly patients. They also engage patients with coloring books, crosswords, bingo and dance parties in the common area. 

“This unit allows us to take care of the medical issues that have arisen but really take care of patients with dementia,” says Dr. Liron Sinvani, geriatrician hospitalist at Northwell Health. “It’s a patient-centered unit.”

quotation mark This is really going to help us spread what we’ve found and really impact many more patients.
Dr. Liron Sinvani

Studying the unit’s effect and spreading the knowledge

Richard and Lorraine Schwarz donated $10,000 to help study the effects of the Mindful Care Unit. They know the struggles of memory loss — Lorraine’s father had Alzheimer’s disease. “I noticed transitional time with my father was very difficult,” she says, adding that her bringing her father from one place to another would upset him. “From my own experience, I knew that was something that was very important.”

Dr. Sinvani found that patients who stayed on the Mindful Care Unit had a lower mortality rate and spent fewer days in the hospital. They were also less likely to be restrained and received fewer medications, including dangerous antipsychotics. She published the results in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in August of 2018. 

“It means everything,” Dr. Sinvani says of Richard and Lorraine’s gift. “There are many patients already living with dementia — hospitals are ill-prepared to care for them. We have to make sure that we’re preparing our workforce to take care of patients with dementia. This is really going to help us spread what we’ve found and really impact many more patients.”

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