Honoring the Spirit Within

Elderly woman being kissed by a dogOshkosh nursing home a leader in dementia care

Mary Lou Kriz remembers having conversations with her late husband, George, who would not recognize certain words that she would say. “We’d be talking and he would say, ‘Oh, there’s no such word,’ ” says Kriz. “It was usually just an ordinary word. I thought he was kidding me.”

In retrospect, Kriz believes this was an early sign of her husband’s eventual diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia. George, who passed away last July at age 73, was among the more than 110,000 in Wisconsin suffering from the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. That number is expected to grow by 18 percent during the next 10 years.

The growing incidence of dementia has prompted the start-up of projects and programs throughout the greater Oshkosh area. Kriz was inspired by a new program at Miravida Living, formerly Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh. By the time George was a resident there, he was using a wheelchair, he didn’t speak and had limited use of his hands, she says.

Called Namaste, the program is designed to improve the quality of life for people with dementia through sensory stimulation. Funded in part by the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, Miravida Living was among the first in the state to offer the program. “We have seen remarkable results and believe it’s just the tip of the iceberg of its potential,” says Nancy Twichell, Namaste care leader and chaplain at Miravida Living.

Twichell says residents often experience better sleep, fewer agitated interactions and increased appetite after receiving Namaste care. Most importantly, Namaste helps reconnect individuals to others and their loved ones at a time when communication is challenging.

Namaste – a Hindu word meaning to honor the spirit within – is offered in a room equipped with plush recliners, soft lighting and aromatic scents. Activities are individualized for each resident.

George’s care often included a gentle hand massage, music and watching a DVD of water and nature scenes similar to his experiences at his beloved cabin in Northern Wisconsin. And, an ice cream treat, Kriz says.

“That was a comfort knowing that he was awake and he seemed hungry. The sounds and the music seemed to stimulate him,” she says. “You could just see the tension go away. It incorporated everything that had meaning to him. Even though he couldn’t express it to me, I know it brought him a little bit of heaven, and a lot of peace and comfort.”

Dog Porter enjoys giving kisses to Peg Leach and snuggling with the residents at the Namaste Program. The residents feel calm and comforted by the interaction with the dog.

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