Thursday, October 6, 2011

The international language of dementia


We have now spent two full days in Warsaw, Poland, and have filled them with a variety of activities. On the first morning, we walked to a large, upscale mall where we purchased an ethernet adaptor for our laptop at the iSpot (Polish Apple Store). [When we heard that the world is grieving the death of Steve Jobs today, we wondered whether there was some kind of memorial at the store in Warsaw.] In the afternoon, a doctoral student who had just handed in her dissertation met us at our hotel and took us on the tram to the University of Warsaw where we gave a brief talk to students enrolled in a 5-year BS/MS program in psychology, taught in English. This program attracts students from all over the world.



Today we visited an adult day program and a nursing home built in 2010. In our group were two people from France, one from Germany, and two Poles, one who volunteers with the Polish Alzheimer's Society and one who's a geriatrician. The international language of dementia is spoken by professionals from many countries devoting their energies to the lives of people living with dementia (people with the diagnosis and their carers).

The day program shares space in a older building with a similar program for adults with psychiatric challenges, although the two groups do not interact. It serves one "district" of Warsaw. The director thinks that with its capacity of 12, it is more than adequate for the district's needs, but the geriatrician escorting us believes that the need is several times greater. Much of what we saw was familiar from our time in similar facilities in the U.S. and U.K. - creative engagement, warm support from volunteers and staff, etc. We quickly learned that it is easier for us to communicate effectively with persons with dementia than with those who don't have dementia but who speak Polish, German, French, etc.

After a quick stop at "the best bakery in Warsaw," we moved on to the nursing home. It is one of 14 owned and run by the city of Warsaw, the newest and the only one entirely devoted to persons with dementia. The building is striking in many ways - modern, architecturally dramatic, "green" certified, etc. It currently serves 90 residents. When the former nursing home building next door is renovated, it will serve 120 plus another 30 in day care. (The city has not yet gotten its act together on that part of the mission, so a wonderful day care facility is currently underutilized). We were amazed to see the large number of private spacious offices for psychologists, social workers, and other professional staff. We saw the residents' dining areas (with table cloths and centerpieces on each table), the single and double occupancy rooms (each with a bathroom that includes a shower that can be used by people in wheelchairs), a beautiful sun filled chapel, several gardens and patios, and rooms for hydrotherapy, physical exercise, massage, light therapy, arts/crafts, "daily living" (with a small kitchen where people can cook things not prepared by the main kitchen) and relaxation (a room for people to rest in sunshine)--and of course, a hair salon where all residents go twice a week. For all this, people pay 70% of their pension (whatever it is); it costs 5000 zlotys/month (about $1500); if they can afford it, families are asked to kick in 400 zlotys/month toward the total. Our pictures here show the GLASS staircase (viewed from the ground floor looking up at a painting on a skylight) that people with dementia seem to have little trouble negotiating (there are also a lot of elevators) and the relaxation room. We had a long discussion with the director (ably translated by the geriatrician) who's worked at the nursing home since 1975. He's justifiably proud of this new building and the programs they're offering to 90 residents of Warsaw living well with forgetfulness.

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