Academic journal article Generations

Nursing Home Residents Using Computers: The Winchester House Experience

Academic journal article Generations

Nursing Home Residents Using Computers: The Winchester House Experience

Article excerpt

Alzheimer's patients were among those who benefitted.

Nursing home residents deserve a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment, and a link to their families and the outside world. Interacting with a computer can do this for them. Computers allow people to make choices, help them to master skills, and link the confined nursing home resident to myriad places.

Imagine a stroke victim unable to use his arm or hand to write. Then feel the joy he experiences writing a letter with ease. Picture an adult who was stricken with cerebral palsy at birth. Despite the lack of a formal education, she is now able to engage in mind-challenging games with others. Computers provide Internet access, which can change a passive onlooker to a Net surfer. Successful work with computers and nursing home residents like these is being done at the Winchester House in Libertyville, Illinois.

The Winchester House is a countyowned and operated skilled-care nursing facility. The wide range of physical and cognitive disabilities of the residents resulted from accidents, strokes, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, Lupus, various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's, deteriorating vision due to age, and other problems. The facility has 36o residents and 400 employees. In addition to responsibility for the physical, mental, and medical needs of residents, staff at Winchester House also have attention to the social and psychological needs of residents as a stated goal.

In early 1995, Bob Schroyer, president of Current Works, Inc., was looking for the opportunity to test his idea that computers with simple adaptations could enhance the lives of nursing home residents. This small computer peripheral design and manufacturing company was already developing innovative products for people with disabilities.

In June of that year, Current Works and Winchester House began working together. The equipment chosen for this project included a MacIntosh Performa computer, monitor, printer, and keyboard; a variety of single switches and a switch interface (to replace the traditional keyboard); a membrane keyboard; a touch screen attached to the monitor; a trackball; external speakers for amplification; a digital camera, and a portable computer station to take to the floors.

While pioneering this new frontier, many different software programs were introduced. Selection was determined by these characteristics: the residents' disabilities, the residents' familiarity with a game (for example, Bingo), and the residents' potential to create letters, greeting cards, or posters. Game programs used switch input (rather than mouse input) to play "Big Sound Bingo," "Wheel of Fortune," and various matching games. "Write Oudoud" was chosen for the word processing program.

Rick McGuire, product development manager for Current Works, introduced both staff and residents to the computers. He was enthusiastic and engaging and encouraged participation by designing activities so that residents would play an active role. Participation raised the residents' interest and maintained their attention for forty-five to sixty minutes at a time. Alzheimer residents' attention became focused on the computer. An activity aide continues the work Rick McGuire began with the Alzheimer residents.

Residents and staff observed a number of benefits in using computers. The staff said that using the computers seemed to improve residents' self-esteem and that the residents displayed an obvious sense of productivity and accomplishment when they created their own letters, greeting cards, and posters. After an elderly stroke patient had completed her second letter on the computer, she said, "It makes me feel important!" Joan Tomlinson, the Winchester House activities director, noticed how a resident's physical appearance changed from slumped and less responsive to more alert and upright after regularly working on the computer. Activity aides found that a computer session worked well with a group of residents or on an individual basis. …

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