Kyndall Harper is a rising junior on the UGA Equestrian Team. She is a Human Development and Family Science major and obtained an internship with St. Mary’s Highland Hills Village during the summer of 2016.
This summer, I had the privilege of interning at St. Mary’s Highland Hills Village. This internship was from May 16th to August 1st 2016. With Independent Living, Assisted Living, and Memory Care, Highland Hills is a high-class facility that provides a continuum of care that allows residents to age in place without having to relocate due to health issues that arise. I worked primarily in the Memory Care unit this summer. There are 34 residents in Memory Care and all of the residents have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. The diversity of functioning levels created a unique atmosphere and it was a very rewarding experience.
I worked alongside the Highland Hills Activities Manager, Gina Hobbs, during my internship. Highland Hills Memory Care center arranges three or four daily activities for the residents to participate in. The activities range from corn hole, ring toss, Pictionary, sing-a-long, pet therapy, art therapy, music therapy, trivia, memory games, and jigsaw puzzles. I worked with the activities department to create and manage activities that can be established as individual or group activities and altered to meet the needs of each resident. I learned how important it is that the residents feel a sense of accomplishment once they complete the task asked of them. The activity needs to be challenging, but not too challenging so they do not become frustrated with themselves. It is easy to set high expectations for the residents, but one has to remember that they have profound memory loss and cannot manage their fine motor skills as they once could. The activities are also designed to help residents socially interact with one another. It was very rewarding to see the residents cheering each other on and being supportive of one another while participating in various activities. I also learned about the balance between rousing and soothing activities. During the mornings we scheduled more physically stimulating activities, then in the afternoon we lead more peaceful activities. Some of the residents go through a sundowning spell each afternoon in which they become very agitated and confused. Sundowning is a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. In order to help reduce sundowning, it is important to keep the facility well lit with natural lighting, stick to a schedule, and participate in relaxing activities like adult coloring. I learned so much about routines, long-term care, dietary guidelines, elder behaviors, and the aging process during my time at Highland Hills.
The Athens Pilot Club donated seven iPod Touches to Highland Hills Memory Care so my internship class project for the course of my internship was to set up iTunes and create playlists the residents can listen to when they start becoming agitated and confused. There are many organizations that are working to bring personalized music into the lives of the elderly. Research has suggested that music is a coping mechanism of sundowning and music helps soothe the agitated residents. In order to get a better perspective of what music each resident enjoys the most, I asked several of the visiting families when they came to visit a particular resident. Elvis, 50’s Hits, popular sing-a-long selections, gospel music, and hymns were the most popular recommendations. Once I scanned all of the music and downloaded all of the CD’s in the Memory Care unit, I created playlists of the recommended songs for each resident. Over the course of my internship, I quickly realized how important music is to the residents. I hosted weekly sing-a-longs, had a weekly piano performance, and always played music on the CD player whenever there was an activity. There was one resident that would automatically start singing the song whenever she heard the beat. No matter the genre or year of the song, the resident always knew every word. It was amazing to witness the residents recalling the lyrics and how quickly they would start singing. Music always had a positive impact on the residents’ emotional wellbeing and attitudes. The iPods and personalized playlists have been very beneficial to Highland Hills. As the sundowning spells start to sink in and the residents start to wander around or become very agitated and confused, we try to have them sit down and plug in the iPod and headphones. The most popular time to use the iPods is around sundowning time, but they have become very useful during any time of the day. It may take the resident a few minutes to settle down but once they hear the music and lose thought of packing up to go “home”, they enjoy the music. Music allows the residents to relax and reminisce on the lyrics. Even though they may not relax and listen the whole afternoon, this period of tranquility means that the staff will not have to worry about fall risks as they chase residents around. The iPods have become a daily necessity and they are beneficial to everyone.
During my internship, I was also tasked with helping assess the residents. Highland Hills quarterly analyzes individual activity plans for each resident in order to monitor their interactions with activities, interests, as well as their decline over time. After spending time with residents, I was able to analyze their personal operative skills. I worked with my supervisor and the fellow interns to create a population needs assessment, which examined where each resident ranked on a scale of 1-4. The scale helps analyze if the program needs to accommodate more supportive (low functioning), maintenance (middle functioning), or empowerment (high functioning) activities. Being able to make judgments and learning how to balance the activities and interactions was very eye opening and helped us better serve the residents.
Even though the Memory Care residents never learned my name, they made a lasting impact on my life. My favorite part of the internship was being able to spend quality time with the residents. I became personally attached to each one and they taught me a lot about life in general. They may not be able to remember what day it is or what time dinner is, but most of them can recall memories from the past. From learning marriage advice from a couple that has been married 70 years, to hearing stories about beloved pets; I learned something from each resident. One of my favorite residents, who is 99 years old and full of life, taught me to live out each day and said his secret to life is to just have fun. One of the most memorable events during my internship was when I took in horse pictures and did a short presentation to explain equestrian to the residents. They were very interested and I had to keep explaining that I was the person in the pictures riding the horse. Once I showed a video of me showing, we asked if anyone had any questions. One lady raised her hand and said, “Oh, I have a question. Who feeds the fish?” as she pointed to the fish tank. This was a laughing moment and it was a highlight of my internship.
Everyday was a new day at my internship and there were highs and lows. I learned a lot about my professional development and myself over the course of the summer. I also learned I have a great deal of patience as I experienced the health care profession and aging first hand. It warmed my heart when I made the residents’ laugh and when they would smile because they felt a sense of self-accomplishment. I am thankful of this wonderful opportunity and I will cherish the memories that I made at Highland Hills forever. This experience made me realize that I want to continue to pursue a career administrating geriatric centers.