Marti Croatt’s philosophy of joy means making everyday a special one for long-term care residents
“One of the thing I love about my job, is that I have so many opportunities to create moments of joy for the people we serve,” says Marti Croatt, director of nursing (DON) at the Madison Healthcare Services long-term care center.
Marti, who is now in her second year of serving as DON for the care center, takes her own special joy in enriching the emotional lives of residents. The ability to do that, she says, begins with getting to know each resident and their individual histories. It’s the little details that emerge through this process that are often the key to providing a resident with those happy moments.
This is particularly true, Croatt adds, for residents with dementia, the side effects of which can have a huge emotional impact on the individual.
“You’re taking care of people that aren’t going to remember what happened with them in five minutes or maybe even a minute,” says Croatt, quoting dementia care specialist Jolene Brackey, who coined the term “Moments of Joy.” “But when you’re with them,” she adds, “you have that opportunity to create that moment of joy. So for me that can mean making a connection with a resident or finding out something special with them that I can talk to them about or give to them.”
For instance, Croatt says, they have a resident who speaks German, so using German words or phrases is often all it takes to brighten their day.
“I had to reach into my high school German days,” says Croatt. “This same resident also grew up in Arena Township and I grew up in Arena Township, so we could talk about all the old neighbors in the neighborhood.”
The universal language that is food, she says, can also be an easy way to connect with people.
“Food bonds people, it’s something everybody has in common. So I have a huge vegetable garden and in the summer I’ll bring in fresh vegetables – cucumbers, tomatoes, that kind of stuff,” she explains. “And I’ll go around with a little relish tray and say, ‘I grew this in my garden, do you guys want to try it?’ And pretty soon they’ll be saying, ‘There’s the tomato lady! Did you bring any tomatoes?’”
“Getting down on their level and actually making that connection is the biggest thing.”
And building better relationships and better connecting with residents is a philosophy she hopes to pass on to the care center staff.
“One of the strategies to accomplish that is going to be teaching all of the staff how to make moments of joy for the residents.”
Training staff in this technique is just one part of the overall dementia care training that the facility caregivers will soon be undertaking.
“First of all, starting in September, we’re going to do a virtual dementia tour,” says Croatt. “This is a type of sensitivity training where you simulate the experience of having dementia.”
Through the use of special goggles, headsets that inhibit hearing and even specially arranged rooms, staff will experience first-hand some of the struggles faced by dementia sufferers.
“For instance once they have this gear on, we’ll then take them into a dark room with a strobe light going and ask them to perform a simple task,” she explains. “Like, fold six pairs of socks, or find a belt and put it through the belt loops with all of these new handicaps that they now have.”
This immersive training will allow staff to experience not only the symptoms of dementia, but the difference that having a good caregiver can make.
“While they’re in this experience, they’ll also have a caregiver present, and sometimes this caregiver is good caregiver who get’s down on their level, makes that connection and makes them feel good. But sometimes,” she continues, “they get a bad caregiver – the type of person that’s just there for the paycheck and so they’ll experience that feeling of being abandoned, they’ll experience that feeling that nobody cares about them.”
It’s an experience that can be shocking and often overwhelming for those that undergo it.
“The very first time we did a virtual dementia tour, I took an administrator through the tour,” says Croatt. “And at the end they started crying. That’s pretty powerful.”
She’s confident that these experiences will help staff better care for residents by fostering the thing which she believes in the cornerstone of all good care – understanding.
“I think,” says Croatt, “that in order to properly care for people you have to put yourself in that person’s shoes, you have to understand what they’re going through.”