By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Nursing “homes” like Lake Park are not what people used to imagine whenever they thought of such places.
Today, a far more accurate term for such a facility is nursing “center.” Although these facilities do have long-term, and in some cases, permanent residents (usually elderly and/or disabled), they also treat patients who need short-term, intensive therapy, whether physical, occupational or speech, at a skilled nursing facility in order to regain the strength, mobility and functionality they once had, or at least enough of what they once had in order to be self-sufficient again.
Three of Lake Park Nursing Center’s staff visited the Kiwanis Club Jan. 26 to talk about the kind of skilled therapy and health care services Lake Park Nursing Center has to offer.
Karen Kocan came to Madison to be near her mother, Dolly Ballard, who retired to Madison from South Florida. Kocan has worked as the Admissions/Marketing Director for Lake Park for the last seven and a half years. Ashley Sevor has worked as Lake Park’s Director of Social Services for the last ten years. Bart Alford, who has been a speech therapist for 16 years, has been working with patients at Lake Park since 2002.
Finally, there is Parker the therapy dog who spends his days at Lake Park. Originally, he spent the night there as well, sleeping in a crate, but he had trouble with separation anxiety when left alone; he now goes home with a different staff member each evening.
Parker had been starved and abused before he was rescued, ending up at the animal shelter; he was then adopted by Lake Park staffers and trained to be a “therapy dog” for the patients and residents.
He has also turned out to be a highly intelligent animal who has free roam of the facility, because he has been successfully trained as to where he can and cannot go. He knows he is not allowed in the dining hall except during Bingo games, and he knows the difference between Bingo sessions and meal times. He also knows he is not allowed in patients’ rooms unless accompanied by a staff member.
In speaking to a Kiwanis member shortly after the presentation, Kocan described how Parker had become much more to many residents than just a therapy animal; he has also become a substitute for dearly loved pets who had to be left at home, or even given up, situations Kocan described as “heartbreaking.” Parker brings such patients comfort and fills a void in their lives.
“It’s amazing, the joy that an animal can bring,” said Kocan, which is why Parker is such an important part of the therapeutic environment of Lake Park.
Bart Alford’s speech therapy practice includes patients ranging in age from infants to geriatric; currently his oldest patient is 103. One of the best parts of his job, he says, is seeing people, who had once been his patients, on the street or in the grocery store; these are people who were once impaired, who have either made great strides or are fully back to normal functionality. He has also been in practice long enough to see children he had once worked with in kindergarten now graduating from high school.
Any number of injuries or ailments can leave someone speech impaired, including strokes, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, or even complications after surgery; one of the most common speech-affecting risks of surgery are blood clots forming and then breaking loose, causing strokes.
In all cases, but especially in the case of strokes, the earlier intervention and therapy begins, the better.
Another ailment that can affect speech is difficulty in swallowing. This is a fairly common ailment among Alford’s caseload, and it has to be treated intensely and aggressively; otherwise patients with swallowing difficulties run the risk of aspirating food particles into their lungs and developing pneumonia as a result.
Alzheimer’s can also cause speech difficulty. In cases like these, the patient not only has trouble speaking, but also has trouble remembering common everyday things and profound events in their own lives; one of the things that seemed to help were the “memory books” many families had made for patients; Alford noted that the more pictures these books contained of the patients all through their lives, the more effective they were. In particular, these books were effective in helping patients get through the “sundowning” periods, those afternoons and evenings when Alzheimer’s and other dementias are often at their worst.
However, several other conditions can mimic Alzheimer’s symptoms of confusion and mental fogginess. Urinary tract infections, pernicious anemia, and dehydration are only a few. Some pain medications can also be culprit. If a patient manifests symptoms of mental confusion, especially if the onset is sudden, he or she should be checked for these other conditions that are not only reversible, but are dangerous if left untreated.
Alzheimer’s onset is almost always gradual and subtle. The first skills lost are the higher order thinking skills, such as the ability to keep track of checking accounts and other finances. Another early sign of Alzheimer’s is getting lost while driving in neighborhoods that are well known and very familiar to the driver.
When it comes to physical therapy, perhaps the kind most people are familiar with is that which takes place after hip, knee or shoulder replacement surgery. Sometimes, once the patient is released from the hospital and sufficiently recovered, the therapy can be done on an out-patient basis.
In addition to giving long-term residents a comfortable, healthy environment that sees to both their physical and emotional wellbeing, it provides the short-term rehab patients the intense, highly skilled nursing care and therapy they need to regain their independence.
“Our goal is for people to go home,” said Alford.
The goal for all patients, he added, whether they are permanent residents or shorter-term rehabilitation cases, is to get them to the highest and the safest level of functionality they can reach, for the best quality of life they can have, no matter what their age.