According to official statistics, about 5 million adult Americans are dealing with some type of dementia and about 15% of people that are older than 65 are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists have still not discovered a cure for this health issue, but a professor at Texas A&M University (the Department of Health and Kinesiology) relies on her service education project to restrain the progress of dementia symptoms in a group of patients.
This project began at the Waterford at College Station and it was founded by Dr. Christine Tisone, professor of health education. She included this project in the human disease class in 2013. In the first twelve months, Dr. Tisone allowed students to volunteer for this project. She was amazed by the response and the project became mandatory in 2014.
According to Dr. Tisone, all students confirmed that this was a great experience when it comes to personal satisfaction and growth. She was surprised to hear that most students enjoyed spending a couple of hours focused on other people’s problems, instead of taking care of some small personal problems.
Her students spend exactly two hours, two times a week talking and working with patients, encouraging them to participate in activities that have proven to be useful for memory enhancement. A group of students worked with sufferers who had mild memory problems and they played bingo and conducted interviews with them.
The other group worked with people that are part of the memory care unit and had more serious dementia problems. They used scent painting activities.
Scientific studies have confirmed that there is a powerful link between the sense of smell and memory. It turned out that one of the main factors that contribute to this interaction is the technique used by our brain to analyze memories and scents. Every scent is directed to the olfactory bulb which represents the region of the brain dedicated to analyzing scents.
This area is closely related to the hippocampus and amygdala which manage emotions and memories. Sound, visual, and touch data and information don’t go through these areas of the brain.
The scent painting process designed by Dr. Tisone includes mixing water and spices to produce watercolor paints. The practitioners are encouraged to reveal their memories associated with a specific scent. Students that are part of this project know how to start a conversation whenever they notice reactions to certain scents.
Dr. Tisone says that they are primarily focused on the memory care unit where the situation of patients is serious. Yet, many of these patients were able to tell their stories linked to certain smells. This is a great conversation trigger. Patients in the memory care unit must interact with other people to preserve their sanity.
Myriam Fillion, a student, said that her group was able to paint the name of one of the patients and a flower and used this drawing to start a conversation about the patient’s children and their nephews and children and what kind of flowers they prefer. All the patients were thrilled by this new activity.
As we all know, dementia is not a reversible process, but Dr. Thisone claims that these activities bring benefits to patients and slow down the advance of this condition. Many of the patients that were part of this project became chattier and talked about some of the memories they have. Many family members have confirmed that this method provides positive results and they were glad that their relatives are less depressed and anxious.
Dr. Tisone hopes that they are making progress and have long-term positive effects. On top of that, this is a great way for the students to learn more about dementia. There were many cases in which students were asked to continue volunteering even after graduating.
There is one interesting case in which a student that was part of Dr. Tisone’s classes and part of this unique project had a different idea before joining this program. She wanted to be a registered nurse, but this interesting project made her focus on gerontology and memory care.
Colin Coleman says that Dr. Tisone’s project helped her find out that she is very gifted at least when it comes to interaction with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. She felt very peaceful and the interaction with the sufferers was very simple.