Personalized care, dedication and a technology assist brought Lois Harris back from the brink.
Lois Harris has always had a thriving social life. As a younger woman, the homemaker and mother of two was active in her church, teaching Sunday school and singing in the choir. She loved to go square dancing and round dancing with her husband, Dick, and serving dinners at his Masonic lodge. She volunteered once a week for years at the local hospital and later in life joined the Red Hat Society. At 91, she still thrives on interactions with others.
“She is so sweet and she loves visitors,” says Beth Tan, an AllyAlign case manager who cares for Lois at Bickford of Chesapeake, Virginia. “After she gets to know you she says, ‘I love you. You’re so good to me.’”
So when a bout of illness, falls and hospitalizations last year left Lois withdrawn and refusing to get out of bed or even to eat, her daughter, Arlene Price, feared the worst.
“I was devastated,” Arlene says. “I texted our relatives and said, ‘I think we have reached the end of the rainbow here. She’s not eating, she’s not getting out of bed, she’s not looking good.’”
But the team at Bickford refused to accept defeat. “We can’t give up on her yet,” said Amy Scheidemantel, the branch happiness coordinator. At weekly HigherPath meetings, an interdisciplinary group discussed how best to tackle Lois’s health obstacles. The first priority was to keep her out of the hospital by preventing falls and helping her gain back some of the 10 pounds she had lost while sick.
Fox Rehabilitation provided physical and occupational therapy to help Lois regain her strength and her ability to perform self care tasks such as dressing and grooming. They worked to get Lois out of her wheelchair and back on her feet with a walker. Every day—sometimes twice a day—Amy personally delivered Lois her favorite drink, banana smoothies, to get some much-needed weight back on her frame. Stephanie Belfield, from Bickford health and wellness, visited Lois on weekends to feed her by hand.
“I could not believe the care my mother was getting,” Arlene recalls. “They did not give up. They kept trying everything. I definitely think they saved her life.”
But the team wasn’t finished. Even as Lois began to get stronger, one big issue remained: Her profound hearing loss made communication very challenging.
Hearing aids could no longer keep up with Lois’s hearing difficulties, so she had resorted to writing on a white board to respond to others. When Beth would pay Lois her weekly visit, she noticed the toll that this was taking. “When you’re writing messages on a white board, it gets tiring,” Beth says. “You’re only writing your basic thoughts. You’re not getting any detail.”
Even worse, Lois’s hearing troubles resulted in her opting out of the social situations she once had sought. People would talk to her without her realizing it, and her struggle to communicate often led Lois to isolate in her room rather than join group meals and activities.
Beth had previously seen seniors with similar problems who had benefitted from a Pocketalker, an amplifier with headphones that turns up the volume on nearby sounds and conversations. She suggested the family try such a device for Lois, and Arlene took her to the audiologist. The difference was immediate.
“She’s able to fully participate in the conversation again,” Beth says. “It’s life changing for people like Lois.”
Today, Lois is healthier, happier, more engaged. Armed with her Pocketalker, Lois’s comeback is complete. “Now she can hear her friends at the dinner table,” Arlene says. “She’s really blossomed.”
At branch bingo games, Amy has tasked Lois with calling out the numbers. She attends Bickford field trips, like a recent outing to lunch and the nearby Chrysler Museum of Art. On a visit to Doumar’s, a stalwart diner and ice cream shop in Norfolk, Lois regaled her daughter with tales of the times she spent there as a young adult.
“It’s called living,” Arlene says. “It’s not called existing. It’s not just sitting in the chair and waiting to die. I feel like she’s living her best life at 91 and a half.”
Contemplating the next chapter in your loved one’s story? Click here to learn more about Bickford Senior Living and to find a branch near you.