Transitions helps seniors with the changes that go with aging

Senior citizens go through a lot  of different changes in their lives as they age.

 Many senior adults have trouble adjusting to these changes. In an effort to help seniors learn to deal with the changes, Drew Memorial Hospital opened Transitions, a group counseling program designed to help seniors cope with the changes that occur during the later stages of life.

Transitions Director Wade Smith told the hospital board the program reached a record  census number in the last four weeks.

“Our census is up to 38 total patients,” Smith said. “That’s the most patients we’ve ever had (in the program).”

Smith said the program began five years ago, but has seen growth over the last two years thanks to increased marketing and the move into the Allied Health Building, which gave the program more room to grow.

“We’ve been able to hire two full time therapists to come on board and work with our seniors,” Smith said. “(Having two therapists has) allowed us to grow so much in the last year. We are actually looking for a third therapist to work part time to help us serve our senior community.”

Smith said the program teaches senior citizens the skills to thrive during the later years of their lives.

“The reason we call the program Transitions is we all go through the same stages as we grow older,” he said. “We are there to help them adapt to those changes and to offer support as these changes occur. When they come to our groups, they aren’t going through it alone. There are others going through the same things.”

Some of the changes Smith talks about are the loss of a spouse, loss of independence, and experiencing a decline in physical health.

“It’s during those changes – those transitions – we are here to help them through,” Smith said.

He said often seniors come into the program thinking their lives are over.

“We show them life isn’t over. It’s just changing,” Smith said. “Life’s going to be different but they can still get  a lot out of  life.”

Smith said one of the most important things a senior citizen can have is a hobby.

“Hobbies are what keeps us healthy emotionally,” he said. “They are so important. So we help the patients find hobbies they enjoy. We all can benefit from hobbies.”

Another aspect of Transitions is the support from other patients.

“They become friends almost immediately,” Smith said.

He said while the program may introduce friends to one another, but the friendships continue after the seniors leave the program.

Smith said these friendships are also encouraged throughout the program.

“We also tell them to become active with the community. Things like going to church, going to the senior center, and calling a friend regularly will help seniors with their loneliness and depression,” Smith said.

Smith said many patients feel better on their first visit.

“A lot of time I can tell a difference on the first day,” he said. “They almost become family when they are here. They aren’t lonely anymore. It’s amazing how fast it happens.”

Smith said seniors stay in the program on average six to nine months.

“Of course, every patient has his or her unique set of circumstances so what’s good for one patient may not be good for the next patient,” Smith said. “Some patients stay longer than nine months while others can leave the program in six months.”

In addition to offering support through the life changes, Smith said the program can help with dementia.

“We offer therapeutic activities that stimulate the brain,” Smith said.

“Doing activities helps the brain from going downhill. Dementia patients respond well to these activities because they keep their brains active. That’s so important when you are talking about dementia.”

He said the group is very good for the patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

“If they catch it in its early stages of Alzheimer’s, the activities can help with progression of the disease,” Smith said. “It could make a big difference in the patient’s life.”

But, he admitted the disease isn’t often diagnosed until the patient is passed the first stage.

Smith said regardless when the disease is diagnosed the activities will still benefit the patient.

Smith said three vans service the program by providing transportation for the patients who need it.

“I want to go to the country and pick up seniors and bring them here so we can help them with whatever they may be struggling with,” Smith said. “We travel to homes, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.”

Smith said the vans travel as far as 50 miles one way to pick up patients so they can meeting during their group sessions.

“We also provide a meal for the seniors,” he said. “We all eat together as a group.”

While the growth is exciting to the directors of the hospital, it has also caught the eye Medicare. Transitions is part of the on-going records review done by Medicare known as Recovery Audit Contractors.

RAC requests patient files to make sure each patient is getting the care designated for his or her diagnosis.

“We just have to document everything,” Smith said. “We’ve had to appeal a few of their findings. It’s been a lot of work but it’s paid off in the end.”

Even under the RAC microscope, Transitions continues to thrive.

“Transitions is something our community really needs,” Smith said. “We have a lot of seniors in our community that need help adjusting to the changes that come later in life.”

Smith said the geriatric psychiatric unit, which will be a 20 bed locked unit, will feed into Transitions.

“The inpatient unit will be used for acute cases,” Smith said. “Once we get the patient stabilized and released from the inpatient unit, we may bring them into Transitions so that we can help them further and also monitor their condition more closely.”

Smith said there’s a need for both programs in Southeast Arkansas because of the growing senior citizen population. 

The program is offered by Medicare at 80 percent, and the remaining 20 percent is covered by co-insurance or Medicaid.

“Right now, I don’t have anyone paying out of pocket for this service,” Smith said.

For more information on the Transitions program and how to participate, call the Transitions office at 460-4840.

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