Coordinator: Reading keeps elderly in mind

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Making frequent visits to her 102-year-old client Elinor Tripp, Angela Hartfield reads to her, the two piece together puzzles and do light activities.

Eric Heinz — El Defensor Chieftain: Elinor Tripp, a 102-year-old resident of the Good Samaritans Society nursing home in Socorro, listens to Careacell activities coordinator Angela Hartfield Tuesday on the grounds of the facility.

Mental degenerative diseases and memory loss can be temporarily stymied by this consistent activity.

“It slows down the process, and when you see people who have illnesses, it slows it down,” Hartfield said. “I had one lady who had Alzheimer’s (disease), and she couldn’t remember your name, but she could do puzzles. I would put the piece in her hand, and she could do it on her own.”

Hartfield is an activities coordinator for the elderly and is employed by relatives of the people who are homebound, hospitalized, need assistance or live at the Good Samaritans Society nursing facility on U.S. Highway 60.

Hartfield’s business, Careacell, is separate from the society. She said she does not have a formal gerontology or medical degree, although she has had some medical experience in the past. She said her degree is in “care, compassion and trustworthiness.”

“Just how they respond to (reading) gave me the idea for the occupation,” Hartfield said. “Reading to them gives the communication they need and the interaction they need and enjoy.”

Hartfield said she has worked with the elderly for many years in various positions. She said she started this business after speaking with people who asked her to work with their relatives. Currently she works with about six clients.

A study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology found people who “participated in social activities and read magazines during middle age were 40 percent less likely to develop memory loss than those that did not do those activities.”

The study also found, “people who read, played games, did crafts (pottery, quilting) and/or played on the computer had a 30 percent to 50 percent decrease in the risk of developing memory loss.”

Sometimes the elderly get to a point in their lives where they can no longer read for themselves due to disease or poor eyesight, the study stated.

“A lot of it has to do with their social interaction,” Hartfield said. “Being able to have someone communicate with them and being able to communicate back, they may not be able to remember everything that’s read to them.”

Elinor can still speak, but very gingerly and she doesn’t say much. When the centurion does chime in, it’s fairly warm and she acknowledges the context of the conversation.

The books Hartfield reads to her elderly clients range from fundamental to complex.

“It almost stimulates something in their brain, memories from the past,” Hartfield said, adding she also uses magazines from the 1930s and 1950s to invigorate Tripp’s mental abilities. “That really gets them interacting. Some of my clients will tell me stories about things brought up from reading to them.”

In some cases, these visits can not only foster the mind but salvage the soul.

“I had one client who was really depressed and stopped eating, and when I started to work with her, she came out of her depression,” Hartfield said. “She started talking, laughing, eating again. The family was 100 percent satisfied with her social progress. It was like it lit up all her senses.”

Another client became very combative with nurses and causing commotion. Hartfield said after she started working with this client, progress was made slowly.

“She became more mellow. The social interaction, it gives them quality of life,” she said. “A lot of them have people who love them and come to care for them, but this is like the cherry on top. This adds to their life a different angle.”

Assistance from the Good Samaritan Society and Hartfield can only go so far in changing the clients’ attitudes. Hartfield said for those who don’t receive regular visits from their family members, it can be a bit more difficult to bring them around.

“I see the difference between the ones who have people coming in and those who don’t,” she said. “They seem to be bored. They become lonely, and they stop smiling.”

Each client is different in what they can do based on their ailments and sometimes age. Little things such as hugs, getting outside combined with mental and outdoor activity has given Elinor a bit of her strength back, Hartfield said, enabling her to use her wheelchair herself.

“You can’t underestimate the power of paying attention to them,” Hartfield said.

Elinor is the mother of New Mexico State Rep. Don Tripp of Socorro. His wife, Rosie, said she has seen major improvements since the visits from Hartfield.

“Primarily with Elinor, she is just a whole lot more responsive and she talks clearer,” Rosie said. “She just blossomed with Angela when she started her reading project. It has made a world of difference with her contact with the world. Before (the visits), she didn’t really communicate with us, and we really attribute that to Angela.”

As busy as she and her husband are, Rosie said employing Angela has helped keep Elinor as spritely as possible.

“We just felt like if there was someone to keep her company and help stimulate her, that would be better for Elinor,” Rosie said.

For more information about Careacell, call 575-322-2744.