Video Visits Help Families Say 'I Love You'


This article originally appeared in Issue# 45

Like many nursing home patients, 90 year-old Trudy Smith resented being placed in The Center for the Aging in Washington D.C. She complained that her sister had abandoned her and she felt unloved and unwanted.

At least she did until her sister and other family members joined the center's Visiting Through Video (V-TV) program. Working through the experimental program they created a short video tape about Trudy's past life and their feelings for her.

Featured in the video were remembrances of family activities and trips and Trudy's favorite hobby: bread-making. Watching the tape over and over she re-experienced family closeness and a sense of herself as a vital, active person. In a few short weeks her attitude improved and she began to accept the limitations caused by Alzheimer's disease.

Participation in the program often helps to improve family communication, according to Karen Warburton, a center research associate and a key staff worker in the V-TV program. "Visiting is often difficult for family members. Many times, videos strengthen the family-resident relationship and lift everyone's morale."

Although family members are given general guidelines and help with equipment, what they choose to say is up to them. Some families use their videos to strengthen the recollections of forgetful patients, perhaps by repeating facts about their past lives. Others are more personal, describing family events and sending affectionate messages for their loved ones.

"Sometimes families find it easier to say 'I love you' on video than in person," Warburton states.

Once a video is completed at the center, staff members follow a regular program for helping residents play it at least six times during the next two or three weeks. After that, they may wish to play it only occasionally. The videos have been particularly useful in helping staff cheer up residents who may be experiencing depression of having a difficult day.

The program was developed by center executive Elaine Frank and funded by a grant from the Markle Foundation. A concurrent research study is examining long-term effects on residents' attitudes.

The staff benefits as well, says Frank. By learning more about each resident's history and personality, they are able to provide individualized attention and deal more directly with specific problems and concerns.

Could the program serve as a model for others?

Absolutely, say Warburton and Frank. It's a project that could be developed not only by a nursing home itself, but also by outside community groups — churches/synagogues, volunteer agencies or even as a college or high school video production project.

As Frank notes, initial cost of the video recording equipment if fairly economical and could be supported by a donor or other special project money. Almost every nursing home has a video tape player and the program requires little additional staff support or administration time. "It's one of those rare programs where everybody benefits."

Besides, it's never too late to say "I love you."

Author Bio: 

Barbie White wass a Media&Values editorial research intern while a journalism student at California State University, Northridge.