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 20 To Watch Profile Of The Day: Joyce Simard

 

Provider’s new 20 To Watch feature, first published in our January 2013 print issue, highlights some of the most caring, committed, and compassionate up-and-coming leaders in long term and post-acute care.
 
In order to bring further—and much deserving—attention to these individuals, we are posting discrete profiles of honorees on this site during the next few months. They include informative links and additional background on the individuals.

Joyce Simard

 
Person-centered care is something that Joyce Simard, founder of Namaste Care, geriatric consultant, and author, does not take lightly. To begin, the namesake of her program, Namaste, is a Sanskrit word that means “to honor the spirit within”—and that is what it does for individuals with dementia. Namaste Care has become a phenomenon in long term care since Simard began the first program at a nursing home in Vermont a decade ago.
 
“The foundation of the program is ‘the power of loving touch,’ and it appears that I underestimated the need all humans have to be touched in a loving way,” Simard says on her website.
 
Nursing homes and assisted living communities are implementing Namaste Care by creating spa-like spaces for residents to utilize on a regular basis. “We use lavender, because research shows it has a calming effect, and soft music,” Simard says. “Everyone who comes into the room, you can see their faces change, and everyone is greeted in a very respectful way. From the beginning, they’re treated in a very beautiful and respectful way to honor their spirit. Those in wheelchairs are transferred to lounge chairs. We take blankets or soft quilts and tuck them in; much like you snuggle babies, we snuggle residents. I tell someone, ‘I’m going to wash your face,' I tell her what beautiful skin she has, I moisturize it with Ponds cold cream, or, if you’re a guy, I’ll use face cream with a drop of Old spice, because it’s a scent from the past. It’s about loving touch.”
 
Simard began her career as a social worker in a nursing home, where she developed activities for people with dementia. “When I first started in long term care, I was a social worker, and then the population of people with dementia exploded, and I realized that my social work skills weren’t effective for people with dementia,” Simard says. “I realized that we had a significant number of residents who couldn’t participate in activities anymore—you know that resident—the one who was slumped over in the wheelchair next to the nurses’ station.”
 
That’s when Simard realized that she had to do something for people with dementia, something that would engage them and improve their quality of life. This was the seed that planted the Namaste Care program, that and her steadfast belief that that people with dementia can have quality in their lives "until their very last breaths."
 
Just because someone has dementia, Simard explains, doesn’t mean they are devoid of feelings. “People still smile, the giggle is still there, even with advanced dementia,” she says.
 
Lately, Simard has been busy working with St. Christopher’s Hospice in London, and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, as well as Greece and Australia, to implement the Namaste program.
“The miracles that happen [with Namaste] are absolutely incredible,” she says. “Every single time you start a program, one day one you’ve got a resident who’s been calling out, ‘help me, help me,’ you bring them into this very special environment and it stops, it goes away.”
 
Simard notes that research on the program has shown that it helps to eliminate the use of antipsychotics, reduces urinary tract infections, and even minimizes falls.
 
While she is unsure how many long term care communities have implemented Namaste, Simard has sold thousands of copies of her book, “The End-of-Life Namaste Care Program for People with Dementia,” and she has never known anyone to start a program and stop it. “I was giving a workshop recently, and one aide said there was a nursing home way up in the upper peninsula of Michigan that was doing Namaste,” she says.
 
“Everyone has the power to do it, every day, and every moment counts with our residents,” says Simard. “Whatever you can do, with loving touch it makes such a difference. It’s a process that touches the heart.”
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