Master of Science in Occupational Therapy
Julia Wilbarger, PhD, OTR/L
Gina Tucker-Roghi OTD, OTR/L, BCG
The population of individuals with dementia (IwD) is increasing, and IwD are often admitted into skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) due to greater need for care (Alzheimer’s Association, 2020b). Admittance leads to social isolation as a result of decreased engagement in co-occupations. Co-occupations are occupations, or meaningful activities necessary for wellbeing and survival, that are performed with others (American Occupational Therapy Association [AOTA], 2014). IwD exhibit behaviors and symptoms that create challenges for family caregivers to engage in co-occupations (Ono et al., 2014). Without guidance or support, family members or volunteers may be less likely to visit or facilitate quality visits, impacting the quality of life of the IwD. Current visitor programs lack occupational therapy consultation for person-centeredness and comprehensiveness in communication and activities-based training. Heart to Heart volunteer program promotes engagement in social occupations for IwD in SNFs. Heart to Heart provides an occupational therapy perspective and resources for SNFs to implement a comprehensive occupation-based volunteer program. Heart to Heart includes a program implementation guide to outline the recruitment, education, and equipment of volunteers with knowledge and tools to effectively facilitate co-occupations. The program also provides digital and in-person training for communication strategies and activity adaptation appropriate for remaining abilities at various stages of dementia. Additionally, Heart to Heart supplies volunteers with a client profile and activity box to optimize meaningful and individualized visits. This program aims to increase quality and frequency of visits by enhancing volunteer knowledge and skills in dementia. With increased volunteer competency, confidence, and satisfaction, the Heart to Heart volunteer program will ultimately decrease social isolation for improved quality of life for SNF residents with dementia.