Measuring social integration among residents in a dementia special care unit versus traditional nursing home: A pilot study

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Abstract

The physical and mental health of older adults with dementia is affected by levels of social integration. The development of dementia special care units (D-SCU) arose, in part, to facilitate more meaningful social interactions among residents implying greater social integration of D-SCU residents as compared to residents in a traditional nursing home (TNH). But, it is unknown whether D-SCU residents are receiving equal or greater benefits from living on a segregated unit intended to enhance their social environment and integration through both design and staff involvement. The purpose of this study was to pilot test a comprehensive objective assessment to measure social integration among nursing home residents with dementia and to compare levels of integration of residents living on a D-SCU to those living in a TNH. A total of 29 residents participated (15 D-SCU and 14 TNH) and data were gathered from medical charts, visitor logs, and through direct observations. Over 1700 interactions were recorded during 143 h of observation. Specifically, the location, context, type, quantity, and quality of residents’ interactions were recorded. Overall, the majority of resident interactions were verbal and initiated by staff. Interactions were social in context, and occurred in public areas, such as the common room with a large screen TV. Average interactions lasted less than 1 min and did not change the resident’s affect. Residents spent between 10% and 17% of their time interacting with other people on average. D-SCU staff were significantly more likely to initiate interactions with residents than TNH staff. D-SCU residents also experienced more interactions in the afternoons and expressed more pleasure and anxiety than residents in the TNH. This study helps to lay the groundwork necessary to comprehensively and objectively measure social integration among people with dementia in order to evaluate care environments.

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