Debbie Hommel's A.D. Tips
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by Debbie Hommel, BA, ACC, CTRS, Executive Director of DH Special Services
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DEBBIE HOMMEL
Executive Director
DH Special Services
About Debbie

Debbie Hommel, BA, ACC,
CTRS, is the Executive
Director of DH Special
Services. She is a Certified
Activity Consultant on State
and National level, with over
twenty-seven years of
experience in providing direct
care and consultation to long
term care, medical day care,
assisted living, and ICF/MR
facilities throughout New
Jersey, New York, Maryland,
and Pennsylvania. She is an
experienced trainer and
workshop presenter,
conducting a variety of
seminars throughout the
Tri-State area for the Activity
Professional, Administrator,
and allied healthcare
professional. Debbie Hommel
is an active member of Activity
Professional Associations on
State and National levels. She
is ACC certified through the
NCCAP. She is a founding
member of the New Jersey
Activity Professionals'
Association, serving terms as
Vice President and President.
She received the Weidner
Lifetime Achievement Award
in 1994 and the Monmouth &
Ocean County Activity
Professionals Life
Achievement Award in 1999.
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There is a Bridge
By Debbie Hommel, ACC/MC/EDU. CTRS

I am one of those pre-historic activity professionals who used to run Reality Orientation
groups.   One of my first responsibilities, as a new activity assistant, was to gather up
six or seven “confused” (that is what we called them in those days) elders into a room
for my RO group (which is what we called it).  Once the residents were gathered, I
would then go through the arduous process of informing these folks that they were
much older than they thought, that their parents had passed away and they were now
living in a nursing home with other older people.  Most did not take the news well, as
you would imagine.  In this by-gone era, we believed that we needed to “re-orient” these
“confused” elders to our reality.  

Thankfully, around the same time, Naomi Feil was also conducting reality groups in
Chicago - with the same lack of success.  However, Ms. Feil dropped her reality groups
and established a new way of interacting with these disoriented elders which she
entitled Validation Therapy.    Ms. Feil was the first person to suggest we accept these
elders where they are and enter their world.  By entering their world and communicating
on an emotional level, we can assist the elder to age more successfully.  Ms. Feil went
on to write several books, make a number of educational films, establish a certification
in Validation Therapy and is an international speaker on the subject.  You can access
information about her work and approach on her web site:
http://www.vfvalidation.
org/web.php?request=index

Most recently, the Memory Bridge Foundation has continued the work begun by Ms.
Feil.  Memory Bridge – The Foundation for Alzheimer’s and Cultural Memory is based
on six directives which are to Educate, Create, Build Communities, Collaborate and
Advocate.  Although we have come a long way in understanding and responding to
persons with Alzheimer’s disease – the Memory Bridge Foundation challenges us to go
even further.  

The public perception of Alzheimer’s disease is that this diagnosis is tragic and the
individual will lose their “sense of self” and become an empty shell.  Because many
believe the person is lost, the person with Alzheimer’s is treated as if they are not there.  
The Memory Bridge project suggests that every person, including those with the
diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, have an “unrecognized capacity to have emotionally
meaningful relationships”.  Regardless of how advanced the disease is, as people we
remain connected and can communicate emotionally.  The Memory Bridge Foundation
advocates there is never a loss of self and the person always remains.  Anyone who
doubts this belief should view the trailer on the Memory Bridge web site with Gladys
Wilson and Naomi Feil at
http://www.memorybridge.org/video9.php
It is a clear example of the person remaining and the strength of emotional
communication.

Like many activity professional, I have always believed the person remains within all our
residents.  Finding a national foundation utilize this concept as one of their main tenets
is gratifying and motivating.  Having similar beliefs as the “preeminent thinkers” quoted
on the Memory Bridge web site and featured in the Memory Bridge documentary gives
me continued strength to advocate for the needs of the individuals I work with on a daily
basis.

The Memory Bridge Foundation has sponsored three major projects.  
-The Memory Bridge Documentary is a must see for all health care workers.  The web
site features several of the contributors to the film and can be seen at
http://www.
memorybridge.org/videos.php
-The Memory Bridge Classroom Initiative is about creating bridges between
generations.  They have developed a service learning curriculum which teaches
children in grades 6-12 how to communicate with elders with Alzheimer’s disease.  You
can request information as to how to introduce the curriculum n your school by sending
in a request via the web site.  
http://www.memorybridge.org/classroom.php#
-An art project called Mapping Lives: the Art of Listening was created by Josh Dorman
who uses painting to tell the stories of persons with Alzheimer’s disease.  
http://www.
joshdorman.net/index.html

Additionally, the web site has excellent resources available including a resource page
with links and articles on Alzheimer’s disease.  
http://www.memorybridge.
org/resources.php
They also have a Memory Bridge Forum where individuals can share their stories about
connecting with individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.  
http://www.memorybridge.
org/forum.php

I am thankful we have learned to accept our residents with Alzheimer’s disease in their
moment and are joining their journey.  Our work is much more satisfying when we can
establish the emotional connection that comes when we stop to truly listen to what they
have to say.  

“Too often we under estimate the power of touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear,
an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all which have the potential to turn
a life around.”
- Leo Buscaglia