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Namaste: Honoring the spirit within

February 4, 2013
by Shelley Silverman King, RN
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NA-mas-te: A greeting meaning, “I bow to your spirit”

Although space constraints limited the number of participants at first, the resulting behavioral changes for those few were noticed by staff and families alike. The selection of caregivers involves looking for “anyone who can express love, offer a gentle touch, and be present for people.” Namaste caregivers need to research the residents’ social history, speak to family members and friends and learn the residents’ likes and dislikes. We developed a core group of caretakers for the Namaste Room, because relationships are key in building trust. The environment lent itself to a balance, or “feng shui” (an Asian practice meaning harmonious surroundings).

Mr. B enjoyed interacting with a stuffed animal dog in the Namaste room. He named the dog “Buttons” and would blow on him in an affectionate manner. On another day, he chose to paint, asked for the color purple. When he was finished with his art work he named it "the man selling clothes."

The program started in our library from 3-8 p.m., five days a week. The library morphed into a different world at 3 p.m. We moved tables around to suit the needs, added a tabletop waterfall and an essential oil diffuser, and used soft lights and music. The staff was trained with essential oil use and hand massage techniques. A small refrigerator held cool sensory tastes such as ice cream, fruit slices and drinks. A flat-screen TV was added for the purpose of showing streaming video aquariums, slides of babies and other soothing triggers of long-term memory. The door was kept closed and extraneous traffic was not permitted. Other tactile textures include soft cuddly stuffed animals and baby dolls, which brought a great deal of comfort to residents.

After we documented our observed changes (through photos, comments and written observations), we gave a presentation for the families and explained the changes in their loved ones. The presentation was met with a great deal of emotion and gratitude. They saw their loved ones smile, raise their hands to gesture and even paint. No one had seen such possibilities for these residents prior to this program.

The families’ satisfaction is like a burden lifted from their shoulders. They see peace and tranquility and a way to

Everyone in the Namaste room enjoyed the smells of the bread maker. The sensory smorgasbord prompted some residents to request some bread, while others showed increased appetites and less resistance to eating even when outside the room.

communicate with their family member. They see a renewed joy for their family member through the use of music and touch. The program provides opportunity for staff to form an alliance with families as well.

We all age differently, so providers need to understand how having individualized plans for residents can change their late-life pictures. No matter how old or “hidden away” a person seems to be, discovery and light can be found. The Namaste program and the others like it look toward improving resident quality of life while decreasing reliance on medications and shifting our focus to non-pharmacological interventions.

Shelley Silverman King, R.N., is certified in gerontology and holistic nursing. She can be reached at

 Learn more about designing spaces for memory care at the Environments for Aging conference, April 6-9, 2013.