Great iPhone interventions for nursing home residents

Now that I know I’m not going against state regulations (see Dr. El goes undercover with the NYS Department of Health), I’ll confess I love to use my iPhone with the residents. In nursing homes that don’t yet have computer access, the iPhone and other Web-enabled mobile devices bring the world right to the residents. (For more on the subject, see Therapeutic use of the Internet in nursing homes.)

Courtesy of Apple

Here are some therapeutic interventions I’ve used during my psychology sessions. Please add your experiences in the comments section.

· When I arrived at the door of his room, Jim was sitting with his head in his hands. He looked up and I saw the worry in his eyes.

“What’s up?” I asked him.

“I put all my stuff in storage before I got here, but now I can’t remember the name of the place,” he said. “I’m worried I’m gonna lose my things.”

Pulling out my iPhone, I Googled the storage center based on the general location and handed him the phone number. Relieved, he was able to discuss his other concerns.

When I ran into him later in the day, he had already phoned, made arrangements for his belongings, and was now smiling and relaxed.

· “My old doctor gave me different medication,” Ms. Garcia told me. “I never had this problem before.”

“Do you have your doctor’s phone number? Maybe your old physician could talk to your doctor here,” I said.

“I don’t have the number. But I know her name.”

After a quick search and a couple of phone calls, Ms. Garcia was on the phone with the MD she’d had for the last fifteen years. “Hey!!! How you doing?! Listen, can you call my doctor here and tell him about me?” Two days later, the MDs had conversed, the meds had been changed, and the problem was solved.

· Ana’s usually energetic demeanor had faded and my attempts to engage her were met with glum, monosyllabic replies. I switched gears.

“Would you like to listen to music? We could play some of your native Romanian songs.” She was unenthusiastic until my YouTube search came up with the Romanian Ballad of Ciprian Porumbescu. Her face lit up and she listened intently, eyes closed, appearing to drink in the music.

“He is very famous in my country,” she told me, and when the ballad concluded, she reminisced about her past, revealing more about her youth than she had in our previous three months of psychotherapy.

· Once I worked briefly with a man who was new to the nursing home and appeared lost. Trying to anchor him, I asked if he had any hobbies.

“Irish dancing,” he told me. I searched for Irish dance music in YouTube and found a video of some Riverdance-type performers. His eyes brightened and, from his wheelchair, his feet jumped and pranced with remarkable skill. From the knees down, he was a Riverdancer; from his neck up, he was a happy man.

After this intervention, I spoke to his children and asked them to bring him a CD player and some Irish music, and also shared the information with his recreation therapist so she could play his music on the unit.

Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed psychologist consulting in long-term care facilities in the New York City area. She frequently lectures on subjects related to psychology, aging, and nursing homes. Dr. Barbera is available for private consulting with organizations, institutions, and individuals around eldercare issues. Visit her personal blog at


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