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Silver Linings: Comfort a key therapy for seniors at Ray of Hope

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 11. 2018 8:22PM
Cassie Tucker, program director at Ray of Hope, gets ready to pass a memory ball containing stars with words back to a patient. Reminiscence therapy games are designed to trigger memories and conversation. (COURTESY)

WOODSVILLE — Cottage Hospital’s Ray of Hope gero-psychiatric unit is designed to be therapeutic for seniors — especially those suffering from dementia, anxiety and depression.

First names, hobbies, birthdays and favorite foods are handwritten on signs next to patient rooms. There’s a sunny interior courtyard for enjoying fresh air or a manicure from a nursing assistant.

Lap quilts studded with bolts and buttons keep fidgeting hands busy. Music is playing.

“Sometimes you go in there, and there’s Elvis in the background,” said Holly McCormack, chief of nursing at Cottage Hospital. Some patients sing along to Frank Sinatra.

Mealtimes and question and answer games offer opportunities to socialize.

For 10 elderly patients with urgent mental health needs ranging from dementia with self-neglect to depression with attempted suicide, Cottage Hospital’s Ray of Hope unit is an oasis — and an inspiration to other community hospitals grappling with ways to serve local seniors in the midst of mental health crises — often hours from full-service medical centers.

“Some people like it so much they don’t want to go home,” said Cassie Tucker, a registered nurse and the unit’s director.

So far close to 200 patients age 56 to 96 have come voluntarily for urgent treatment and stabilization, staying three weeks on average, but as long as 40 days. The location: 25 miles northwest of Lincoln and 21 miles southwest of Littleton.

Cottage Hospital’s Ray of Hope is an unexpected refuge at the end of what seems to many like a long journey.

“People with lifelong mental illness have burned a lot of bridges and don’t have much support,” said Holly McCormack, chief of nursing. “A lot come from far away and may only have one visitor every couple of weeks.”

One older patient carried a doll — in her reality, a baby, allowed to sit behind her while she ate in the common room.

Around a table feet from the interior courtyard, three seniors enjoyed the last bites of lunch, including made-to-order pepperoni-bacon pizza.

“Sometimes I have trouble sleeping. I’d love to try falling asleep outside in the sunshine,” one woman said.

“A miracle happened,” said another. “I fell asleep for at least an hour.”

“They do strike up friendships,” said Tucker, program director. “Usually we’re just trying to help them manage their behaviors. We can’t cure their dementia, so we’re trying to make their life quality the best it can be.”

Health Public Safety Woodsville Special Report