Behavioural Changes: The Importance of “Knowing the Person”

Behavioural Changes: The Importance of “Knowing the Person”

Behavioural Changes: The Importance of “Knowing the Person”

This story is shared with us by our colleague Andrea Leatherdale – RN, BScN, Practical Nursing Program Coordinator at Centennial College. In this story, the nurse observes changes in behaviour of one of the residents. The nurse is not able to shake off the concern that something significant is about to happen. The story illustrates the nurses listening skills and her attempts to alert others to the changes. 

A woman in her late 80s with advanced dementia and COPD with limited communication.  She was usually kept engaged in hand activities, like folding laundry and dressing dolls.  The usual practice on the unit was for nursing staff to play music during morning medication rounds and engage residents with singing and dancing.  Usually this woman wouldn’t engage, even though her family said she loved music.

This woman’s COPD was typically mild, but one morning she developed a new respiratory congestion, that was relieved with inhalation medications.   At the time that the morning congestion started, she started to sing spontaneously.  She was singing “Wake me up before you go-go, I’m not planning on going solo”.  She sang this phrase over and over again.

The nurses were surprised at this sudden change. The resident did not normally engage verbally. The nurses wondered what caused this change in behaviour, they discussed it as a team and reported it to the doctor and asked the doctor to assess the woman’s chest congestion. The doctor said that since the chest congestion cleared with the morning inhalation treatments, it was not a concern.

When her family heard their mother singing, they were excited that their mother was more alert and active. They attributed this as a positive change to the way the staff was interacting with her.

The nurse assigned to care for her, who was most familiar with her, still felt that there was something else happening. She talked with the doctor again. The doctor still said since the woman was eating and drinking normally and her temperature was normal, no further investigation was needed.

The resident sang this song every morning for 5 days.  On the fifth day, she had a sudden increase in congestion. She was sent to hospital.  She died 2 days later in hospital from pneumonia secondary to COPD. Her daughter was with her at time of death. Other family members were not there. The family was concerned that she had not died in place, in her home, at the facility.


We’d love to hear about your experiences and thoughts on this story. Please leave your comments below.


2 Responses

  1. Music is in my opinion, the strongest motivation for any father recorded music from his Era right up to date with current and my husband is a country musician. I worked as a housekeeper at a longterm facility and noticed that residents were just “parked” in common areas so I decided I would take a chance and bring in my collection of taped music. I started up the stereo and started dancing and singing with the “wet mop”..I WATCHED as toes started tapping, hands started clapping, voices started singing and faces started smiling. It was the most REWARDING experience I have ever boss caught me and asked what I was doing ? Lol and when he noticed the difference in the atmosphere in the room….he told me to “carry on”..before I knew it, every unit started to turn on their stereos and every day I would find residents AND STAFF singing and dancing !!!!!

    1. Madeline
      Wonderful wonderful wonderful!
      I hope that you will be there to sing and dance with me. I love music, simple music…
      The lovely short video segment from the documentary “Alive Inside” is an excellent example of the power of music.
      One of my favorite birthday gifts was when the kids brought some friends over for my birthday and they sang to me.
      Beautiful gift. I wish I had that ability!!!
      Warm regards,

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Courtney Murrell is a PSW who works in hospice palliative care.

When she is not at work, she is spending time with her family, going on hikes or writing. Courtney is a lifelong learner and loves to share her passion for writing as a wellness practice.

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