At Fort Hudson Health Services Corp., in Fort Edward, N.Y., residents are calmed, stimulated and fascinated by an interactive sensory stimulation activity center, or ISSAC, which helps nursing home residents become more responsive and calm.
One resident who usually bangs on a chair becomes settled and quiet; another refrains from twisting and contorting his body in frustrated movements; and another speaks calmly rather than in a verbally abusive way.
For using ISSAC to capture the attention and imagination of residents, staff, families and visitors, 194-bed Fort Hudson received this year's Sodexho Marriott service award for values integration.
The portable, four-sided, 400-pound machine offers traditional entertainment, such as a theater system with television, a VCR and "Surround Sound" speakers; a jukebox that can play more than 101 compact discs; and games such as tick-tack-toe and checkers.
But the center has some unusual features, including:
*A melody-maker with chimes and doorbells.
*A fiber-optics skyline of New York that constantly changes colors.
*An electronic aquarium-and-sandscape that changes patterns when tipped.
*A tornado machine that spins different substances in water.
*A laser beam projecting color patterns.
*A large sun with an electronic sensor that moves or changes color in response to movement or voice.
"ISSAC provides additional quality of life for our residents," says Dorothy Kubricky, Fort Hudson's administrator and chief executive officer. "It has brought more children to the facility because they enjoy visiting with ISSAC. When young children visit, it gives (the residents) great joy, so quality of life is increased. Other things, such as the music, touch all of our residents, even those who are low-functioning."
The idea for ISSAC came as an extension of another project. The "sensory trail" covers the walls in the four hallways of the Alzheimer's and dementia unit to stimulate residents' senses. As residents walk by, light or music is activated on two walls. Residents can touch different textures, such as sandpaper, smooth boards or a soft mop-head on a third wall. The fourth wall allows residents to manipulate objects such as a door lock and screws.
"As I was building (the sensory trail), I thought it was a great idea, but I wondered about the rest of the residents in the facility," says Brian Fitzpatrick, ISSAC's co-creator and Fort Hudson's facility safety director. "I wanted everybody to be able to enjoy themselves in one form or another. When you go to a nursing home to visit Grandma or Grandpa, it's difficult for them to interact with family members. When there isn't a planned activity, you see boredom and frustration. ISSAC came about by listening to staff, residents and the industry."
Fitzpatrick and his brother Mark spent 14 months planning ISSAC and seven months constructing it during evenings, weekends and holidays. Fort Hudson introduced the activity center in January 1998.
Because ISSAC is mobile and can even fit in elevators, it is rotated among units so everyone has a chance to play with it. High-functioning residents can wheel themselves up to any side of ISSAC. For lower-functioning residents, small-group activities are planned using the machine, says Debra Sears, recreation therapist and activities director at Fort Hudson.
"It doesn't matter what level the residents are at. Whether low-functioning or alert, they all seem to be fascinated with one part or another of ISSAC," she says.
Nurses at Fort Hudson say ISSAC has eased their job frustrations and freed up some of their time.
"ISSAC calms agitated patients, which gives us time to look at other patients who are more critical," says Tamela Moss, a charge nurse. "It has also made nurses more aware of the importance of activities. They continue activities even when ISSAC goes to another floor."
Fort Hudson, which has not incurred any out-of-pocket costs for using ISSAC, plans to purchase the activity center from the Fitzpatricks in the near future. The Fitzpatricks founded Brymark Industries to build, market and sell more ISSACs and sensory trails. They are patenting ISSAC, and plan to sell the device for $15,000.
"We hope to have ISSAC in hospitals, nursing homes or wherever someone needs to smile," Fitzpatrick says.
Brymark has already sold a few of the activity centers, but the Fitzpatricks plan a few changes.
"In some new models, we are excluding the television system and putting in a fourth sensory side," Fitzpatrick says. "We're also in the process of being able to hook ISSAC up to a telephone with monitor. You can speak to your grandmother on the television from your home."
Healthcare must be open to new technology and new ways to improve quality of life, Fitzpatrick says.
"I think the healthcare industry as a whole has to look to the future," he says. "As generations age and as time goes by, technology changes. What may have been a usable, fun device for residents 20 years ago is not applicable today. We have to look to the future to improve quality of life in healthcare and to give people a reason to live, a sense of wonderment and a chance to smile."