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March 31, 2020

Terry Embraces Singing, Stories As Ways to Generate Positive Vibes

CAREGiver of teh Quarter Terry with Franchise owners
It was a sight – and sound – to behold. Three guys were singing in nearly perfect unison, although a little off-key: CAREGiver of the Quarter Terry Mullen, his 90-year-old dementia client and Alan Jackson, one of the all-time best-selling country music artists. Of course, Jackson's voice came from one of his gospel CDs. Jackson's songs had turned around the client's agitated mood.

Terry said: "The client sang along with every song, hitting 95 percent of the words, loud and clear, and at the top of his lungs. I would have loved to be able to do exactly that. I was singing with him, trying to keep up. It was wonderful, just great. I was pretty happy that he had found his happy zone. His arms went up in the air."

Terry added: "It seems with late-stage dementia, singing activity with word memory would be uncommon, but that was not the case at all." In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, research suggests that listening to or singing songs can provide emotional and behavioral benefits for those with dementia. Musical memories are often preserved because key brain areas are relatively undamaged by dementia.

Terry explained: "The client's wife had mentioned if he gets agitated, put on an Alan Jackson CD, so I did. He'd been a happy guy before dementia, and his wife knew one of the ways to get him into his happy zone. In addition to music, I could ask him about old stories and get him back to a time that made him happy. Mentally, he'd return to a place in time when he was doing what he'd normally be doing on his ranch. He was a neat guy."

Terry, a highly successful career educator who retired after 30 years of teaching, began a second career with Home Instead Senior Care® in February 2019 after searching online "for something different to help others." He has adapted well to professional senior care and has picked up many care nuances since joining the award-winning New Braunfels franchise. He praised the Home Instead training. His excellence of care was confirmed when he was honored as the CAREGiver of the Quarter for the first three months of 2020 at co-owner Kris and Jean-Marc Mira's office.

Training and Engagement Supervisor Nancy Weigandt said: "After retiring from teaching, Terry decided to give back to seniors in his second chapter of life. We selected him as CAREGiver of the Quarter because of how his clients and their families appreciate the relationship he has with each of them. He just knows how to connect with them. Terry has a great sense of humor and exudes a positive attitude with staff, clients and their families. He has excellent communication skills and is conscientious about follow-up. I could go on and on."

After Terry retired from teaching, he took off six months and didn't do much of anything. But he wanted to find a supplemental income source and work at something fulfilling. "I didn't know what my next job would look like. It's hard to explain exactly, but I was out in the public all the time as a teacher because the classroom is a public place. While I liked it, I did not want to return to something like that. To be honest, I had no initial thoughts about senior care," he explained.

"But I saw Home Instead Senior Care online and immediately thought of my 91-year-old mother, who lives on her own in Carlsbad, New Mexico, is independent and still drives. She is doing well, and no one is helping her. She still goes places even after my dad died. She just moves slowly. When I was thinking about my mother and what Home Instead does, I also thought, 'Maybe I need to learn this.' Additionally, I like older people in general. I had known a lot of older people through my parents. I liked listening to their stories."

When Terry interviewed with Home Instead Senior Care, the staff told Terry he could create his own schedule. "Home Instead is flexible. I try to visit Mom once a month, and I am able to schedule those four or five days off. She lives 450 miles away, and she likes the fact I can get time off to see her," said Terry, who graduated from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

Although Terry obviously has different methods and objectives with seniors than he did with students, he has always had strong compassion and top-notch people-person skills. He spent time overseas in Africa as a teacher for missionaries' kids and also worked for a couple of private schools in addition to his time with public schools. "That time went fast. I blinked twice, and my teaching career was gone. I left teaching when things were good for me," Terry said.

Terry offered these points about being a CAREGiver:

"I have five regular clients but don't believe there are big challenges, not on a consistent basis. Two have some form of dementia. Three can communicate. I help one guy with showering. Every client's needs are so different. I had a fill-in client who was 100. He took only one pill a day and carried on a good conversation."
"Even if the clients have dementia, they might have memories they can describe. I use open-ended questions to help them remember more and draw out more memories. With repetitiveness, I act genuinely surprised when I hear a story for the second time or more. Talking about themselves can give them pleasure. I want them to enjoy themselves."
"Conversation can be like walking in and seeing their lives. I try to use pictures and mementos in their homes as prompts. The more I can get them to talk about themselves, the better, and it can be a good measure of cognition. I can tell the family, 'This is what your dad talked about' or 'Your dad is doing well with interaction. He's reminiscing.' "
"Routines can be a comfort for the client. For instance, I help some people wake up. I start breakfast so they can smell it, then help get them out of bed, help with personal care and get that first cup of coffee for them."
"I've had three clients pass away, but I wasn't there when they died. You get to know these people, and the memories of them are meaningful. There is a time of reflection. I sit and think about who this was and think about the family."
"Sometimes I help a client in order to provide respite care for a family member. One client's wife was independent, self-sufficient and capable. While I was there with her husband, she ran errands, went to their grandkids' activities and to church."
While Terry is a big help with regular clients, he tries to pitch in when possible to take fill-in shifts, and his availability has been praised by the Home Instead Senior Care staff.

Front Office Administrator Lisa Odom said: "I called Terry on one of his days off to ask him to help cover a shift for one of his clients because another CAREGiver had just called off. Terry was having breakfast with a friend when I called. When I spoke to him and explained, he said, 'Oh, no problem. I need to get over to him right now. He needs me.' This is just how Terry is. He was willing to drop everything and gave up his personal time to help his client. I know it can be cliché, but he truly has the heart of a CAREGiver."

Nancy, the training and engagement supervisor, agreed and added: "Terry is very flexible and will always help when he can. Terry has healthy boundaries; he does say 'no' when he can't help but will occasionally adjust his schedule to help."

When asked what he sees in the future, Terry said: "First thing, the job is good. There are more personal kudos than having to deal with uncomfortable situations. The hours are flexible. I could see myself doing this for three or four more years, but I have to be physically able to do this job. There is no problem with that aspect now, and I'm pretty confident. As long as Home Instead Senior Care is happy, I am happy."

He added: "I know the value of caregiving. I know now what to do for Mom, as well as what not to do. Being a CAREGiver has given me perspective and a positive way of looking at things. If I had to view it as a message for myself and others, I'd say: Spend more time with your senior loved ones when they are capable of enjoying the time with you."

CAREGivers, who are screened, trained, bonded and insured, provide services to help keep seniors independent. For employment inquiries, call (830) 217-3583 or apply online at http://www.homeinstead.com/366/becomeacaregiver/employmentinquiry/Pages/EmploymentInquiry.aspx. For further information, visit www.homeinstead.com/366 or to learn more about services, link to a digital brochure at http://hisc366.digbro.com. Please join our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Home-Instead-Senior-Care-New-Braunfels-TX/375522375796468 and check out our blog at http://newbraunfels.seniorshomecaregivers.com/.