s evening approaches in the dementia ward at
the Albany County Nursing Home, patients’
irritability and confusion rises. Come nighttime,
many residents have problems sleeping — wandering,
wheeling or perhaps falling in the halls.
So two years ago, health researchers installed what the
home’s nurse manager Karen Pitcher calls “the miracle table,” a
repurposed flat screen TV that emits a bluish-white light. They
gathered residents around it at mealtimes, and allowed them to
congregate there whenever they pleased from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The goal was to help stimulate the residents’ circadian rhythms
— the hormones that ebb and flow according to light and
other signals — and help correct the sleep disorders that are
all too common among the ward’s elderly patients, especially
those with dementia.
The miracle table worked some wonders. What happened
wasn’t a complete reversal of symptoms, but was significant
nonetheless for many patients.
One person who had been almost completely incontinent
started to control her toileting with little assistance and started
to “look around and perk up and do things again,” Pitcher says.
“I had another patient who [had often been] up fighting from
3 a.m. to 11 a.m. and stopped.”