Mililani Woman Earns Grant To Fund iPad Therapy For Seniors

Gabriele Chapman celebrates the end of deployment with her husband, Col. Matthew Chapman. Photo from Gabriele Chapman.

A Mililani woman’s idea to use iPads to connect with seniors at Wahiawa General Hospital earned her a $1,000 grant from Awesome Foundation.

Gabriele Chapman, a graduate student in social work at the University of Hawaii, has found the tablet computers a great way to bring smiles to patients who have lost the ability to interact with others.

“The patients there have severe mental or behavioral problems, and I made it my goal to get to know the patients and to connect with them,” said the 44-year-old mother of six. “Some of the patients have such severe dementia you can’t even communicate with them. They don’t make eye contact; they don’t show any facial expression at all.”

After not being able to reach her patients in normal ways, Gabby, as she is known, decided to try something different. She created a slideshow of kittens for a particular patient with whom she was never able to even make eye contact. Suddenly, Chapman got the result she was hoping for.

“Her eyes finally focused on it for a second and she got this big smile, and she said, ‘Oh, they are so cute. I love them,’ and she smiled. I was so excited I got any reaction at all, and for those few seconds she was there with me. I thought this was the key to connect with them.”

Chapman realized she was on to something. Her iPad became her constant at-work companion, each day providing a different way to connect with the residents of the hospital’s senior behavior health unit.

Using the SoundHound app, she was able to identify the song a patient was singing. In a matter of minutes, Chapman found the music and words and the two performed a duet of Let Me Call You Sweetheart. On another occasion, she used video streaming that allowed a woman watch her son, a pastor, lead Sunday worship at his church.

“Even with patients with dementia it is great, because it gets their mind off of where they are, why they are there. A lot of times they are scared, and something like that can take their mind off that for a little while, and they can feel good about themselves.”

Hoping to purchase more iPads to help more patients, Chapman applied to the Awesome Foundation for a grant. In March she got the good news – she had won a $1,000 grant.

The foundation began in Boston in 2009 and has 71 chapters in 12 countries. Each month the chapters award $1,000 “micro-genius grants” to individuals and groups looking to help others.

The award wouldn’t be her last bit of good fortune.

Chapman’s husband, Matthew, is a U.S. Army colonel, so she went shopping at Schofield Barracks post exchange when it just happened to be having a sale on iPads. She was able to buy two 32 gig iPad 4s, two Survivor cases with enough left over to load the machines with her favorite apps.

“I lucked out,” she said with an obvious smile.

Chapman’s internship at the hospital ended shortly after her program began, but she left the iPads behind, and the hospital’s social worker continues treatments. Chapman’s next internship assignment will be at Waianae Coast Early Childhood Intervention Program, but until that happens, she’ll spend her summer searching for more funding to continue her program, and hopefully find a job.

“I love working with dementia patients, and the whole time I was working at the hospital I kept thinking, I would love to just work here because it is so rewarding.'”

Chapman created Wahiawa Savvy Seniors, a program to help continue her efforts. Anyone wishing to contribute to her effort can go to the Wahiawa Savvy Seniors website.