When he arrived at the Gurwin Jewish Geriatric Center in Commack three years ago, Stanley Golditch said he could not feed himself and had difficulty walking.
Golditch, 71, of Forest Hills, Queens and diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, said doctors told him he had "an aggressive degenerative condition."
But with the help of positive thinking under the guidance of Karen Nash, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist, Golditch adopted a "positive and courageous" mindset that resulted in improvements in his condition.
Moving around in a wheelchair, Golditch said: "The doctors were wrong. Yes, they were wrong. I had lived with the idea that I’d be restricted to my bed. … As it turned out, I made improvements."
Nash said she has been conducting the healing-mind workshop since the nursing home opened in 1989 and that it started as part of the adult education program. The workshop provides a complement to traditional medication and is part of burgeoning holistic approach to treating patients.
"The most wonderful thing you can do for a resident of a nursing home who has a chronic illness is to empower him to be the best he could possibly be," she said. "One of our doctors documented that a patient came off half his medication just by listening to relaxation tapes at night."
Nash said that the hand tremors of one patient actually ended when she asked the patient to imagine soothing thoughts. She said the tremors returned when she brought them to the patient’s attention.
"The illness is not going to go away, the pain wonít go away, but they can manage it: and thatís the key," she said. "You can really maintain your emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being by using these mind-body techniques. … You have to learn the breathing, which is the key to any mind-healing process."
Pat Davidson, 62, of Lindenhurst and another resident of the nursing home who is there for chronic care, said she was a believer even before meeting Nash.
"I believe that when you have a catastrophic illness that affects your brain, healing has to generate from the brain first," she said. "You need a willingness to keep trying to be able to accomplish something. That generates in my mind two words" ‘I can.’ My mind decides that I am going to be able to do this."
Therefore, she said, she was "thrilled" to learn of Nash’s classes.
"They reinforce ‘I can,’" Davidson said.
This self-healing, she maintained, has worked wonders since a brain aneurysm in 1990 left her speech-impaired and unable to walk. Speaking without hesitation while seated in a wheelchair, Davidson said she is now "more forceful in my ability to communicate."
"If I didn’t hear continuously the words ‘I can,’ I might not have tried," she said. "But Karen’s workshop and the positive thoughts reinforced my own belief that I can if I try."
Nash said there are 3,000 recorded cases of cancer patients who have gone into remission or been cured with "mind, attitude and belief."
"A positive attitude is paramount," she said. During the workshops, which Nash said are "not an instant fix but a process," she helps the residents understand "how they are responsible for their feeling of well-being." Each session begins with the participants repeating an "affirmation" Nash has written in which they tell themselves they will get better. "There is usually a theme to each workshop, and I tell them of the current research," Nash said. "I ask them to talk of their stress in living here and having to give up their apartment. … They go through a lot of changes and disappointments living here, and I ask if others feel that way. That sets up an opportunity for socialization and sharing."
During the sessions, Nash includes "guided visualizations" in which she asks participants to close their eyes and imagine themselves at a beach or other relaxing location. And she teaches stress-reduction techniques.
"They have to know what happens to them physically when they get upset, because if they have any physical illness it will exacerbate" the illness, she said. Nash said her staff also teaches residents yoga (breathing exercises and positions) and Tai Chi Chuaan, a Chinese technique in which certain movements allow the body’s energy to flow in a positive way. "The premise is an Eastern philosophy," Nash explained. "We have an energy field around our body and we have an internal energy system. It is directly related to all our nerves and organs in our body. Eastern medicine believes that illness occurs when that energy is stagnated or blocked. So you release that energy with yoga or Tai Chi Chuaan."
She said she practices it by putting her hands over the patient’s failing organ.
"That transmits the energy flowing from the universe through me to the person," she said.
Nash noted that the nursing profession uses this technique, which it calls "therapeutic touch."
"Nurses are trained in it," she said. "It’s not a replacement for Western medicine; it augments it."