At 10 a.m. every morning during his tenure at a skilled nursing facility in Englewood, restorative nurse Robert Colangelo did double-duty as a dance DJ.
The elderly residents there had pretty diverse taste in tunes, Colangelo said, spanning from Judy Garland and big band classics to funky Whitney Houston hits. "The residents chose by the beat, mostly, and if it was too slow they'd tell me to turn it off. Most of the residents wanted to dance," he said.
Colangelo has been nursing for 10 years in Colorado, and he's a big fan of music. He's incorporated music and dance into many of his restorative programs. "We even introduced some light rap and techno for our weight lifting class and geriatric Tae-Bo, which they loved because they could move."
One of Colangelo's residents used a floor mat to do leg lifts and stretching exercises. "It improved her health and sense of well being. She was walking more than 200 feet, when before she could barely stand," he said.
The balance needed to prevent a catastrophic fall that could result in a hip fracture can be taught through ballroom dancing technique, according to Colangelo. Just a simple head movement technique can be tremendously helpful to a high-risk faller, he said.
Colangelo also has conducted meditation classes with soft musical background to reduce stress in the nursing home environment. In his "friendship circle" groups, residents were encouraged to discuss their goals. Fitness and education were stressed.
Born in Denver at University Hospital, Colangelo is the youngest in a family of four. "My mother tells me that I was her easiest birth," he said.
Several tragic events in Colangelo's childhood have impacted his professional career. He remembers his grandmother, who died at the age of 48 from cancer. "I remember cleaning up her bedside stand, rubbing lotion on her legs, and the expression on her face for the little things made me feel so special," he said. "I was not afraid of her sickness, but I knew that I wanted to help her somehow."
Domestic violence directed at Colangelo's mother was another tragedy that affected him at an early age. "As a child, I would remember her face after a beating and I would try to comfort her, so I guess I have always been a caring person from the beginning," he said.
He learned nursing at Emily Griffith Opportunity School in Denver, and praises his instructor, Ruby Wang. "I remember the hardest time in nursing school I had – and overcame – was bed making," Colangelo said. "I was going to quit, but by the third attempt to make a wrinkle-free bed, I succeeded."
His persistence paid off. Colangelo has enjoyed success and garnered recognition from his peers in the profession, twice winning employee of the month awards at a Christian living campus.
Memorable nursing moments are in abundance for Colangelo, who simply enjoys the chance to offer bedside care for a dying patient. Bathing patients is a particularly rewarding activity, he said. "I have always liked this, because I am real big on grooming and smelling good, and residents or patients tend to feel better after a nice hot bath."
As a restorative nurse at Cherry Hills Healthcare Center, a skilled nursing facility with 91 beds in Englewood, Colo., Colangelo learned a lot through simple patient assistance. He said he'd never before realized how effective it could be to help a resident move her shoulders so she could brush her own hair and wash her own face. "Restoring one level of function in residents, so they can save their pride and dignity, was one of our goals at Cherry Hills. Let the resident do as much for themselves as possible. It gives them a sense of well being and importance," he said.
Among the changes in the nursing profession that Colangelo has witnessed, budget cuts are his biggest concern. He's been frustrated in the past with a lack of funding to try therapy and treatment programs. In one instance, there wasn't enough money for a facility to purchase a clothing washer and dryer so that independent residents could do their own wash and use the kind of detergent they preferred. The availability of simple choices like that can go a long way in improving quality of life. "The smell of clean clothes makes a world of difference," Colangelo said.
Colangelo plans to continue in the nursing profession and become registered. He wants to work with the elderly, and is enjoying a new position at Aspen Village at Lowry, an assisted living facility. "I love the older adults – they need protection and love," he said.