I found the attached article very interesting and promising. Anyone who has been a family caregiver, or a professional caregiver, knows the seemingly insurmountable struggle to engage with someone who has Alzheimer’s or other dementia.
My work path in life always includes those with dementia so I will definitely look into this therapy. But let’s face it – as us Baby Boomers move onward into our future, we’re already looking for ways in which to brighten our memories when what we’re searching for may be on the tip of our tongue, but it refuses to jump off!
Think of a moving/relocating experience you’ve had with all of its inherent tasks of purging of items, packing what remains, and leaving all that is familiar as you move into uncharted territory. In your new neighborhood you’re starting all over again to find: new friends; a new supermarket with the best deals; perhaps the best school(s) for your children; a new church; and new ties to the community. Not exactly an enjoyable experience. It took you some time to adjust to your new community and feel that you fit in, didn’t it?
Now imagine doing the same thing as someone who is at least 70 years old with failing health, no family nearby, and perhaps with a compromised cognition level. Vulnerable adults move into a long-term care (LTC) housing environment because of a condition, or combination of conditions, that make living independently no longer an option. Because of this disruptive move, another disorder – adjustment disorder – makes their move a perilous one.
A loss of context in a new environment. In my work as an advocate for vulnerable adults, I had the privilege of hearing a wonderful speaker, George Dicks. At the time, Mr. Dicks supervised the Geriatric Psychiatry Service clinic at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, WA. He was also a contracted instructor for the University of Washington, teaching courses on Gerontology, Psychiatric Consultation, and Mental Health. He emphasized that residents living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities struggle to look for context within their new environment. For example, context is hard to come by when your daily bath occurs at 2:00 in the afternoon instead of in the morning or evening as was the case prior to the move. And forget about finding comfort in routine because the demands on LTC staff are such that caring for numerous residents on their shift can’t possibly assure a routine on which the residents can rely.
Just providing care doesn’t mean that a staff person is caring. Everyone who moves into a long-term care facility will have difficulties, but those who are cognitively impaired face an especially arduous adjustment. As I previously mentioned, staff are hard pressed to provide individual care to their residents, and oftentimes are poorly prepared to handle the disorders that walk through the door. Just getting through their daily shift is troublesome so trying to learn the habits and routines that are so vital for quality of life of the resident with dementia is a very time-consuming task.
Quite frequently, the only contact a staff person has with a resident is when they are making demands of that resident: “time to take your medicines Mrs. Jones;” “let’s get that soiled clothing changed Mr. Smith;” “open your mouth Mrs. Clark so I can feed you.” Providing for basic needs is not providing care. Why? Because the staff are requiring something of the resident. There is no connection. When a staff person interacts with a resident, absent a provision of care, that’s a better definition of care.
How to lessen the effects of adjustment disorder. Those living in a long-term care housing situation oftentimes feel as though they left all their power, and all of their basic human rights, at the door. They are constantly surrounded with reminders of their condition – all those other residents who look as lost and helpless as they do – and it seems that the only time anyone pays attention to them is when someone is demanding something of them in the form of providing some sort of assistance with their care needs. If every staff person spent just five minutes of non-task-oriented time with each resident during their shift, those residents just might start feeling better about themselves.
- Walk with a resident for a few minutes by simply accompanying them in the hallway and reassuring them along the way.
- Play music the residents like in the common areas and in their rooms – and don’t assume that you know what they like to hear. Take the time to find out what gets their feet tapping.
- When you walk past a resident, greet them, smile at them, just as you would if you were in a social environment instead of a clinical environment. Again, do so even when you’re not providing a care service. Your friendly, heart-felt greeting may just make their day.
- Start a dialogue with residents that allows them to open up to you about who they are; what their lives were like prior to arriving at the facility. If you need to jot down some of their stories so you’ll remember them later, do so and continue the dialogue the next time you see them. Wouldn’t it be a pleasant surprise to a resident when you asked them, “Tell me more about your grandson Charlie. He seems like a real character!” Wow – you were actually listening, and it shows. Now you’re connecting with the resident.
If you are a staff person in a long-term care facility, can you put your grandma or grandpa’s face on your patients/residents faces thereby having a greater incentive to connect with those receiving your care? Or if that doesn’t work for you, do what you must in order to add an element of care to those you serve. Just because you’re helping the resident perform a task, doesn’t mean that you’re providing the care that they really need.
- “I’m trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life.”
- “I’m a frustrated fish out of water since retiring two years ago.”
- “I’m desperate to find something to fill my time!”
- Woman in her 80’s: “What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? I feel helpless and hopeless without worthwhile connections.”
I attended a class four and a half years ago comprised of people in their 50’s through their 80’s. This class was designed to make our Senior years count. I just now stumbled on notes that I took in that class wherein each class member was asked to make a comment about their current state in life. The above four comments are just some of those statements.
Desperation and sadness all around me. I recall now that the mood of this class was one of desperation and sadness as those who yearned for retirement their whole working life found themselves frantically trying to fill their days. Their feelings were summed up in these words:
- lack of purpose
- loss of self
Gerontologist, S. Barkin puts it this way regarding our responsibility to be actively walking through our senior years, and I paraphrase,
What do we want to do for the time remaining in our life? We all should be mining our experiences and the wisdom therein to help with our present and future paths.
As I mentioned in my article, Retirement planning: it’s not what you think, all of us have a history of life skills that should not be put up on a shelf and never used again. Instead we should be retooling those skills into something that is meaningful and enjoyable to us and beneficial to others. The students in my class had many thoughts – mostly unfocused and therefore not very productive – but those thoughts had yet to turn into action.
The first step is to decide what is significant to you and act on it.
Aging well starts with the mind but it’s in the doing that makes it count. We all have a choice when we find ourselves at a loss of purpose: we can stay stuck, or we can actively make a difference in the local community around us. Baby Boomers are the first generation of peoples to have such a long life span. We’re living longer so we have more time to pass our knowledge down to others and use our skills in a valuable way. As the sports company Nike says in one of their ad campaigns: JUST DO IT!