It was the end of a hectic day at work, and interruption after crisis after demand left me feeling like I had accomplished little. In the last hour, residents were beginning to gather for dinner, and I was taking the opportunity to achieve some of my "to do" list. I was focused and, I will admit, a little driven. My job isn't about performing, but I am easily overwhelmed after a few days where the list only gets longer. I was determined to cross a few tasks off.
At the edge of my consciousness, I realize I am hearing a familiar voice. Joyce comes every day to visit her friend, Edna. They chat and sometimes play word games in the later afternoon, when Edna is up from her nap. What surprises me is that Joyce is still here. She had usually made slow progress to her own dining room by now. I looked up from my "to do" list and my heart melts.
Joyce had tucked her walker between Edna and the man beside him, who also needed assistance with his meal. While keeping the conversation rolling with all the residents at the table, she was helping both of them with their dinner. At 97, and with her own sight difficulties, Joyce has chosen to serve others in her community.
The power of community. I've seen it often, and nothing touches me more. Elders in less-than-ideal circumstances reaching out to others.
Two ladies became friends. One is blind, so the other leads the way. Her friend deals with daily anxiety, so she provides the courage.
A gathering of men meet to socialize, and decide to form a group to welcome new residents and show them around.
Community thrives among staff, too. A small group of staff gather an incredible $500. for a beloved co-worker as she heads to back to school. They know she loves to travel and won't be able to as a poor student, so this money is for a trip. Others celebrate when a baby is born and worry when a husband is sick.
Community doesn't just happen. It takes commitment to growing and nurturing relationships. We need to know each other, care about each other and be invested in the community as a whole.
I've been accused of being too positive, so I need to say at this point, it's not all butterflies and unicorns. Sometimes staff don't work as a team, or they bicker among themselves. Sometimes elders form cliques and are reluctant to let others in. Community is always a living, growing experience which takes commitment.
Community matters because the alternative is isolation.
I've seen it so often. An elder's slow decline makes it impossible to get out of their home or apartment. Their mobility is compromised or their strength is lacking. Maybe they are suffering from cognitive decline, and feel so unsure in social situations, they hide at home rather than mingling. "Home" is their comfort zone, and as lonely as they may be, they aren't willing to leave it. Sometimes the situation becomes dangerous as they try to cope. Stairs that were appropriate 30 years ago are a hazard now. The bathtub is inaccessible. We can bring in services, at a significant cost, to address some of these problems, but it still leaves them alone and lonely for long periods of the day.
Where I live, the government thinks "aging in place" is the best solution, and provides funds to make it possible. Many elders agree, as the spectre of leaving the home they have known for years is a frightening unknown. It's true that many long-term care homes don't provide the community that is so desperately needed, and many elders and their families believe this is the only solution.
But when true community touches the life of an elder, it gives birth to purpose and well-being.
"An Elder-centered community commits to creating a Human Habitat where life revolves around close and continuing contact with people of all ages and abilities, as well as plants and animals. It is these relationships that provide the young and old alike with a pathway to a life worth living."1
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Care Partner Wednesday--Isolation and the Power of Community