Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--The Domain of Growth

They can’t learn anything new.

When I started working with frail elderly people almost 18 years ago, this was the first and most absolute lesson taught to me about people with dementia.

Don’t try to introduce any new information. It will only frustrate.

This is why, when I first learned about the domain of growth, I was sceptical. The Eden Alternative refers to growth as "development; enrichment; expanding; evolving." Elders needed opportunities for growth in order to feel a sense of well-being? I didn't think this was possible for elders with dementia and I wasn’t sure about this concept for any elders. How often had I heard the words, “I’m too old to ____________.” I've observed that elders choose not to try new experiences, believing that their age precluded them from the ability to enjoy them.

So what’s this domain of growth about? “The opposite of growth is death—physical and spiritual. . . Individuals living with frailty continue to grow and teach us how to be human beings in a caring community.” 2

I began to think about what I had been taught. I realized growth was there, but I didn’t recognize it. People with dementia eventually learned to find their room and made new friends. Their care partners became familiar. They learned and grew. Others who didn't experience cognitive decline tried new experiences and were enriched by them. Days later, they still enjoyed the experience through memory.

Recently, I held a special lunch where I served homemade pizza. As a 95-year-old man bit into his first slice, he turned to me and said, “Do you know, I’ve never had pizza before.” I wondered how that was possible, but I was delighted to watch him devour two slices.

Has media duped our society into believing a lie about aging?  The medical model focuses on “mitigating decline and disability.” 3 Our society buys into the lie that aging is all about losses, until you die. We joke about it on social media and among ourselves. Our elders believe the myth that at a certain point, they can’t contribute any more. They can’t give, and they can’t have adventures and grow.

It’s a lie.

My friend tells this story:

“I was at a little pie and ice cream café in Bragg Creek, Alberta, when a couple on a motorcycle pulled up. The driver got off and removed her helmet. She walked back and lifted her passenger off the seat. She removed his helmet, revealing a white head of hair on a frail looking older gentleman. They came into the café after some circulation-stimulating leg shaking, and took a seat at the next table. We got chatting, and I learned he was 92, and the lady driving the bike was his granddaughter. Every weekend through the summer, weather permitting, they went on a one-to-two-hour ride—one way!”

Growth may not look like it did when we were younger. It may need to be modified. We need to realize that all kinds of experiences are possible, and stop limiting our elders and their growth.

Care Partner Wednesday--The Domain of Growth


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