Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Caregiver Wednesday--What elderhood is not

The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practise at age 90. "Because I think I'm making progress," he replied. 1

Here's a radical, outside-the-box thought.

Growth is possible until the end of life.

It is possible, in fact, desirable, for people to grow as people until they die. They can have new experiences, enjoy their passions, contribute and have a meaningful life.

Is this whimsical ramblings of a dreamer? No, it's a basic tenant of the Eden Alternative, whose vision statement says they are committed to eliminate loneliness, helplessness and boredom, and calls these the three plagues that account for the bulk of the suffering among our elders. 2

Our society has bought into the lie that elder hood, or old age, is a disease. It is terminal, to be sure, and often contains disease. Our bodies wear out. Our minds sometimes are subject to diagnoses which can leave us confused, agitated, frightened or anxious. But the spirit which lives inside of all of us, whatever is happening in our bodies and our minds, needs to be nourished. And can be.

If we believe this, our caregiving changes. We are not so much focused on the tasks that need to be done, but on finding the simple pleasures within a person that makes them tick. What brings them joy? What brings meaning to their lives? What fulfils them? The tasks (personal hygiene, dressing, eating etc.) still need to be accomplished each day, but they aren't the final goal. The goal is fulfilment and meaning. A day with purpose.

It's different for everyone, and each person may have several areas that accomplish this.The bottom line is, if we believe it's essential to life, we will be committed to finding it and ensuring their are opportunities for growth each day.

One resident walks with a walker and is cognitively impaired. But when he enters a room where upbeat music from his era is playing, his feet and hips begin to sway. With a dancing partner, his grin is contagious as he swings her around. This is his sweet spot. Another closes his eyes in pleasure and is swept away by the classical music playing in his room. Someone else loves to sit and chat with a cup of tea. One lady knits like fury, and when questioned says, "I like to make things." A severely impaired woman loves to listen to Anne of Green Gables being read, and leans forward in anticipation. A man waters the flowers and removes the dead leaves, remembering how he used to help his father do the same. Each of these people has purpose and derives meaning from these activities.

Here's another radical, outside-the-box thought.

Aging is not a disease.

In caring for our elders, we need to ensure we are not so smothering them with our care, we lose who they are.

If we do, we are the poorer.

And so are they.

1. from a post on Facebook

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