If it breaks your heart – follow that path

 

If it breaks your heart – follow that path     

The role of caring for others can make your heart sing!  It can also break your heart.  I have learned that when you find something that breaks your heart, you know you have found a path leading to your purpose and your advocacy.

When I was a young caregiver in a nursing home in the 1970’s, I felt excited and honored to have the opportunity to care for elders.  I took my CNA class and was ready to begin my journey. Little did I know at the time that this was my apprenticeship into eldercare and would one day become my life’s work.

Nursing Homes in the 1970’s were not like they are today.  Filled with anticipation of this honorable work, I  found that I was forced to line people up, wrapped in bath blankets sitting in ‘potty chairs’ outside the bathing room.  I was assigned the job of ‘bath aide’ and one-by-one the residents were wheeled in, and scrubbed down, and wheeled out.  Some of them screaming, or kicking, or crying, or simply silent.   When I indignantly spoke to the Charge Nurse about how this felt so disrespectful to me, she told me not to get too ‘attached’ to these old people as they are going to die soon anyway.

She said, “The tasks are of primary importance to keep people clean and fed.  Just do what you are told.” My job required turning contracted bodies every two hours, taking vitals, attending to incontinence needs, feeding 6 people at a time at a U shaped table, shoveling the food into their mouths like birds in a nest. I saw the look of horror, sadness, and resignation on the faces of these elders. And I was told it was against the rules to ‘get too attached.”   It was horrifying, and my heart was broken.

One overnight shift, around midnight I decided to ‘break the rules.’   I sat with a a very old woman.  She never spoke, and silently endured her situation. My hurting heart felt drawn to her as she was quietly weeping.  I sat next to her and I held her hand. I looked into her beautiful green eyes filled with tears, and I began to cry. I laid my head on her shoulder and I cried (actually I sobbed).  She began to stroke my hair, and then she began to sing softly. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Mamma’s gonna buy you a Mockingbird…You will be the sweetest little baby in town.” 

It made my heart sing In that moment – feeling her touch – hearing her voice – allowing her to care for me.

As I left work the next morning,  I was filled with a mixture of emotions.  The elder woman made my heart sing in a moment of brokenness.  At the same time, I was filled with anger and sadness.  I was heartbroken!   How could people who had lived long and beautiful lives be treated this way?   I understood that their bodies needed to be cared for, but how that was done was shockingly disrespectful.  It broke my heart to see people sitting alone in wheelchairs, slumped over at tables with no respect for the wholeness of their spirit. I was outraged that as a caregiver, I was not allowed to attend to the needs of the human spirit – the need to connect, to be loved, to be respected, to be self-actualized.

What breaks your heart can define your purpose

I left that job and didn’t return to eldercare until many years later, but this experience ignited a fire in my belly.  My heart went out to caregivers, who are deserving of  kindness, and opportunities to grow too in this important work.  I wanted eldercare workers to be respected as eldercare professionals. And while, yes, the tasks are important, there is no reason why caregivers cannot be inspired to practice care in a way that they can be in partnership and in joy with those they are caring for.

I came back to eldercare in Assisted Living in the late 1990’s.  In 2003 I heard about the work of Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative. Dr. Thomas has focused on changing the culture of care since the early 1990’s. His approach to person-centered, elder-directed care initially came to life in nursing homes and has since expanded its reach to all care settings, including Assisted Living and Memory Care.

When Dr. Thomas was the Medical Director of a nursing home in upstate NY, he recognized that older people were dying from “plagues of the human spirit” – loneliness, helplessness and boredom.

Yes!  This was exactly what I had experienced when I was a C.N.A. as a young woman!  I took a  3 day workshop  to learn more about the Eden Alternative, and later I went on to become a Certified Eden Alternative Educator, and an advocate for an elder-directed, person-centered philosophy.

“An Elder-directed 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.  –  Dr. Bill Thomas from “10 principles of the Eden Alternative.”

I learned, and I now teach the antidotes to loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.  Below are three of the Eden Alternative Principles that reveal the antidote.

  • Loving companionship is the antidote to loneliness. Elders deserve easy access to human and animal companionship.
  • An Elder-directed community gives the opportunity for elders to give care as well as to receive care.  This is the antidote to helplessness.
  • An Elder-directed community imbues daily life with variety and spontaneity by creating an environment in which unexpected and unpredictable interactions and happenings can take place. This is the antidote to boredom.

Here you may read all of the  10 Principles of the Eden Alternative.

Since that day, many years ago –  when I reflect on how the respect and value of the caregivers reflects directly on the value and care of the elder – it resonates with me and validates that I am on the path that I was called to follow.

Caring is what makes us human. Now, that makes my heart sing!


Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the author: Jean Garboden is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living in Eugene, Oregon. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada

Listen up! – Hearing loss – associated with risk of dementia

Hearing loss can have a more negative impact on the quality of life than obesity, diabetes, strokes, or even cancer.

Studies from John Hopkins University concluded that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of dementia, falls, and depression. It is also a serious contributing factor to social isolation and loneliness.

Why are people so reluctant to get their hearing checked?  Well, like many ailments, hearing loss carries with it the stigma of being old.  It is true that hearing loss diminishes with age,

  • 30 Percent of people in their 50’s have some hearing loss.
  • For people in their 60’s, it is 45 percent.
  • And for those in their 70’s more than two-thirds have a significant hearing loss.

Because of the stigma of hearing loss, the average older adult waits seven to ten years to get a hearing device.

The right side of your brain processes sounds and the left side of your brain processes comprehension.  Those with hearing loss may say, “Could you repeat that?”  The brain of someone with hearing loss may hear you, but after years of hearing loss, may not be able to comprehend or understand what you said because of the loss of brain function to translate the sound.

Only 20 to 30 percent of all adults who could benefit from a hearing solution end up getting one.  This only makes the matter worse because the longer a person has an uncorrected hearing loss, the greater the risk to the brain of losing the ability to translate the sound of someone talking into comprehensive speech.

AARP, as part of their effort to disrupt aging, is working to end the stigma of hearing loss and use of hearing aids.

Let’s all take care of one another!  Go and get a hearing test, and take someone you love with you to do the same!


Watch this 2-minute video summarizing the John Hopkins research about hearing loss and cognitive decline – and learn the GOOD news that hearing loss is correctable, and you can maintain a healthy brain!

 


Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the Author: Jean Garboden is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living in Eugene, Oregon. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada

 

Is loneliness affecting you? Part 2

In the first part of this post, we learned that loneliness affects nearly half of all adults over the age of 50–resulting in real health consequences. This week, we’re looking at ways that you can stay connected and help those around you stay connected to prevent isolation and loneliness.

Loneliness is normal, right? So, how do I know if I’m at risk?

Everyone is sure to experience loneliness at some point in their lives, yes. But, chronic isolation can lead to loneliness that causes severe health effects. The AARP Foundation’s initiative Connect 2 Affect has created a simple online assessment tool to help you identify if you or someone you love is at risk of isolation. Try it out for yourself here.

How do I prevent isolation and loneliness?

Examine these three areas of your life to see where you could be more connected:

  1. Social activity: Close relationships are formed and strengthened by the frequency with which you see other people. Weekly, or more frequent, interactions will help form these relationships that provide a sense of connection which alleviates the feeling of loneliness. Try volunteering, attending regular religious services, or senior center activities weekly.
  2. Nurture relationships: Relationships can be tough sometimes, especially with family. Focus on the positive aspects of your relationships and try to relate to your friends and family in a way that makes everyone happy with the interactions.
  3. Examine local resources: Socialization can be hampered by one’s inability to access social opportunity. Visit your doctor about physical ailments that prevent you from participating in activities, look into transportation services, cleaning services to help prepare your home for guests, and libraries and senior center calendars for an array of classes or group sessions. No one wants to leave their home of many years, but access to daily, spontaneous, and serendipitous interactions along with basic services can allow you to function at a higher level, engage more frequently, and alleviate the lack of resources to maintain a home and higher level of activity in your life.

I know someone that may be lonely–what can I do?

Starting the conversation is the hardest part. Keep in mind, however, that they may appreciate that you recognized that they may be lonely. Connect 2 Affect has created a great poster to remind yourself about what you can help do including:

  • Treat health issues: Fall prevention programs increase balance, strength, and the confidence to go out more often (Read more about how yoga can help in older adults!)
  • Provide support through major life transitions: Support groups to help someone feel connected while coping with significant change
  • Address societal barriers that exclude older adults: Policy changes that support retraining and retention of older workforce
  • Ensure availability of services and support tailored to the needs of diverse communities: Home-sharing models that make aging in place more affordable for all including senior living communities
  • Create opportunity for affordable and accessible transportation: Volunteer transportation services that make it easier for older adults to get around their community

With so many adults in our country facing this plague of loneliness, it is up to us to raise awareness and ensure that those we love (including ourselves!) have the ability to lead healthy, happy lives! Start by reaching out and making a connection.

 

 

Related posts and resources:

Elders find joy in Yoga practice!

Human connection ~ at the core of everything that matters in the world

Elderhood – What do we want to do with an extra 30 years?

Connect where you live! Find a senior living community near you.


About the Author: Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with the people that care for others. She lives in Eugene with her husband, Michael, where they enjoy golf, travel, and volunteering.

 

woman looking worried

Is loneliness affecting you? Part 1

Isolation and loneliness are getting more attention these days from groups such as the AARP Foundation and their newly formed organization Connect 2 Affect. While its important to understand that isolation is the objective lack of social access and resources and loneliness is the subjective perception of one’s well-beingthey are not mutually exclusive. Studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation have serious health affects.

The National Social Life, Health and Aging Project is supported by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institutes on Health, and the AARP Foundation. Together, they examined existing data on the frequency of loneliness in older adults and produced A Profile of Social Connectedness in Older Adults.

According to the report, social isolation is a bigger problem than you may know:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 adults over age 50 is at risk for social isolation
  • Subjective feelings of loneliness can increase risk of death from 26% to 45%
  • The health affects of prolonged social isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • Nearly half of older adults in the U.S. experience some degree of loneliness

Dr. Bill Thomas has, for years, led a culture-change movement to identify, understand, and combat what he calls the three plagues: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. After taking a position as the medical director of a nursing home, he realized that people were not dying of disease or physical ailments, but diseases of the heart. Anecdotally, he’s known this to be true in his own experience. But, more and more, we’re seeing empirical evidence that these “plagues” contribute to physical ailments and age the body faster.

Take, for example, this study with findings published in The Guardian where researchers found that loneliness was twice as unhealthy as obesity. Tracking more than 2,000 people over the age of 50 found that the loneliest “were nearly twice as likely to die during the six-year study than those that were least lonely.”

There are still more questions to be answered such as why there is no apparent difference in levels of loneliness based on education, work/retirement status, or whether you care for a dependent, but income does appear to affect levels of loneliness. Or, as the AARP Foundation asks, if loneliness is a cause of poor hearing or other physical impairments or if loneliness is the result of the impairments?

More studies are needed to understand and help prevent loneliness in older adults. In the meantime, we’ll share some ways that you can build bridges to social connectedness for you and the older adults in your life. Join us next week for Is loneliness affecting you? Part 2.

Related posts and resources:

6 reasons to break a sweat in 2017  – Your Brain will love it!

Elderhood – What do we want to do with an extra 30 years?

I have a 20-year old brain in an old body

Connect where you live! Find a senior living community near you.


About the Author: Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with the people that care for others. She lives in Eugene with her husband, Michael, where they enjoy golf, travel, and volunteering.