Lifting Stereotypes Off Advancing Years

September is Healthy Aging and National Senior Center Month. Aging and Alzheimer’s are two major issues facing our nation’s healthcare system. The following is based in part on a post I wrote for Mental Health Awareness Month back in April of this year.

Do you know your local senior center? There’s so much that takes place in them. Try llamas in the living room, “senior” prom night, Hawaiian luaus, and daily Wii tournaments.

How important it is to see that people continue to have purpose, vitality, and joy in their life regardless of their calendar age.

My son volunteers regularly at our local senior home. He’s donned a tux to dance with residents on Senior Prom night, hung holiday decorations, and taught residents Wii bowling techniques. He’s made good friends and he’s learning the valuable lesson that age doesn’t type-cast a person.

Survey results released September 13 by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) reveal interesting results about how to care for patients with dementia. What do caregivers find works best for behavioral symptoms? “About one-third of respondents believe non-drug options help a lot, especially sticking to routines (53 percent).” Eighty-two percent of physicians and 92 percent of social workers suggest “behavioral modifications, environmental changes and other non-drug interventions, such as communication techniques, support groups, reducing noise and clutter, and activities like music and artwork.”

For anyone caring for an elderly parent whose emotional behavior is erratic–even scary at times–it can leave you feeling helpless. And while a common way of calming symptoms is through the use of psychoactive medication, there’s no drug that’s been determined effective in treating the disease.

Still, psychotic drugs are regularly used in nursing homes across the country to deal with aggressive residents. A Boston Globe article maintains that “most of these residents do not have conditions that nursing home regulators say warrant use of the drugs. And federal authorities have warned of sometimes lethal side effects when antipsychotics are taken by elderly dementia patients” (Finding alternatives to potent sedatives).

The Globe article features the example of a nursing home director who works at a home in Littleton, MA, and has taken an entirely different approach to the issue.

Instead of resorting to drugs , the director slowly weaned the residents off of them and worked to “tailor care to each resident, to make it familiar and comforting. Staffers comb residents’ pasts to learn their preferences, hobbies, and accomplishments, tapping bedrock emotions that endure long after memory fades.”

The Littleton nursing home also uses animals–like llamas–who walk right into the living areas and bring a calming emotional effect to the atmosphere. While this approach to patient care takes effort and often more staff, which means more money, the outcome speaks volumes.

Still other medical professionals are taking a closer look at neuroplasticity, which indicates the incredible flexibility of the human brain. Neurologists who have studied the effects of meditation and prayer on the human mind are discovering new things about the structure and function of the brain and how it can be changed.

All of these findings point to how a person is so much more than the workings of a human brain. But shouldn’t we be questioning the very premise that the brain calls the shots in the first place?

This Biblical promise rings true: “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jer. 29: 11).

Doesn’t this passage indicate that our thoughts aren’t at the mercy of a healthy or unhealthy human mind, but are controlled and regulated by divine Spirit?

In my spiritual practice I’ve seen how heeding a few simple healing principles can have a transformational effect.

  1. take time to find out who a person is and recognize that they’re more than their body/brain
  2. value and establish a calm, fearless atmosphere
  3. tap into the enduring qualities of love and compassion that we all respond to

These same principles can help lift stereotypes related to aging.


 

Comments

  1. Dave says

    This subject is so important. Most people I believe want to stay “in the game,” but unfortunately what so often happens is that with things moving so fast, especially today, that we don’t make the time and the effort to help them stay involved. I’ve know a number of Seniors that are fascinated with the technological advances we have today, but because they have never been exposed to them, or had an opportunity to learn how to use them, they become afraid of them and just accept that all these new ways are for the younger set, and write them off, and in the process, write themselves off…what a waste!

    The “more experienced” of our world have so much to share with us too. Their lessons and experiences can be so instructive in helping all of us make our way. Regardless of the calendar years, in most cases, the only thing limiting us…IS US!

  2. Virginia McCullough says

    Thanks for this blog. I stopped in at my local “senior center” the other day and some women were doing a beautiful job of making quilts. I went there with the purpose of taking a recent Christian Science Monitor that had the cover story –”The silver collar economy” http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2012/0902/The-silver-collar-economy. Very relevant to lifting stereotypes off of ourselves and others. Thanks for the 3 healing principles.

  3. says

    Thanks for the helpful idea, Ingrid. It is certainly important to look beyond the body/mind to see the real person.

    I’ve been going to the Littleton Life Care facility frequently to visit there. I love seeing the joy in the eyes of the residents when we walk around the llama pen. They also have 5 goats and an alpaca there now so quite a menagerie.

    Of course, as you pointed out, the most important thing is not the animals, but the love and joy that they and the patients express by their interactions with each other.

  4. says

    Thanks Ingrid for bringing a healing touch to this issue. Having cared for a family member with some mental struggles, I too can attest to the value of providing a calm, loving atmosphere and speaking to them about the things they value. I also know that all of that can bring healing if one is open to that – we saw healing happening in my family and a clarity of thought returning. Of course prayer on many people’s part, I am sure also contributed.