‘Old people’ treatment differs in many cultures

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‘Old people’ treatment differs in many cultures

People fear wrinkles because of what they seem to say about us. They are the sum of all the days we have lived and will never live again. They tell our story even when we do not want that story told. Even the attempt to erase them becomes part of what is written on our faces. We — the doers, the movers, the shakers, the achievers, the rocks of our families and communities — are being written upon. It shocks us to see ourselves, for the first time, as paper and not the pen we imagine ourselves to be. — Dr. William H. Thomas, in What Are Old People For?  How Seniors Will Save The World, 2004.

 The Eden Alternative© was the subject of a summer column that reviewed the book What are Old People For?  How Seniors Will Save the World by Dr. William H. Thomas.  Dr. Thomas is a well-known pioneer in the field of gerontology.  He is the founder, along with his wife, Judith Meyers-Thomas, of the innovative Eden approach to care giving.

Since that column, this writer has been learning more and more about the tsunami of culture change in care giving.  It is reminiscent of those times when you see an unfamiliar word, even a word you’ve never seen before.  You look it up, learn the meaning, and then encounter that same word multiple times in the next day or two.

         Countries across the globe are joining the United States in creating long-term care facilities that attack loneliness, helplessness and boredom intentionally.  Those three things, says Dr. Thomas, account for the greatest bulk of suffering among elders. 

         Alive, a leading Canadian magazine about health and wellness, printed this story: “In many parts of the world, even thinking about putting elderly relatives in a nursing home is an alien concept.  Craig and Marc Kielburger are co-founders of Free the Children, a helping organization active in the developing world.  They wrote a column for the Toronto Star recounting a conversation with a tour guide from Cairo, Egypt about what he perceived as the biggest difference between Egypt and Canada.  ‘The largest difference is how you treat old people,” guide Abdel Rehim told the Kielburgers.  Elders are held in high regard in Egypt, as they are in India, South Korea, eastern Africa, and many other family-centered cultures.  Rehim said he can’t understand the North American concept of old age where the contributions of the elderly are expected to dwindle and they eventually end up in a nursing home.  ‘People in our community would not even speak to you if you did this,’ he said.” 

         Clarity, a company that makes telephone, television and mobile phone amplifiers for those hard-of-hearing, commissioned a study in the U. S. a few years ago.  Among other things, they found out that many people over the age of 65, see long-term facility care as “a fate worse than death.”  Duh.  I hope they found out some other things, because it seems rather obvious that no one has to commission a study to find out that piece of information. 

         Think for a minute about the nursing homes that you have visited.  Were you trying to choose a facility for a loved one?  Were you visiting a friend?  What did you notice?  Maybe you can remember noticing regimented schedules that are the same for every resident, or a limited list of entertaining, enriching activities.  Perhaps you noticed that there seems to be minimal contact with outsiders except for the occasional volunteer.  Did you pick up warmth or empathy?

         Dr. Thomas has repeatedly said that in our ageism culture, elders are typically seem as “failed adults.”  He continues that “The immediate and most devastating result of this view is that old age is treated as a disease…”  Well, diseases are treated by the medical profession.  Therefore, traditionally, long-term geriatric housing has been built and set up based on the medical model of care.

         Typical Eden facilities, along with Green House Project facilities, are moving away from that model.  Search the internet for these facilities, such as Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia, http://greenhouse.calvary-ministries.com/alzheimer-care.  The web site emphasizes “At the Greenhouse at Calvary Personal Memory Care Home, we strive to nurture relationships with all involved – the elder, the family, the staff, the visitors.”

         Every Eden or Green House residence is different.  Fundamental concepts, however, are built around the theme of giving an elder and their care partners choices in what caring for the elder will look like. Artificial flowers are typically replaced with real greenery.  Animals and friends are welcomed.  Residents and their care partners have a strong say in how they will live at the facility.  If they want to sleep in, they can.  If they want to grow a garden, small raised plots are set aside for them.  Those who can and want to are allowed to help with some of the chores or other responsibilities in the home.  

         The Eden philosophy has been around since the early 90’s.  So far, it has not expanded in a  manner  that makes the Eden ideas a part of the majority of long-term care homes. The ideas are growing slowly, but steadily. 

            Thank you for reading.  Stay well.  See you next week

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