The purpose of this blog is to be a guide for those who read it. It is not meant to be a medical or mental health resource, or diagnostic guide, but to discuss moments of the dementia journey. Not everything will be founded in scientific research, but all will be based on experience, both that of my own and of those I work with who have given me permission to share their story on this public platform. This blog is to serve as a discussion starter, and place to develop our shared story. If you have questions about anything I have posted, or find an inaccuracy, please do not hesitate to contact me directly. The opinions and stories are my own unless otherwise stated. Should something be referenced you will find the proper citation at the bottom of that particular post.
I don’t often have guest authors, however, if you would like to write a post for consideration I will gladly consider your submission. If you would like to share your story of dementia please consider writing a letter for the Dementia Letters Project. You may submit your letter by emailing email@example.com.
Stuck in-between research and the human heart is where you will find most care partners. They are family members, friends, CNAs, doctors, life enrichment teams, care community staff, and partner organizations. It is in this middle ground where the language of the academic and medical word gets shuffled around as we try to make sense of it all. It is in this middle ground where we battle with the practices of using medicine as a crutch and the false belief that the human spirit is simply not enough. The truth is, medicine is not a crutch, and the human spirit is enough.
We need visionaries in aging and dementia to become the leaders guiding us out of the mucky middle ground and into clarity and greater hope. The middle ground is often where we want to be. It is where ideas blend and strengthen each other. It is the middle ground where we think we will find joy and forward-moving action, yet it has made us complacent in care. The middle ground has turned into a place of safety where we are debilitated by the fear of harm, behaviors, and the powers that could shut us down.
There is so much we don’t know about dementia, but there is a lot we do know. If we ever get lost, let us find those with the diagnosis and ask them to guide us out of this middle ground and to a place where we stand on top of the medicine, research, and the human spirit. May we ask them to show us how to infuse our work with humanity and the care they are truly seeking.
I am not sure if you have noticed or not, but there are incredible people out there doing amazing work in aging and dementia. They work and live in every area and are academics, medical professionals, artists, individuals living with dementia, clinicians, and educators. Everyone from Teepa Snow to Anne Basting, to Dr. Bill Thomas and Becca Levy, to Brian LeBlanc and Kate Swaffer. These people and many MANY more have risen to the top of the list simply because they are visionaries and guides willing the good of the other. They have taken medical terms and infused meaning into them, they have called us out when we may be drifting too far one way or the other. They are the visionaries and guides we need, which leads to the question,
If we are not visionaries in aging, are we then complacent care providers?
If we are not looking forward, then are we finding ourselves running in circles complaining about (or worse, no longer caring about) the state of our care communities and providers? If we are not using our imagination and knowledge of what we and others truly need, are we causing harm while trying to keep the status quo?
Encouraged by the power of creativity and positive thinking about aging and dementia infusing our daily conversations melded with our collective experience of the harm of isolation over this past year, may we have the courage. May we have the courage to stand on the foundation of the medical, academic, and simple beauty of the human spirit, daring to become visionaries in aging and dementia? We can tend to think that there can only be so many visionaries, guides, and leaders in any given profession or area of work, and I am here to tell you that is false. Each one of us is called to this role. With our skill set, time, and energy in tow, each one of us has the capability to create something new, unknown, with a lasting positive impact, helping all of us live fully alive on this earth.
Let us not be known for our complacently, but for our vision, courage, and creativity as we work and live in a world with dementia.
When did caregiving become something that is so incredibly shameful? When did it become a burden instead of a gift or purpose in life? The reluctant care partner has become the socially acceptable way to refer to oneself, and it has me wondering what it truly means to work in service of another’s care.
Since March of 2020, a flood of posts and articles fill my inbox about the reluctant care partner. The mother, now working from home and helping her children further their education. The daughter or son who pulled their loved one from the care community for fear of never seeing them again if they didn’t act. The wife taking full care responsibilities after the in-home care aid is no longer allowed to visit by the organization or by family choice. Stories about the burden and challenge of care, personality clashes, and old wounds reopening when the role of care partner intensifies. These stories are recited almost in unison. We, as a society in 2021 look down on care partners. That is loud and clear. And we do it in the worst possible way. We increase shame and stigma in how we talk, act, and dramatically complain about what it means to care for another. We don’t want to sacrifice ourselves in a time when “I want when I want it, and I will get it” is the strongest desire. We care in terms of black and white, one task after another, and the unwillingness to make a sacrifice for the love of another. Non-care partners patronize and abandon care partners in need. Family that was quick to receive help and a listening ear, now are silent when that listening ear requires one herself. Both sides belittling themselves, adding to the stigma of care.
The split between professional and family, skilled and unskilled, is only that much more palpable. What it means to be a mother, father, sister, brother, friend, community, physician, and therapist have changed, altered through social distancing, isolation, lockdowns, and the intense magnifying glass of our world today. We vilify the nuclear family, yet that is what has saved so many of us this past year. We don’t allow our doctors to care and heal, only fix and report as they look, beady eye to beady eye, unable to fully see the person they are in front of because of masks and shields. We have forgotten that we are all care partners. We have forgotten what it means to live in service of another, helping them live fully alive. We have forgotten what it means to be alive. We have become ashamed of the journey of care partner because it messes with our “perfect life” idea. As we all know, perfect does not exist in this world, and we all play many roles, with great visions for who we are and how we want to live. Maybe it is time to start factoring in the role of the care partner, to live in service of another, to create, little by little, a better world.
May we remember what we are all human. We are all facing our trails in search of our triumphs. We are all capable of living in service of another in ways that never deny us who we are but ask something of us and our love. May we remember that this journey can be one of back and forth, taking care of each other, honoring the family, AND the professional life.
We don’t need to be ashamed of the care partner role. Play it with pride, with joy, and with great comfort in knowing you are easing the suffering of another.
Last time we talked about going to Paris, play, theatre, imagination and those sparkle-in-the-eye moments. How by engaging creatively, we can validate and support others.
So, where do we go from here? Well, that will require some reflection, honest conversations, and a leap of faith into the unknown. It requires changing how we hire and set up volunteers. It asks us to enter into a dynamic partnership with play, imagination, and with people who help foster those elements within us, both for joy and for healing.
We need to look at both the clinical, social, and artistic elements involved. We need to include Drama Therapists, Theatre Artists, and many others willing to help us explore the various moments we encounter on this dementia, caregiving (and aging) journey.
We need to do a better job at inviting Drama Therapists into this conversation of engagement. For just as easily as we went to Paris in 2011, we could have gone to Paris in 1940. What then? Would the eyes sparkle, or would they dim? Yes, we found joy that day in 2011, but we could have easily found pain. We mustn’t shy away from this pain or other “negative” emotions and behaviors, for they too deserve to be recognized. You don’t need a degree, certification, or acquired skill to be present for someone in their time of joy OR their time of sorrow. However, sometimes a clinical lens is best, just as other times an artistic lens or a spiritual lens is needed. There have been many times when I have found myself thankful for my clinical understanding as I navigate moments of pain and sorrow with someone who has kept some emotions hidden for far too long.
I often hear from Drama Therapists that dementia is a job for the Music or Dance/Movement Therapist, that they move on from dementia work because they want to do “deep work.” They speak about who they want to serve or who they have come to serve since leaving jobs in dementia and aging, and I am left baffled. They want to work with Veterans, PTSD, Substance Abuse, and so on. These are good and worthy areas of focus, but can’t you see? Those living with dementia are included in these other areas of focus. Mental health concerns do not evaporate into thin air with the diagnosis of dementia or a move into a care community. You are leaving the very people who need you, the individuals you say you seek to serve. Because of what? Dementia? Age? By thinking that someone of a certain age is only capable of joy and laughter and not also growth and healing, is incredibly ageist. The Master’s programs and professional network have done a poor job of changing this narrative, so maybe we can make that change happen together. Age and dementia are not indicators of one’s worthiness to heal from past and current pain, to grow into the person they want to become. They too seek the deep work you speak of from time to time.
We need to invite theatre artists of all kinds into this conversation. We need them to not only come and perform but to include others in the performance. We need them to not only create with those living with dementia in dignified and creative ways but also to go out onto the world and create (with their experience) new stories of aging and dementia. We need them to help us create dignified presentations of what it means to grow older today, and the trials that accompany that process. Often our theatre artists are working with this population to entertain, not realizing they can do so much more. They can enrich the lives of those they are working with, help them find their place when they feel lost, and live their purpose in a new way. The theatre artists can work with the drama therapists to explore ways to not only address mental health issues that may be present but also create and bring joy. Together they can accomplish both the current view of the drama therapist and theatre artist in aging and dementia and push it further into healing, health, and growth.
I am not here to bash the current approaches, but to send out an invitation, a cry for the courage to do the work, to explore greater ways to serve with the tools and skills developed. I know some remarkable drama therapists working with this population. I know many theatre artists who are transforming lives in their community through their work in aging and dementia. To you, THANK YOU!
To the drama therapists and drama therapists in training, I invite you to step into the unknown, to break the mold that has been set before you, and to stay and explore this work.
To the care communities and organizations who are hiring drama therapists, don’t simply put them in manager positions because they have their Masters. Allow space for them to do what they have trained to do, to work with the residents and clients in exploring the very people they want to become, and addressing mental health. Hire and support actors, directors, and scenic artists as CNAs, office staff, activities staff, and permit them to play. Yes, we seek to bring joy and creativity, but we also dare to help others heal, regardless of age and regardless of other health issues one might have.
Theatre (and the arts in general) are not the end all be all to successful work with dementia, nor is it the solution to cure all ills. It instead should be part of the conversation, one of many elements we can pull from to live fully alive with or without dementia. It is this one element that shows us how we have failed to care for those our care communities and organizations serve. It is a reflection of how we don’t seek to care, but keep alive. We don’t seek to heal but keep breathing. Let us step away from existing and move into living fully alive.
For a little bit of inspirations as to how to start to incorporate play, theatre, storytelling, and the pursuit of a dignified life in care, check out timeslips.org. It is a great launching point if you don’t know where to start.
This will have to be a 2 part post, as there is so much to say, and even then, there will still be stones left unturned.
Ten years ago, I was an Art Therapy Intern at St. Paul’s Elder Services in Kaukauna, WI, and halfway through my 300 some hours required for graduation and enjoying every moment. I was in the midst of one of the most transformative moments in my life and wondering where the path before me would ask me to go. At this point, halfway through my internship in North East Wisconsin, I went to Paris.
As much as I would have loved to have physically visited Paris, I stayed firmly planted in Kaukauna, in a room not much larger than my soon-to-be New York City apartment. With my travel companion sitting next to me, we used our imaginations to fly from Appleton to Chicago to de Gaulle airports. Off the plane and to the opera with a woman who became a friend.
We went to Paris, to the playground, to the moon. We became artists, musicians, mothers, dance partners, and great friends. In this Tuesday session in April, we jumped from the reality of our lives and played, imagined, and created. In doing so, we developed relationships and found joy. We became wealthy in all the best ways.
You know those moments when you are having a conversation with someone, and suddenly their eyes start to sparkle leading to their entire being transforming? Those moments when a person goes from uncertainty to purpose? It happens when you start talking about a subject you or the other person is passionate about or when two people and dear friends are reunited. It happens, and the energy in the room shifts, and strangers become playmates, then friends. Friends and family deepen their relationships and develop new memories. We tap into a central part of life that is often covered up by loss, pain, stress, and in this case, dementia. My trip to Paris that day with this woman who, on the first day, introduced herself to me as “Trouble” with a laugh and a smile, had that sparkle-in-the-eye moment with me that day. It was an Art Therapy internship, yet we tapped into a different side of ourselves, not creating on paper or with a table full of materials, but with our dreaming and stories.
I have frequently said that theatre people are my favorite to work with when developing and facilitating programming for those living with dementia. Individuals who know the art of storytelling in this way jump into any situation, forget memory and ability and can become relational with an individual. They know how to tap into those eye sparkle moments. They know how to engage and create with little knowledge about the individual and zero materials. Do you recognize how important and rare these moments can be for those involved? When we can jump into the world of someone else without questions, we are validating the experiences of another. We are helping them not feel like Mr. Cellophane. We are able to serve and minister. These moments can form in very imaginative ways, but also in very real ways. Just as I went to Paris, we could have easily talked about her love of the arts. Just as we traveled to the moon, we could have recognized the need for a connection, the need for human touch, eye contact, and words of warmth.
So where do we go from here? Well, that will require some reflection, honest conversations, and a leap of faith into the unknown. It requires changing how we hire and set up volunteers. It asks us to enter into a dynamic partnership with play, imagination, and those who help foster that within us, both for joy and for healing.
As we draw closer to Holy Week, to the death and Resurrection of Christ, I am reminded of the time Christ’s disciples spent in the upper room, partly in fear, partly in doubt (St. Thomas I am looking at you!), partly in joy, waiting for the next sign. As I think of what these moments held for the disciples, I start to wonder if, in our life as care partners, we too have an upper room after our loved ones have passed away and we are no longer care partners in the same way. We might fear life with this role stripped away from us. We might doubt our ability to move forward, to build a new life that is rich in community and goodness. We might also find joy and comfort knowing our loved ones are in heaven (or at least on their way.) Yes, I think we are in an upper room.
Who is with us? Are we alone, or do we surround ourselves with friends, family, members of our community? These moments may feel like a waste of time, lost time, a holding place, but it is a place of formation and transformation. In this period after our loved ones have passed, we find ourselves rediscovering life without that person, without the demands of care placed upon us. During this time, we might sink into depression and anxiety. During this time, we may appear callous to others who don’t understand the feeling of the weight of care being lifted off of one’s self after a loved one passes. During this time, we may find ourselves needing a different type of care for ourselves. We may see something new in our relationships, career, and in life itself, finding a new way to live out our divine purpose.
Yes, I believe there is an upper room after care, and it is the job of those accompanying every care partner to listen, to encourage, to support, and to love. It is the job of those reading this to offer a hand and sit with our care partners in the upper room.
It is in this upper room where the disciples celebrated the Last Supper, where Jesus washed their feet, where they met Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, and where they waited for the descent of the Holy Spirit. This upper room became a gathering place. It became a place where they could pray together, connect in friendship, and support each other in preparation for the journey ahead.
We are in our upper room, but will we bolt the door shut and turn in on ourselves? Or, will be open the doors wide, joining in fellowship with other care partners, family, and friends. Will we use our time in the upper room to prepare for the journey or to hide from the call to step into this next chapter of our lives?
I know not all of you are religious or Christian, but this concept of the upper room can be applied to your life as well. There may be care partners who never find themselves in the upper room, but there are plenty who do. The question we need to ask becomes, What are we doing to support care partners after care? Can we work in the care industry and NOT support them? They are often invisible and forgotten during their journey of providing care. Let us not also abandon them after the role of care partner has been stripped from their lives.
For almost a month, on one social media site or another, you likely came across 1, 4, or 10 of your friends and co-workers sharing the same video – a group of residents banging on bright green exercise balls to Bruno Mars’ popular song Uptown Funk. This video is wonderful. There is a reason everyone was sharing it, liking it, and kept it a popular viral video for so long. It shows creativity, connection, and joy. But it is only the latest in viral videos that come from our care communities and organizations. We watch them in awe. They make us smile and maybe even cry happy tears, but what are we doing with the information we are taking in when we watch these videos? Are we yet again only observers of someone else’s work? Or, are we learning from these videos that cause us to pause and then create our own “viral moment?” In connecting with senior care life enrichment specialists and managers to have conversations about the work they are doing, the video and its lessons have all but vanished from our lives.
I have this dream, vision, goal, that we can reach a point in our care communities that these videos are no longer moments of viral content but daily joy. It will take some effort, courage, and imagination on the part of all who work in the senior care industry. If you are working in one of these care communities and do not take action towards the creative, what I am about to say is going to be harsh, “Quit your job! You are not fit to work in the activities or life enrichment. I mean it! Quit your job if you do not take action after sharing these videos on LinkedIn or one of your other social media accounts, or end up liking and commenting every time you see it show up. We have no room for complacency.” See, told ya it was going to be harsh. I mean it with the greatest amount of respect for the purpose you were uniquely created to live because if this is you, we likely need you in a different area of the industry or workforce in general.
If you want to take action but don’t know how to start, gather your entire staff together to brainstorm one thing, JUST ONE THING, that you can do differently, better, and with increasing joy in your community this week. Not everything we do is going to be perfect or mind-blowingly amazing, but little by little, if we are doing only ONE THING as a result of an inspirational video or a resident request, we will create a community that is filled with staff working as the best version of themselves. We will assist our residents in living enriched lives, and families will become our greatest cheerleaders. They will act in thanksgiving for the love, creativity, compassion, and joy you helped provide their family members in their final chapter of life. Then, in turn, your families will become your greatest sales and marketing team, and your employees will want to work for you, giving of themselves in beautiful ways.
This is not a pipe dream or ignorant shout-out, but something that can become tangible, a ripple effect of small, little moments. It doesn’t require you to reinvent the wheel, but take action on the inspiration of what others are doing. Get your entire staff involved, get your families (the forgotten community members) involved. Can you imagine how humane, loving, joyful, and impactful it would be if we opened up our hearts just a little bit to the great power of our imagination and how it can be applied to our daily life? To care?
What will you do with the inspiration you find?
Now go on your way! Create! Take Action! And if you find yourself stuck, give me a call. No, really! 920-268-4554. Give me a call, and I can help you!
I am taking a step away from the topic of death and dying as I finish gathering my thoughts. It is proving to be a larger task. So, on to a different topic for this week – Silos!
Did your eyes roll when you read that word, Silos? Did you think about clicking off this page and moving on to something else? I know I probably would. It is not a new topic of conversation in this world or our field of aging and dementia, YET, we still bring it up. I first heard the term when I was in high school, and 15-20 years later, it continues to be a point of conversation.
The term “silos” is frequently used to describe the barriers and invisible, well silos, that the various disciplines within our medical and aging community live in. But it goes beyond that. It is something deeper that we refuse to (or maybe have never thought of) acknowledging. The silos in our medical and aging community start with the very people we seek to serve. We silo people based on dementia or no dementia, the bingo players and the trivia players, the people who come out for events, and the people who don’t. We silo people based on care needs, the people who are in this level of care, and the people who are at a different level. I understand the mindset behind why this happens, but that doesn’t make it the best way to live. We are accidentally (maybe) isolating and de-humanizing care. We prevent the natural community we say we strive for from actually coming together because we don’t foster connections between people, but connections between care needs. Our residents and clients are placed in silos.
The next layer up is the staff within our care communities. The sales and marketing team, the clinical team, the CNA and nursing staff, the life enrichment team, and HR. We don’t come together as one team with the same mission to care for those in our community but separate teams, and harbor animosity, resentment, distrust, and competition between the various levels of care. We label people as skilled care or unskilled care. Medical care or social care, and social care is often said with that nose in the air sort of tone, you know the one that makes anyone who is not an RN somehow lesser of a human being. Our residents and family see this, and no wonder they too come to distrust care communities.
We silo families when giving the diagnosis of dementia. It becomes the silo of “person living with dementia” and the silo of “care partner or family for a person living with dementia.” We talk to the “able-bodied, sound mind” family member or care partner, while the person with dementia becomes the invisible warm body in the room. We provide support groups for the care partner but not the person with the diagnosis. We question why someone with dementia is attending an event for care partners or why a care partner is attending an event geared towards someone living with dementia.
How can we expect to break down the silos within the medical and aging community if we still insist on creating them for those who trust us to care for and guide them on this journey? This picture is much larger than the one I just presented, and in some cases, incredibly damaging. Let your thoughts wander on the topic, and I dare you to come back to me and tell me these additional silos are a good idea.
A microscope is on death. But have we learned anything about how to accompany someone through the process of dying, death, and grief?
We have found ourselves talking about death more these past few months. But we still fear it. We express our desires to support others as their loved one passes. But we still scurry like ants when someone mentions their loved one is dying. We send flowers and sympathy cards after we hear of a passing. But we fail to listen to the story.
Last month, my grandmother passed away after a months-long journey with stage 4 kidney cancer. Diagnosis of cancer while living in a new state, with the impersonal health care of 2020, is quite something. Something I would not want anyone to experience. A blend of a terrible hospital system and the precautions paves the way for a journey that is lonely, frustrating, and far more exhausting than it ever needed to be. But, it showed me something. It showed me how little people are invited, encouraged, or sometimes even desire to be active and knowledgeable about their health journey. It showed me how family and friends that you would give your life for fall silent. It showed me how by allowing those in your professional life into your personal life for only a glimpse, you discover how much they do care about those they work beside.
Yes, it is strange to experience dying and death in times such as these.
The pandemic has highlighted death. We are encouraged and told to fear it more than anything else a soul can experience. We have stripped away coping mechanisms, and our doctors have become but beady eyes behind the mask and shield as they robotically “care.” All of this is layered on top of an already damaged approach to life, medicine, and death. The layers run too deep to write about it all in one post, but it is a topic worth opening up.
Over the next few weeks, I would like to share with you some of this journey.
Personal life bleeds into the professional life
Doctors appointment, Diagnosis, and Hospice and Family Care
Death of a Loved One
Accompaniment on the journey
Personal Life Bleeding Into the Professional
When our professional and personal lives meld together the way they have these past few months, when Zoom calls are taken in the guest bedroom, at the dining room table, or in some cases our childhood rooms, we find ourselves not only sharing the private spaces of our lives but home life as well. Others who would never have known the care partner side of an employee, peer, or student, now see how they care for loved ones, children, and yes, even pets. In the most professional of home offices, I have witnessed how others live within their families in a new way. I have watched as employers have taken a moment to help their son tie a shoe, how a peer assists his brother with Down Syndrome, how a daughter takes care of her mother with Lewy Body Dementia. I have watched as the community around me works to be both shining care partner and stellar employee. How can one be both shining and stellar? It is not through their perfection, nor in doing it all, but through their desire to love and give, to their fullest ability, what they can in each given moment. Yes, you can be both, for they bleed into one another. We must never deny the beauty of that.
My journey started in July when my grandmother started experiencing symptoms of kidney cancer. (A journey that will be shared later.) Like many of my peers, I have lived with my family during this past year, and with that came the great blessing of also living with my grandmother during her final months. I was in a prime position for the personal life to bleed into my professional life. People I never would have told about my grandmother, suddenly were with me every step of the journey. And when my grandmother finally did pass away, I felt awkward stating that she had died.
Why was it awkward? They knew the day was coming. They knew the ups and downs, the close moments, and the coasting. Is it awkward because of death? Or because of the attention, it draws on oneself?
I have now sat on both sides of this experience of death, and I am always honored when people share with me the news about a loved one’s passing. I sincerely offer my sympathies, and they remain in my prayers as they too grieve.
There is beauty in the sharing of one’s life in a variety of ways. It is found in the ability to accompany someone because they reached out to share with you the personal, not just the professional. It shouldn’t take a pandemic to understand the value of walking this journey together. It shouldn’t be awkward to let someone know someone has died. Yet, here we are, awkward, uncomfortable, wondering why our personal and professional lives are bleeding together, part of us wishing they wouldn’t. There is a level of professionalism that must always remain, the traditions and formality of it all, but there is room for the personal. There is room, for those in our professional world to walk with us as we journey through life.
Telling others, from our neighbors to our friends, to our colleagues and employers, that someone close to us has passed away should never be awkward or avoided, for it is part of this life to experience birth and death, new joys and losses. We are richer in this world when our communities walk with us.
January is the Recombobulatin Area of the year. We go through the excitement, the rush, and sometimes the stress of the holidays and find ourselves on the other side of the season needing to put ourselves back together, clear our heads, and figure out where we are going next. If you have ever traveled through the Milwaukee Airport, you know how lovely it is to see that sign at the end of security, greeting us and giving us permission to gather our things, take the time we need to put our shoes and belt back on, and check what gate we will be flying out of for our trip. The New Year is that sign, and January is that area of benches. Now in February, we are put back together and ready to march on. We have a clear vision for where we need to go and what we would like to do and see. Hopefully, we are excited about what the next 11 months will bring.
We all had a dickens of a time in 2020, but that doesn’t mean it was all doom and gloom. Much like life with dementia, it is never ALL bad. Where are the gifts? Where might we find joy? When we are going through a dark moment, what can we put in our back pocket to make today better than yesterday?
I limped into 2021 with the best of them. It was not a sprint through the finish line of the year, but a hobble. Many things occurred in my professional and personal life that made it so, some a direct result of the virus, others are simply part of the journey I was already on. I had the opportunity and time to think creatively, transform my work, and examine if I was on the path I wanted to journey on in the next chapter of my work and life. In the rubble of lost work, unpublished blog posts and videos, mixed in the ashes of tech issues and unfinished projects, I started a monthly e-newsletter, The Monthly Memo, I was on 2 podcasts and 3 webinars, I presented and trained digitally, I continued my education in significant ways, I invited others to help me create an Advent reflection book that was an enjoyed by 35 families, and I learned once more what it means to be a family care partner. These are the gifts of last year. What are your gifts? What joy can you find while looking back on 2020? There has to be something! Something small, perhaps? Maybe a positive life change. Finding the good, the gifts, and the joy doesn’t mean it was always pleasant or easy. Good is not the opposite of difficult.
I have felt a disconnect between what is going on in the industry, what our clients and residents want to see, and what I had to offer for a while. It felt off, and 2020 put a magnifying glass over what I was experiencing and my desire to serve to my fullest ability. It showed me new depths of how egotistical, narrow-minded, and un-creative our industry can be. But, on the flip side, is we now can see the next generation of aging and dementia professionals and their excitement and desire to enter this field. We need to foster their desires. I see the eagerness to create, to make anew, to put out into the deep. I see community care staff opening up to the idea that actives and CNAs can work together to provide enriching programs for the residents and clients. I see new thoughts about what it means to age in this country, what it means to live with dementia today, and what it means to be a care partner. We have work to do, but it is on the heels of an energy that is new, exciting, and hopeful.
In the weeks ahead, I will share my thoughts on how we might take this hope and put it into motion, and the work I am doing to take some of the first steps. I will also start publishing those backlogged blog posts, uploading those long-ago recorded videos, and as always, will continue to walk with you on your dementia journey. May we write a beautiful story for 2021.
While most of us in the church community recognize the religious benefits of church attendance, science is endorsing participation for additional reasons. It seems researchers are agreeing that church is good for us, particularly as we age. There are valuable contributions to our quality of life that can be measured, in addition to our immeasurable spiritual connections.
Longer life. A longer lifespan is just one boon of church attendance with some studies reflecting church going adults over the age of 65 a full 35 percent more apt to live longer than those not attending church. According to Today, someone who never attends worship services is twice as likely to die prematurely than someone who attends at least once per year.
Health benefits. Elderly church attendees appear to enjoy superior health to their unchurched counterparts. Older adults, who attend church enjoy a bolstered immune system, are less apt to get cancer, lower the risk for high blood pressure, are less apt to suffer strokes, and enjoy a reduced risk for clogged arteries. It appears the act of worship is at the heart of the health improvements, although scientists couldn’t pinpoint whether the gathering together as a group or if the activity itself were determining factors. Some speculate that the cleaner lifestyle churches typically endorse may be a key, with those who attend church possibly making healthier choices such as monitoring their weight better, limiting alcohol consumption, not abusing illegal substances and not smoking.
Social connection. There is every reason to believe that being connected with like-minded believers is a contributing factor to these findings. As Fitness Magazine explains, people who attend church together enjoy a shared vision for life and improved social support. They experience a better quality of life from embracing healthy living, believing in certain social norms, and by demonstrating those norms by reaching out to each other during troubled times.
Some theorists suggest being engaged with other worshipers means you will enjoy improved mental health and any illnesses you may suffer will be noticed by friends and family more quickly, meaning faster treatment along with more support through the healing process.
Many fellow church-goers can spend time outside of the church following healthy pursuits. Seniors, for example, could gather together to enjoy a healthy meal or a bit of exercise. Those enrolled in Medicare Advantage programs, which offer access to fitness facilities via the Silversneakers Program, could even get together for an exercise session to help them stay in good shape. Regardless of what they choose to pursue, seniors should try to engage in social activities whenever possible.
Prayerful matters. Prayer in and of itself offers its share of benefits. Spending time in prayer and meditation can relax your body, slowing your metabolism and brain waves. Through those mechanisms, prayer improves health by lowering blood pressure, lowering risk of depression, stress and anxiety, reducing the risk for ulcers, and dropping incidents of migraines.
Enjoying an active prayer life helps you maintain a positive outlook on life, weathering storms better and employing healthier coping skills when troubles come your way. Prayer and mindfulness can improve your focus and concentration, taking you away from worries for the future and regrets of the past. In this way it’s an asset to those recovering from addiction, which some researchers feel is reaching epidemic proportions among the elderly.
Benefits abound! Attending church offers more to seniors than the obvious benefits of spiritual engagement. Participating in church can improve physical health and lengthen life while keeping seniors socially connected. An active prayer life offers health benefits as well, both mentally and physically.