Fellow Visionaries! Do Not Give Up!

Every once in a while I hear a peer of mine say they are going to give up trying. Burnt out by the current medical and care world, tired of being told their ideas are not worthy of exploration or not inline with the “industry standards.” They are tired. We are tired. Not too long ago, I overheard a woman say that she was going to quit her position and move into a role where she could no longer be abused for her ideas. She was referring to an incident with a care community she worked for, poured her heart and soul into, deciding after she left, to implement one of her ideas in their memory care community. They executed the plan point by point and took credit as if the idea was their own. They did this, not only after she left the job, but also after they told the ideas didn’t fit the image they wanted, nor were any other communities doing anything like this program. I wanted to go up to her, hug her, and tell her to keep going! This would have been a touch creepy since I didn’t know her, nor was I fully apart of the conversation. I chose to not say anything to her. I regretted that decision later that day and posted on Twitter this statement,

“It is rough being a visionary, to suggest ways to improve care and connection, only to be knocked down and see the organization or program, a few months or years later, be implement without you, the exact thing you brought to the table. But keep going. We need you!”

I know this statement doesn’t make up for remaining silent, but I hoped a larger audience would see it, and maybe find some comfort, or at least feel a spark of energy to keep going.

Anyone at any time who has called themselves, or were called by others, a visionary or innovator, has experienced someone telling you your ideas are “stupid” (or a related statement fitting for your setting) and have them turn around without you to do exactly (or something almost identical) what you worked for and shared. It starts in grade school and moves into the professional world. It hurts, stings, is frustrating and causes us to feel a range of emotions. You have every right to go through this emotional journey, but please, don’t give up!

Whether you are the type of person that uses this experience to fuel you or not, know that we must keep going! While someone may have used your ideas and plan as their own, it was still set into motion by people who have a different lens of the world. You could go and do the program, exactly how you envisioned it, and it could be completely different because it came from the unique perspective and talents you bring to the experience. You may be working with a different group of people, in a different area or stage of life. The impact will be no less powerful. The lives you touch are no less worthy.

As I type this, I am feeling the sting of this experience. In short, a graduate program recently implemented two ideas that I had regarding theatre and older adults. These programs, while not exact, were quite similar to what I shared with the program back in 2012 in meetings with faculty. At the time of presenting these ideas and sharing how I would like to apply the degree to my work in aging and dementia, I was given the run-around. They combined a blend of comments with those sounding something along the lines of, “We don’t work with that population. It is not something we focus on and don’t see ourselves changing.” This hurt of course, but I moved forward. These theatre programs were put in place over the past two years, without me, without my input, without my knowledge, and one of the programs received international attention. This stings, respect for these individuals sinks lower, and where does one go from here? This place of hurt, betrayal, and abuse? We move forward! We create something new. We focus on those we wish to serve and support, and we envision a new program, event, and/or connection. There is enough work for all of us! While the actions of organizations such as this university are wrong and borderline unethical, it happens. It occurs on some scale every single day. If we are true visionaries, we will find something new, improve on what this group of people did, learning from their mistakes and enhancing their successes. There is another theatre piece in me, another creative idea already starting to take motion, and the people that this work will impact will far outweigh the hurt of this present moment. It is hard, but don’t think of the administration that is abusing you, think of the people these programs and models will benefit. If necessary, confront those abusing your innovation and vision, but don’t allow it to take over your every thought, or cause you to want to quit your job. Only you know the line that must never be crossed in your life. Keep going, keep creating, keep working towards a better way to care, serve, and support the lives of those around us.

Christmas Day

The time for Christ’s birth has come. The moment we have been preparing for these last 25 days is now. May your hearts radiate with joy on this blessed Christmas day. May you welcome the Christ Child with open arms and hearts seeing Him in those around us. 
Merry Christmas everyone! May you have a beautiful Christmas season, filled with great joy, love, hope, and peace. I will see you all in the New Year.

Joy and Oak Street Health

Have you ever experienced the joy of health care workers? Of health care workers in aging? These past few months, I have. Before the end of next year, Rhode Island will have gained three Oak Street Health clinics. I had heard the name before, but until this past Autumn, it didn’t mean anything as I had never lived near an Oak Street clinic. I have found that these individuals, in addition to working in a very interesting and visionary model of care, are filled with JOY! Each one of them excited about the work they do, the people within their care, and the opportunity to make a great impact each day.
You walk into their clinic and are greeted, not as a chart or problem, but as a human being. The space is well lit and inviting. As staff members and doctors move around the building they acknowledge you exist. They may not be the only clinic or care organization that has an inviting space and staff, but there isn’t the same joy. Joy. JOY. JOY! Since it is the Christmas season we hear this word almost every day, but there is also a growing trend in dementia care to seek and live in joy. It is something we are all after. We know that happiness (although we were created for it) is not possible 100% of the time, but joy, joy can be experienced in the brightest and darkest of moments. When we think of the people that have impacted our lives the most, many times these individuals lived in and with joy. Do you live a life of joy?
In our doctor’s offices and care organizations, we must have a staff of joy. This joy may or may not be the only light for anyone on any particular day. It shifts the mood from doom and gloom and lays a foundation for hope, health, healing, and peace. It is in the joy that we find the materials to cultivate a true and thriving community. If you are not living in joy, what is stopping you? If you want joy, but don’t know how to get it, start with a smile, then move to a grateful heart, and finish with the knowledge that we are not our trials, illnesses, conditions, or failures. The pain of our humanity is not forever nor is it the defining theme of our life.
While wrapped up in the spirit of Christmas and this holiday season take note of the joy around you, and adapt it to your story. Make it apart of your being. Share it at work and see the beautiful transformations in your community because of these small steps. We are all seeking ways to improve the world, and it is only in our small, daily steps that we can do just that. Start with joy.
If you live near an Oak Street Health and are on Medicare, see if they might be a good fit for you. If you are a health care worker, witness what Oak Street is doing, and learn from how they approach their vocations.

4th Week of Advent

We have arrived at the fourth and final week of Advent. Although it is a short week, we are still called to continue to prepare our hearts for Christmas. So much goes on during this time of year, and as Christians, we seek to see beyond the gifts and decorations, enjoying them of course, but recognizing the call to prepare the way of the Lord. We must allow not only our eyes to see the beauty of Christ’s coming, but our hearts as well. To see and listen to the great wonder of God’s gift of the Christ child to all of us. If you have prayers left unsaid, preparations of the soul not yet completed, you still have time. Allow the preparations of faith to take precedence over the material. Bring the hope, joy, peace, and love of this season into your final preparations. Christ is near. Come and gather at His manger.

3rd Week of Advent

During Advent, we focus on 4 virtues that Christ brings, Hope, Love, Joy, Peace. On this Gaudete “week” we look towards Joy. We see a special light this week as we light the rose candle. We are finishing up our preparations for the physical beauty and wonder of this season, and continue to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. It is easy to lose patience during this week. For some the excitement is growing, for others, the dread and loneliness intensify. For those feeling the pressure of this time, remember that Mary is with you on this journey, interceding for you and to take time this week to see the light and awe of this time. For those overwhelmed with excitement, remember to still seek moments of stillness and silence. Oh, Come Emmanuel!

#FREEFROMAGESIM – A Process of Transition and Freedom

I have been watching videos for LeadingAge’s #FREEFROMAGEISM. Sharing our stories of aging and ageism. The process of the old being replaced by the new, the time of transition and change. The complexities of aging in appearance and allowing it to happen. The process of allowing ourselves to no longer be “young.” As part of this #FREEFROMAGEISM, we have been encouraged to share our thoughts, experiences.

We see our obsession and discomfort with aging all around us, in the products we buy and their corresponding marketing campaigns, in the movies and TV shows we watch, in interviews and YouTube channels. I don’t think we are always afraid to grow old, but we are afraid to age. We are afraid of losing our youth. We want both the wisdom only time can provide and our young years (well, maybe not the years but the physicality of those years.) We can’t have both, nor should we want to. It is frequently said, “Growing old is the only option. The alternative is death.” We highlight the great freedom that comes with getting older, not caring with others think of us as much, not feeling the need to impress someone, yet, we envy those still in their teens and twenties. We have that light spirit of growing older, but we don’t want to look older, revealing the shallow parts of our world.

This shallowness informs our agist mentality that we call carry with us, got to battle with, and hopefully overcome. Agism happens across the lifespan. We are always too old or too young. Others judge us and our ability based on how many years since our birth, and not the life within those years. They see items in a medical chart and determine our ability. It happens all the time and people get away with it every day. We rarely acknowledge that this is a form of discrimination, be it for a job, a grad school application, or a volunteer position. Instead of seeking answers, labels are given based on our age and the perceived ability and life within that age. It knows no limits and reaches every person on this earth.

I have always (or so they say) looked younger than I am. Up until about a year or two ago, people still placed me in high school. I would roll my eyes then think, “I will thank them one day.” Am I feeding ageism with these thoughts? As my group of peers turned 30 this year, we are fed messages of, “Your youth is over, prepare for the decline.” and “You have not yet accomplished x, y, and z? You are almost 30!” While the group responds saying things such as, “Oh gosh I am 30!!!!” and “Time has run out! I am too old to do a, b, and c,” I found myself out of place with these responses. I realized I had no fear of turning 30, no fear of growing old, no fear of looking older. But, was I still putting agist pressures on myself? The few strands of grey on my head I have had since I was 5 years old, they don’t bother me. When I look in the mirror I still see the person I was 15 years ago. I don’t feel any older, but I do wish for those years of “youth” to come back, to change the way I did things, saw things, experienced life. These thoughts are part regret, part wishing I could live it again to see something new. What is stopping me from seeing something new these next 15 years? Is this thought from the external world, because it is not internal? For me, I never felt pressured to do anything from marriage, career or education. Any sense of urgency came from knowing my vocation and wanting to start the work God set before me. Yet, I still hear and see the messages (we all do) and I am not immune to the noise. In those thoughts, that I will one day thank all who still think I am much younger than I am, am I caving to those agist messages.

For those wanting to study and work in aging and dementia, we are discriminated against in an agist fashion and that too is a form of ageism. We are discouraged going into geriatrics and the many branches that come from working with that population, fear is instilled in perspective aging and dementia professionals, and individuals are cut from programs based on the population they want to serve. It is harming our ability to care for others, especially our elders who will soon outnumber those under the age of 18. Who will care for you when you grow old and need extra support and care if we do not change this perception soon? Who will be left to research cures for Alzheimer’s or other illnesses and trials facing us as we age, if we do not shift our perspectives soon?

What are your experiences of ageism, agist thoughts and comments?

2nd Week of Advent 2019

Waiting. Anticipating. Which one are you this Advent season? Are you both? We frequently are told that Advent is a time of waiting, waiting for the Christ Child’s birth, waiting for the second coming of Christ, but are we waiting or anticipating? Waiting is passive, anticipating brings a sense of joy and action. Both are needed in this season of Advent. We need times when we are actively preparing our hearts (and homes) for Christmas, and we need times when we sit in the stillness, which is sometimes impossible to find. As we decorate our homes, and light the 2nd candle on our Advent wreath, praying with our families and church communities we are both actively and quietly looking for Christmas day to arrive, improving ourselves and our relationship with God. This week we are called into action, to seek reconciliation and healing. This is not simply with our Lord, but with each other as well, for when we seek healing with others, we are drawing closer to Christ? How will you seek healing in both the waiting and anticipation of this season?

1st Week of Advent 2019

Advent has begun. Christmas day is drawing near. During these next few weeks, we prepare to celebrate the greatest collaboration between God and Humanity (as Matthew Kelly informs us) through the birth of Jesus, and we prepare for the second coming of Christ. We decorate our homes, we light the candles on our Advent wreath, and we find quiet moments for prayer. It is easy to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ, but how are we doing preparing for His second coming? How well are we seeking to live in a spirit of forgivingness? How are we finding ways to increase in prayer, trust, and love for Christ Jesus? How well are we working to living in the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? How well are we loving our neighbor, no matter who that neighbor is, or what they believe? Let us walk towards December 25th with a child-like spirit preparing for both the birth and the second coming of Christ.

Continuing the Work of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month 2019

Last Saturday may have ended 2019’s Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, but for us to make any true impact, we need to continue our attention and support throughout the year. As we make the transition from the hype of this past month, into the Christmas rounds of giving and visiting your local care communities, we likely have a collection of lists, graphs, charts, and quotes all aimed at guiding and educating us about dementia. How do we take this information and implement it? How do we make sure that these lists and charts don’t remain on the page, but inform each interaction?

We may have donated to our favorite dementia organization on Giving Tuesday, others may be taking their classes, scout troops, and children to sing, decorate, or visit those living with dementia during the Christmas season. This is a start to the implementation of what we have learned, but it needs to continue, it needs to grow.

The charts set a foundation.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disorder, NOT a normal part of aging, with more than 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s. This number is projected to triple by 2016. No one should be afraid to speak about Alzheimer’s disease. (AFA, 866-232-8484)

The 10 Signs of Alzheimer’s include memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or solving problems, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, trouble understanding visual images and special relationships, new problems with words in speaking or writing, misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, decreased or poor judgement, withdraw from social activities, changes I mood and personality. (Alzheimer’s Association, 800-272-3900)

What else can we do?

  1. Continue to learn and grow in knowledge and understanding. This can be done formally or informally. Find YouTube videos, a podcast, a book, someone living with dementia who puts out content to follow.
  2. Volunteer or consider a career in aging and dementia that fits the specific gifts you have been given. 
  3. Begin a pen-pal friendship with an individual (living with dementia or a care partner) showing them your support, friendship, and let them know they are not forgotten. 
  4. Continue to donate to organizations in your area. 
  5. Become a Purple Angel Ambassador or consider helping bring awareness to dementia (and its many types) to your local businesses and community partners. 
  6. Encourage your faith communities to form a ministry for care partners and those living with dementia. 

What else can you think of to add to this list? What are you doing to continue the spirit of November’s Alzheimer’s Awareness month throughout the year?

To Be Grateful, Always

Today, all across this country people are celebrating Thanksgiving. We celebrate with prayer, by watching parades, by preparing foods that carry with them great tradition, and by gathering with loved ones. It is a day that is seen as kicking off the holiday season, and with it comes a range of emotions and experiences. It is a day when we fill our homes with laughter and conversation. It is a day when we feel pain and sadness as we see the emptiness around our table, feeling the loss of those who are no longer with us because of death or rejection. It is a day when we snicker at the materialism of tomorrow (and tonight) or we plan our shopping lists with excitement as we finish that last bite of pie. It is a day of stress and a day of joy. To those who feel the loss through rejection, may you feel the fullness and love of those who are still in your life today. For those who dread the stress and tension of this day, be it from the kitchen or from those that you will sit with at table, may you find a moment of peace to embrace the mess. For those who are separated from your loved ones who could not come home, may you know the love that ties you together. For those who miss loved ones no longer with us, may you feel their spirit fill your heart, knowing they are with you. For those who hate this holiday, may you have the eyes and the heart to see the beauty that is with and in all of us. May all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, being grateful for all that we have and all the opportunities that rest before us. Happy Thanksgiving!