When I think of all that is wrong with aging and dementia care, the list is long, both specific and vague, and quite frankly, overwhelming. I think of how stale this industry has become. How afraid we are of changing what has been even when we know it is not working. We hide behind certifications and programming that bring us warm fuzzies. We are training the next generation of medical, clinical, and social care professionals to reinforce stigma, not alleviate it. Given our actions, we have no clue what person-centered care is or means. We are more concerned about visits from the state, census numbers, and how luxurious our build looks that we forget about the people who bring reason to our very existence. We fail our residents, their families, and our staff day after day after day.
We are not playing the long game in aging and care. For lack of innovation? Or fear? But much like the dementia journey, the care industry is not all doom and gloom.
It is in our professional DNA to be innovators! We straddle the line between science and art, using our humanity to transform the world around us. We entered this industry for a reason. We have compassionate hearts. We believe in a quality of care that does not rest on keeping someone alive but in helping them live. I see this in many of my peers as they navigate the day-to-day, thinking of new ways to design buildings and schedule programs. We have the responsibility to use the positions we hold in care (regardless of where we sit on the professional hierarchy) for innovation. We are in a position to educate others, both in the sciences and the arts, on dementia so that they can become leaders and innovators as well. We don’t need permission to innovate. We only need to start working together, and little by little, replace fear with innovation.
Innovation in care isn’t some dream or out-of-reach idea. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. Innovation is simply a way to think of how to do something we already do, but with a refresh. We work with what is in front of us and then try something new. We can think of what can we do? Not, what can’t we do. We allow ourselves to use our imagination. How would I like to do x if I was in control and could start from scratch? Then once you allow for enough time to dream and wonder, look to see what can be done right now. Then once that is done, what can we do with this moment before us. You continue the process, you invite others to join you, and you work to keep the changes that work, transform what didn’t work, and keep going. Matthew Kelly is known for saying, “Just do the next best thing.” That is all it is, innovation and transformation. You work moment to moment with your whole heart and begin to create something good.
As Life Enrichment Specialists, what is your next best thing? How can you, even while calling bingo, transform the experience to better align with why people show up to play the game? If they are there because they love the game, well, then call bingo as you have never called it before. If they show up because they like spending time with their friends and neighbors, how can you play the game to reflect that purpose? If they show up because they enjoy helping out their table mates, how can you position the game so they can help out those who might need some assistance?
Whatever your role may be, how can you innovate with the moment before you? What is one thing you can do that accomplishes the task at hand, but in a way that is better than the last time you did the same task?
Don’t be afraid to innovate. The pressures, demands, and stress of working in care are remarkably heavy. The weight is real and ever-changing. But, what is one thing you can do right now that over time will transform the care industry into something we can only dream about today?