On a September morning, while attending a meeting with other aging and dementia professionals, I was having a conversation with someone from one of the local care communities. We talked about how she has to work within the guidelines corporate sets in place, from the way her staff dresses, to the programs they provide. I was saddened by what she was telling me, having experienced this before while I was still working as a Life Enrichment Specialist. Later, during the formal introductions, this individual went on to talk about how wonderful it is that her community is a person-centered community. A reaction happened inside me, how contradictory these two moments are, one talking about how corporate dictates the life for people they likely have never met, and the other, a care model that only works when each individual is involved. It was clearly a marketing tag line, not the model of the community. It makes me ask the question, where are we going with our care communities? Is this the experience we want our parents, grandparents, and even ourselves to enter into when we need care and support? Do we want our home to be like a hotel, with college styled brochure and sales pitches, but no longer living a life that feels to be ours? In a world where authenticity gets a spotlight, where “YOLO” is still a phrase we use and hear, how can we help others live in an authentic, beautiful, joyful way, that even until the last moment of breath causes the laugher and freedom of “YOLO?”
My grandmother’s doctor told my parents when my grandma was moving into a skilled care community that, “this is as good as it is going to get.” Over the last 10 years, I have come to see the truth of her statement, and my heart sinks. As a professional care partner and educator, I have made it my mission to help turn path we are heading down. Will you join me?
Not all care communities are simply a sales pitch, in search of great financial abundance. Some are doing beautiful things, and are living saints to those in their care and for their families. Some are visionaries, creatives, and disruptors in an industry in distress. We have work to do. Lots of work! Where do we start? We cannot change everything overnight, nor are the robotic marketing models going away anytime soon. We can start by loving those we care for, that is to say, will their good, and desire a life for them that is filled with awe, joy, hope, and connection. If we don’t desire life for another in that way, we cannot make an impact. We must do small things with great love. We can then open up our own heart to see what we believe, understand, and seek. It starts by seeing the person, then understand the fullness of their trials and triumphs, hopes and dreams. We must let go of ideas such as individuals with dementia cannot also be “active seniors” or ”abled-bodied?” Each person that I have encountered throughout my work has proven this idea inaccurate. Finally, we can seek out further education, both from those we serve and the research. A blend of the two is crucial, for one without the other only helps us standstill.
So, love, serve, understand, and work. Work for better care and support for those in need right now, for your family, for your future self. Escape the carousel of marketing tag lines, of robotic care, of complacency, and be free and bold to enter into creativity, joy, and hope. We must become visionaries. We must not only state and train, but implement and grow. If we can dream a better reality for our communities of care, we can take action steps towards making that dream a reality. It will take time, courage, commitment, and vision. Seek out those around you who dream of a better way of aging, partner together, and the impossible will become possible.
“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden