Join Harrison and Joan Carlson in an insightful conversation about transforming the paradigm of elder care. In this episode, they explore the evolution of in-home care for seniors, challenging the traditional medical model, and the importance of empowering seniors to actively participate in their own lives. Discover how shifting our approach from doing for them to doing with them can enhance the quality of life for our aging loved ones. Learn practical strategies to foster engagement, encourage exploration of new interests, and celebrate the value of wisdom and experience.
Introduction and the Eden Alternative
[Harrison] We’ve talked in the past about the Eden alternative and some of these ideas surrounding increasing the quality of care just across the board not only in let’s say nursing homes or assisted living facilities and home care but across the medical spectrum but specifically related to seniors. What has the paradigm been in the past and maybe touch on how it’s evolved over time and perhaps where we still need to improve as time goes on.
The Medical Model and Its Limitations
[Ms. Joan] All of healthcare has been based on a medical model and a medical model is you know I know what’s best for you and I will take care of you and do for you not with you for you. That doesn’t matter where and sometimes families do the same thing. Mama’s 90 years old so I’m going to treat her Like She’s a little old lady and she doesn’t have to do things in the house. Even though your folk are going into someone’s home, if they go in to do to them or for them then the Elder is not really participating even in their own home.
Involving Seniors in Daily Activities
Even when caregivers are going into someone’s home, if they go in to do things to them or for them, then the elder is not really participating even in their own home. A good example might be if they have to make dinner or lunch for them. Instead of just going in the kitchen and leaving the elder sitting in a chair, why not invite them to come in and help make dinner or keep company and chat while making dinner? These are things that can make them feel useful. One of the things they talk about in this helplessness and boredom is people want to give as well as receive.
Creating a Home Environment
When you ask anybody what a home is to them, everyone has their own personal things about what a home is like. But a lot of times we violate that, certainly in an institution we almost always violate it, but even in their homes if suddenly they don’t have a useful role. All they are is someone’s going to help them bathe and dress and comb their hair and clean their house and they don’t have anything to do. We think that’s taking care of them when in fact they’re getting bored and they feel helpless and useless.
Incorporating Animals, Plants, and Other Elements
Having animals, plants, and children around can be beneficial. Unless they never liked kids, in which case that’s one thing, but otherwise, is there a way for them to interact? Maybe you go to a park where they can watch children in a playground and talk to them. Finding things in which they feel a connection to other human beings and other things can be helpful. They may not be able to care for a dog anymore because they can’t walk them or safely care for them, but perhaps your daughter has a dog and the dog can come over and visit. Taking care of plants, whether it’s garden plants or house plants, can also be a good activity, unless they have a black thumb. These are just things that they can enjoy that all human beings want. And we tend to treat older people as if they can’t grow or learn new things, rather than incorporating them into our lives.
Encouraging New Interests and Activities
[Harrison] One of the really interesting things that I’ve heard you mention in the past is the idea of not assuming that the elder or the senior loved one in our family is not interested in trying new things. So even though we want to take the perspective of what have they always been like and how can we make sure that we’re not trying to get them to do or be somebody that they’ve never been. But you’ve mentioned that it’s also helpful to propose new ideas and see if they are interested in picking up something that perhaps they haven’t been interested in in the past. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Encouraging Engagement and Recognizing Value in Aging Loved Ones
[Ms. Joan] I think you could say, I’ll just pick something out of the top but just say, you know, I’ve been really thinking about trying painting. How about, would that be something you could work with me on and bring some simple things or drawing or I’ve always liked poetry. Can we read some poetry together and maybe make a poem and see what they go and what they like? Can you, we’ve got some flowers I’m gonna cut from your garden, can we make a little arrangement to put them on your table and you know let them do it if they want to.
So, but it’s finding out, you know, the first thing is out is we said over and over again is getting to know that who are they, what are they always enjoyed and certainly picking on those and then if they’re things that they haven’t done kind of exploring what are something that they might want to do.
I think I’ve told you that some of the stories that I’ve had in my past in one retirement community, a gentleman who had always worked I think was an engineer never done any work with his hands. Well, they had a woodworking shop in this community and this man decided he wanted to learn about that so he kind of watched and learned and they had some other residents that were skilled in woodworking and the next thing you knew he made his great grandchild a crib and he was so proud and it was a beautiful crib and he did that himself, he made it himself and he felt so good about it, you know, he sanded it and it was just in beautiful condition but he’d never done that before he just tried it.
We found people that have even some pretty advanced dementia that have written poems, they can say the words and you can kind of put it together with them but mainly it’s just, you know, you see people if they’ve always been a housewife and we don’t even ask them to help us at the table when you can feel really good. I can set the table, I can make a flower arrangement to make my table look good. I can soothe my grandson who’s hurting, he doesn’t feel well, he has a cold or he is whatever and as long as it’s not contagious bring them over and let Grandma or Grandpa help take care of them. Those are some everyday things that make people feel useful.
[Harrison] Yeah, it’s important to try to identify how we can help our aging loved ones feel the value that they still have. Right, yeah, and it’s important not to assume that they have lost this massive amount of value when they really haven’t. I mean, it’s amazing how valuable their wisdom and experience is and so let’s not disregard that. So this is really helpful, thank you so much.