January 2020 Blog
As we close out the decade of the 2010’s, we look back and ask ourselves what are the most important things we have learned? What do we need to change, to build on or to start anew as we expand our reach to serve our ever growing population of older folks who are bearing the burden of chronic and degenerative disorders?
The greatest lesson we have learned is that there is no replacement for friendship. Truly liking one another – even though he or she may be a pain in the you know where – a sense of belonging and a real ownership of a physical space in a community are the pillars to building a vital life.
There are numerous studies coming to the forefront of geriatric research these days focused on isolation as a major issue in depression and other mental illness in the elderly. This focus may have come from the research on Blue Zones which injected community into the mix as a very important factor for healthy longevity. It was this research that gave equal footing to diet, exercise, a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging to a community as factors to a long and happy life. While well worth looking at its conclusions, it is important to understand that there is a another level of isolation beyond that which occurs as we age and we lose parents, friends, siblings and partners when we are challenged by disabilities, by chronic illness, or by chronic pain.
I had the experience of testing two virtual reality programs not too long ago. One was created to emulate the experience of a person who was suffering from a chronic illness and the other suffering from dementia. While those who were also testing the equipment were excited by what they felt the person was experiencing, my take away was much more outward focused. I was more interested in how those around the person were reacting to their loved one’s disability and disorder. Even in these short snippets, it was clear that the mere fact of suffering problem is in and of itself isolating. While the family members ignored the problems their loved one was struggling with, it was a young boy who finally looked at his Grandmother and asked: “ Aren’t you feeling well Gramma?”. Not even the professionals featured in these examples focused on the person. It is that objectifying behavior that diminishes feelings of worth and control which in term, leads to the isolation and depression that may accompany long term illness.
The lesson we learned is that the community that one finds supports for the individual as person and not a disease may not be the one lived in prior to the diagnosis. It may be that the same friends one had for many years no longer have the patience, the time nor the inclination. We have seen this many times but have also seen that new and important relationships are built and, over time, a new support community helps to understand and deal with this new and challenging world that one have inherited. This allows one to rebuild the feelings of control and the feelings of worth. Rather than being the victim, one becomes the friend, the supporter and the helper for those around them and together they all thrive.
It is this value we can add to each and every client that enters our door and is willing to join in and try. For all of us who are the constant base, the rewards we gain are immeasurable. We are so happy to be expanding and brining this community of caring to so many more in our area. May this New Year bring friendship, support and better health to all.