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What is Ageism? 

 Ageism is the stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people on the basis of their age. Ageism is widespread and an insidious practice which has harmful effects on the health of older adults.  

 

In America, ageism is prevalent because western cultures tend to be youth-centric, emphasizing attributes like individualism and independence. However, many other cultures are less prone to ageism.  For instance, respecting the elders is part of the actual law in China. The Japanese culture values the elders. Appreciation for elders has been ingrained in families and their children, making Japan one of the kindest places in the world for seniors. Older people are valued as assets in Scotland. Their voices are heard, and they are supported to enjoy full and positive lives in family settings. 

 

How does ageism affect older adults? 

 

Age discrimination can be very hurtful to the self-esteem of aging individuals and can even take a toll on their health. Many seniors are treated like second-class citizens by younger generations. They are often talked down to or even made to feel invisible because of their age.  

 

A 20-year study on perceived age discrimination, by Becca Levy, PhD, found that 63% of participants over age 53, reported feeling discriminated against, with the main cause cited being their old age. The study also found that age discrimination quickly leads to feelings of depression and stress and causes lowered mental health as well as lower self rated health, and when older individuals were exposed to positive stereotypes about their age they showed significantly better memory and balance than those exposed to negative views. What is even more astonishing is that seniors with positive perceptions of aging live 7.5 years longer than those with negative views.  

 

How to recognize ageist comments? 

 

If left unchanged, ageist comments can erode the self-confidence of older people and make them feel ostracized.  So how can we learn to recognize ageism and how do we avoid it? Here are some ageist words, phrases and non-verbal cues that should be avoided. 

  1. Offensive Descriptions and adjectives. Avoid these words because they are plain mean and hurtful. 

Old hag, old-timer, little old lady, old coot, over the hill, old foggy, decrepit, ancient, biddy, codger, crone, fossil, geezer, old fart, old goat, prune, senile old fool, eccentric, feisty, spry, feeble, grandmotherly, grandfatherly and vegetable. 

  1. Seemingly kind but still offensive endearments. Older people don’t like being treated like babies. They are still mature individuals who deserve respect. Instead of calling them sweetie, honey, dear or young lady, call them by their names Ms. Smith or just plain Judith. 

 

  1. Generalization. As much as we don’t want to be stereotyped by our race, ethnicity or our gender, or be lumped into one description such as “all millennials are apathetic” or “all baby boomers are junkies”, we shouldn’t generalize older people by what other older people can and cannot do, what they have and don’t have. 

“Old dogs can’t learn new tricks.”
“Old people are perpetually out of touch” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Uncharacteristic for their Age. Though sometimes it may be hard for them, older people can still learn and do new things. When they are treated like they shouldn’t be able to do some things, it’s also ageist. 

 

“A quick-witted 85-year-old”,
“An agile 75-year-old”,
“Feisty old lady”,
“Wow! She’s 78 and still takes online classes.”
“This little old lady still parties like a college kid.”
“He is 80 years young.”
“Can you believe she’s 60 years old?”
“60 is the new 30.” 

 

  1. Assuming they’re weak. Comments like the following, though said with good intentions, suggest they shouldn’t be able to do certain things because they’re supposed to be fragile. Not all older adults are weak. Some even maintain physical fitness up to a hundred. Saying something like this just reminds them of the imminent decline of their health. 

 

“I’m so glad you’re still up and around!”
“You’re still agile! How’s your health?”
“You shouldn’t be doing that.” 

 

  1. Lying in good faith. We are all aging and everyone is older than someone. It someone says they’re not old when they are relatively older to others, instead of it being a compliment, it becomes a reminder o the stigmas that aging bring. Deceiving older people won’t make them any younger. 

 

“You could pass for much younger.”
“Oh, you’re not old.” 

 

  1. Oversimplifying words. This is when we assume that all older people have problems with understanding so we tend to speak in very simple words, like teaching a child how to talk. At times, we also over explain things that don’t need explaining.  Remember that older people are not mentally slow. According to Gerontology Society of America (GSA), we don’t need to change our speech and vocabulary to communicate with older adults. “Older adults maintain their existing vocabulary or continue to improve it,” wrote GSA. “They have no problem understanding complicated words that members of other groups, there is no need to simplify words to use.” 

 

  1. Speaking to others about an older person’s situation when he or she is in the same room. Aside from being plain rude, people assume that older people cannot understand their own situation and that another person (maybe younger) is required. Doctors and health care providers usually commit this mistake. If there is someone else accountable in the area, doctors pretend older adults are not there. 

 

 

  1. Jokes. Every time when a person is joking about older people, he or she is actually disguising emotions and thoughts, deliberately or subconsciously about the horrors of aging.  

“Grandma is so wrinkled she needs a bookmark to find her mouth.”
“My old Uncle Ed still whistles at girls but can’t remember why.” 

 

Watch for Ageism Part 2 in the July Newsletter and Bessie’s Hope website. 

There Are Not Enough Personal Care Aides To Care For Frail Seniors. What Will We Do?

Howard Gleckman, Senior Contributor, Forbes (AND Bessie’s Hope solution below)

Workforce challenges have grown substantially over the last several years and health care providers will continue to see increasing staffing challenges, workforce shortages, wage and benefit costs, and employment law enforcement. To survive these changing dynamics and become more predictive in people strategies, health care providers will adopt a variety of workforce analytic technology. For example, regular employee pulse surveys for employee engagement or real-time labor management systems which allow staffing to be quickly and accurately adjusted on a per-patient-day (PPD) basis will become essential for managing labor costs and productivity

Health care organizations will also need to ensure deliberate talent acquisition strategies and an engaged workforce to increase employee retention, allowing them to better drive the level of quality, customer satisfaction, and financial performance. Due to the talent shortage, health care providers and even competitors will share staff and centralize back-office functions, allowing care centers to focus on what they do best – high quality patient care and service.

The role of leadership will be more important than ever. Developing cultures of continuous learning and ensuring an agile organization will be crucial with the changing demands of an organization’s shift to meet consumerism demands.

Post-Acute and Senior Care Asset Repurposing

From 2010 to 2017, the senior population aged 65 years and older increased nearly 26 percent, resulting in an increased need for senior care services. However, during this same time, the average daily census at skilled nursing facilities declined over four percent due to declines in utilization, length of stay, payment reform, alternative options, and client preference. Total licensed beds declined approximately one percent, and occupancy declined from 82 percent in 2010 to 79 percent in 2017. To adapt to the changing landscape, more SNFs will convert to senior housing alternatives, such as low-income or market rental apartments, specialized units like traumatic brain injury or mental health units, assisted living, or memory care assisted living, all of which have experienced increasing consumer demand.

The long-predicted shortage of personal care aides is here. And it is creating enormous challenges for frail older adults and people with disabilities living at home as well as for operators and residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

This shortage inevitably will drive up costs for services that already are unaffordable for many consumers. They will increase financial pressures on Medicare and Medicaid and force older adults and others with disabilities to rethink how they receive care. At the same time, labor shortages will drive innovation and new technologies that could remake supports and services.

The US has known this was coming for years. As the aging population grew, the number of personal care aides to provide care at home or in nursing or assisted living facilities was not keeping up. But now the shortage is here.

A tight labor market

The long-term problem is all about demographics: The Baby Boomers are aging and, because they had relatively few children, there won’t be enough people of caregiving age—either relatives or paid aides– to help them. But even before we hit the demographic wall, the US is facing more immediate short-term problems.

The biggest may be the strong economy and the very tight labor market. The unemployment rate was 3.7 percent in October, the lowest in a half century. And with lots of other available jobs, it is increasing hard to recruit low-paid aides.

According to the advocacy and research organization PHI, home care workers earn a median wage of $11.03 an hour while nursing assistants in nursing homes earn $12.84 an hour. And their injury rates are among the highest of any occupation in the US.

By contrast, veterinary technicians make more than $16 an hour. A society that pays more to workers who look after pets than those who care for parents should not be surprised when people gravitate to easier and better-paying jobs.

How tight is the current market for direct care workers? The newsletter Home Health Care News reports that home care companies increasingly are requiring non-compete agreements that limit the ability of aides to move to other agencies or to work directly for their clients, who would then avoid paying the agency fees.

According to the newsletter, a lawyer who represents agencies said, “They don’t have enough of a labor force to satisfy their client demands.”

Regulatory answers

Government is looking to regulatory answers, including new rules to require higher staffing levels and more disclosure of facilities that are chronically short-staffed.

Last summer Jordan Rau of Kaiser Health News reported that many facilities have fewer staff than they report to the government. In response, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced last week that it would urge states to boost inspections in an effort to end the practice. At the same time, some states have moved to mandate specific minimum staffing rules for nursing homes. Last spring, the New Jersey legislature tried.

But requiring minimum staffing won’t solve the problem. Many nursing homes will respond to these mandates by closing beds or otherwise changing their business models. This is a particular problem in long-stay nursing facilities where wages are largely driven by Medicaid. It makes little sense for the government to demand facilities hire more staff if its payment rates won’t support a decent wage for the workers they have.

Home care

But nursing homes are only a small piece of the problem. Fewer than 10 percent of those who require long-term supports and services live in those facilities. About another 8 percent live in assisted living facilities, which are unregulated by the federal government. But more than 80 percent live at home. How will they find aides?

Technology

How about technology? It undoubtedly will help. Facilities increasingly will install devices to monitor the well-being of residents. And some gizmos even are finding their ways into private homes. But caregiving remains a high-touch personal job and we are a long way from the time when human caregivers are replaced by robots.

The bottom line is that the law of supply and demand ultimately will win out, as it always does. The only way to increase the supply of aides is to pay them more, give them more benefits, make their work more rewarding, and give them opportunities for advancement.

Bessie’s Hope has created a solution to help—-

Twenty-five years ago, Bessie’s Hope created a solution to help with the unimaginable statistic that 60% of nursing home elders receive NO personal visitors. The solution: Relationship-driven volunteer programs that provide education and training to volunteers from preschool to adult ages. With the training, and with Bessie’s Hope facilitating elder care group visits for adult groups and youth groups and assisting families and individuals to be matched with elders who have no one, hundreds of elders DO have someone—the Bessie’s Hope volunteer. Compassion, empathy and respect for the elders are key.

The solution to help with the work force shortage is one that introduces high school students to the vast array of jobs and career paths in long term care. This introduction comes only after the training, the participation in the group visits, and the demonstration from the youth that they have respect, compassion and empathy for the elders. In addition, they have the awareness that the elders are resources of vast knowledge and wisdom, with so much to teach all younger generations on so many levels. They have a fondness for the elders, and they genuinely enjoy their company. All of these qualities are essential to being a good elder care provider.

The youth may participate in the Bessie’s Hope School-to-Career Work Force Development for Long Term Care. See the page of the same name on www.bessieshope.org.

Your Relationship to Sound & Music, Part II

Since the beginning of humankind, there has been music-making.  The first instrument was the human voice.  Second came things to beat on and things to shake or rattle to produce sounds.  For centuries, it has been known that music has the power to soothe and calm or to incite into action.

As a Board Certified Music Therapist and a presenter on the therapeutic and healing powers of sound and music, I had the wonderful opportunity to study for a number of years with Don Campbell.  A world renowned author and speaker, Don has written many books, such as The Mozart Effect, from which I’d like to share the following:

“What is this magical medium that moves, enchants, energizes, and heals us?  In an instant, music can uplift our soul.  It awakens within us the spirit of prayer, compassion, and love.  It clears our minds and has been known to make us smarter.

Music can dance and sing our blues away.   It conjures up memories of lost loved ones.  It lets the child in us play, the monk in us pray, the cowgirl in us line dance, the hero in us surmount all obstacles.  It helps the stroke patient find language and expression.

Music helps plants grow, lulls children to sleep, and marches men to war.”

Part I of this blog on our relationship with sound and music touched on vibrations, sound, and making sounds and music with our own voices.

Part II deals with recorded music and suggested applications with primarily instrumental music.   For a nurturing “sound bath” that can be taken in  3 – 5 minutes at your desk, select a piece from the Baroque period, such as the popular, Pachelbel Canon in D.  This style of music is at 60 – 65 beats per minute,  repetitive, predictable, no extreme changes in volume, and always resolves to the awaited home in the key structure.

Move your chair back from your computer and desk, sit with both feet on the floor, hands resting in lap, and close your eyes.   Allow the music to flow over and through you, as though you were sitting in a natural hot spring.  Music has the ability to entrain our biorhythms, so with this piece of music, our breathing becomes deeper to better oxygenate all our cells.  Our heart rate slows, and so does our frantic mind.  One or two such sound baths each day can also lower blood pressure, just as excessive noise can raise it.

Since we are bombarded with noise and chaotic frequencies sometimes 24 hours a day, our bodies are constantly subjected to the release of adrenalin and norepinephrine, which raise the heart rate and ready us for “fight or flight”.  Sound baths are the perfect antidote.

In caring for elders, Part I dealt with humming to create a more soothing presence.  Part II suggests allowing the elders the same opportunity for “sound” baths.  While helping someone dress or bathe, this genre of music lessens the anxiety and discomfort they feel from having another person doing these things for them.

Another suggested application for this music is in the dining room at care centers.  The entire dining experience is enhanced, because the music creates a calm spaciousness.  People can chew, swallow, savor and enjoy eating.  The music is also a nice background for table conversation.

Time to read, concentrate, to memorize, to learn—–the suggestion is playing instrumental music from the Classical period, such as compositions by Mozart.  Music fires more neurons than any other single stimulus, and with the structure and theory throughout this style of music, the brain is awake and alert.

Crossword puzzles and other mentally stimulating games can be nicely paired with this music.  In using this musical stimulation with stroke patients, it is a good background for re-establishing language patterns.

Mozart’s compositions are also suggested for individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease in completing various tasks, and for those with Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, and other neurophysiological disorders, the music has assisted in regaining control over neuromusculoskeletal functioning, such as gait in walking.

Of course, marches are also excellent for regaining this type of control.  For individuals in rehab or at home with a physical therapy regimen, marches assist in leg strengthening and endurance exercises.

Exercising and working to the rhythm of instrumental “big band” music and to other eras’ popular music pieces that have a steady beat, not erratic, and that is not too loud or too fast also create a pleasurable sound environment.

Singing along to favorite musical selections is advantageous for everyone, when it is time to relax, unwind, oxygenate our bodies, walk, etc.   However, we do need to be mindful when involving lyrics in our musical experience that the brain can only focus or concentrate on one thought or task execution at a time.  Recalling and singing lyrics while simultaneously entering data into a computer will most probably result in misspelled words and miscalculations of numbers.

This is a wonderful tool to use when working with individuals to train or retrain task execution, such as adding melody to “this is the way I tie my shoes, tie my shoes, etc”.   Singing lyrics in this mode assists in accomplishment.

Time to create, or just be—–use again the spacious Baroque music or meditation music.  In caring for others, or just caring for ourselves, we need to give our beta self a rest and spend time with our alpha self.  In caregiving, facilitating activities with someone, or ones, this type of musical background allows space to paint, sew, do crafts, cook, bake, etc.

Recorded music can be used to enhance our daily lives and to share positive, inspired frequencies and energy with our world.  Our bodies are soaking up the music on a molecular level—so nourishment or hazardous? —  A question to ask individuals who drive up beside us or behind us, polluting the environment with a mixture of discordant sounds, erratic beats, and negative, disrespectful words—-

Linda Holloway, Board Certified Music Therapist

 

“Feeling Better/Feeling Sound” – Being aware of our relationship with sound and music—Part I

Being mindful of the impact of our “sound environment” is important to our health.  In caregiving settings, we also control the sound environment for those for whom we are providing care.

Sound affects us on a cellular level at all times.  Silent vibrations also affect us, but this blog will deal primarily with sound and music, with references to the other sources of vibration.  Sound waves are constantly interacting with our bodies and minds.  Often, it is as though sounds are competing for our attention, and without even knowing, this is producing a stressful effect emotionally, mentally and physiologically.

As we know, people have varying degrees of sensitivity to sound frequencies.  There is an engagement with these frequencies.  Our brains and psyches are constantly filtering the information, eg the furnace comes on and creates its sounds, and we peacefully sleep through it.  The alarm on the clock awakens us.  We enter the kitchen, and the refrigerator hums its greeting.  If we begin the day with deep breathing to oxygenate our cells, and exhale with a simple, calming vocalized humming or “Ahhh”, we can welcome the day feeling relaxed and calm.

The meanings of words have their own frequencies, and these words vibrating throughout body produce a nurturing response, such as a mother humming or singing to her baby.  So, we exhale “Peace”,  “Love”, “Joy” to create our own internal, cleansing shower.  Our brain, in turn, like switching on the lights, begins the bio/electrical/chemical response to the sounds and frequencies of those words.  Try “I am peace—I am love—I am joy.”

The brain is like a computer, which will give the reports based on the information we put in.  Thus, our day is begun with peace, love and joy.  In the education we provide to the Bessie’s Hope youth and adult volunteers, we explain that the brain can be tricked.  It doesn’t know the difference between a happening right now and the memory of the happening.  It gets busy dispersing the chemicals, as per above.  When our volunteers help create a happy memory for the elders we serve in nursing homes and assisted living communities, the bodies and minds are showered with the same “feel good” chemicals as when the “real” event happened, eg dancing 60 years ago with their first love.

Likewise, the brain can be programmed to begin our day with the good vibrations we sing or speak.  Our volunteers sing “The Wonderful Song” with the elders, and we suggest to the elders that they begin their day by singing, “I am wonderful, and this is a wonderful day.”

This has been a brief introduction of using our own voices for “sounding”, or “toning”, which was coined by Laurel Elizabeth Keyes in the 1960s.   These are sounds we are creating ourselves with our own intentions to nurture ourselves.  What if we use this in our care providing for elders in our homes, or their homes, or in elder care communities in which we work?  We enter the bedroom or the workplace with a smile.  Remember, the brain is putting out what we put in.  So, our smile comes out of our body in a vibration that the elder will feel as “I am happy to be here with you.”

Also, we are quietly, gently humming or singing a positive, slow to moderate tempo song.  Then, it will be from this smiling, “good vibrations” place that we say “Good morning, ___.  I hope you slept well last night.  Today is going to be a good day.” We have been given the sacred honor of caring for elders, those wonderful beings who have reached the time of ultimate respect.  They have so much to teach all younger generations.

What are some of their favorite songs you could sing with them? Remember what this will do for them—the nurturing vibrations within their bodies.  By the way, it doesn’t matter how you think you sing.  If it’s done on purpose from the heart with the intention to be of service—your voice will be received as though it came from an angel.

For those of you entering the elder care community but not providing the hands-on care, you are still contributing to the vibrational environment.  Before you enter, sing or speak, “I am peace, I am love, I am joy.  I am vibrating at these frequencies.”  Then, as you enter know that you have the honor to share the sacred space with elders.

While focusing on elder care, this also applies to anyone of any age for whom we have been called to serve.  We smile and make a positive difference in the lives of all with our good vibrations.

Next blog will address the use of recorded music.

Linda Holloway, Board Certified Music Therapist

The Brain VS Hydration

Why am I not remembering, thinking as clearly or tired in the middle of the day?

Water is essential for the efficient functioning of your brain!  Dehydration equals Brain Shrinkage!

Even a 2% drop in body water can trigger short-term memory loss, trouble doing basic math and difficulties focusing.

Your brain is comprised of 75% water!!

Did you know that 75% to 90% of seniors are in the ER for Dehydration!!!  Remember from my last article that seniors lose their thirst sensation to let them know they need water!

Drinking adequate water is just as important for the health of the brain as it is for the health of our bodies.  Your brain needs plenty of glucose, oxygen, water and other essential nutrients to function well.  If your brain doesn’t get enough of water, you might feel dizzy, fatigued and get a headache, and you’ll start to lose your ability to concentrate.  Studies have shown that a glass of water every hour while studying prevents fatigue and headaches.

Because your brain is 75% water, ample hydration is an absolute must.  When the water in your brain decreases, stress hormones are released.  These hormones block glucose, which is the primary fuel of the brain, from entering brain cells.  This in turn results in memory problems.

It is important to understand that even a minor amount of dehydration can raise stress hormones in the brain and damage your brain over time.

Excerpts from “Brain Tune Up” By Arnold Bresky, M.D.

Iva Lou Bailey, Founding Trainer of Dr. Bresky’s 9 Point Brain Tune Up System.

Weight VS Hydration

Do you think you are hungry??  Why the hunger pains and so much fat?  How would you like to stop your hunger pains and release the fat?

37% of Americans have such a weak thirst mechanism that they mistake it for hunger!

Nearly 100% of dieters had hunger pangs satisfied by drinking a glass of water.  Drinking 1 glass of water before a meal will help digestion.

Mild dehydration can slow down your metabolism by 3%.  Imagine what chronic dehydration does.  75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.

NOW ABOUT THAT FAT!

Our Blood is made up of 83% water.  This is important because blood transports nutrients throughout our bodies and moves waste products to be excreted.  So without adequate water, our bodies not only starve, but are poisoned with the waste products that cannot be expelled.

Our blood carries waste products to our kidneys, after which are expelled from the body through our urine.  If the body senses there isn’t enough water available, however, it reacts by retaining what water it has already.  What happens next is that this stored water gets contaminated with waste.  Why?  Because the Kidneys have no way to release the toxins.

When this occurs, the job of clearing waste shifts to the liver, which is already working hard to clean out our blood.  When it takes on some of the work of the kidney, the liver can’t work as efficiently.  And guess what one of the liver’s most important jobs is?  BURNING FAT!  So when it is overloaded the stored fat can’t be burned and the body will hold onto what water it has.  Thus, WEIGHT GAIN OCCURS.

Iva Lou Bailey
Owner/President
Argus Home Health Care
ivalou@argusofcolo.com

The Impact of Intergenerational Programs on Youth

Intergenerational programs have proven, over and over, to be of great benefit to all ages involved, yet still, in the United States, intergenerational friendships are the exception rather than the rule: for the most part, age segregation prevails.

Kids spend their days at school, mostly among peers born the same year they were. Young and middle-aged adults cluster at work. And elders gather for clubs, classes, and meals that often expressly bar the young. Millions of college students and elders live in age-restricted housing, and most American neighborhoods skew either young or old.

As our society becomes more and more age segregated, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for the generations to come together, which creates more isolation and lack of understanding. That’s why intergenerational programs like those pioneered by Bessie’s Hope are so critical for a healthy and empowered society. Everyone benefits.

So far, this month, we have shared a lot about how these relationships can benefit elders’ emotional, mental, and physical health. But neither the need nor the benefits are one-sided. That’s why this week we are focusing on the endless benefits for today’s youth.

When people are raised in different time periods, their values and perceptions of the world can be quite different, and this can lead to difficulties in understanding one another. Therefore, one of the biggest risks when generations are separated from one another is the development of ageism and other prejudices and misunderstandings. [Learn more about ageism.]

Ageism is not just a threat to elders in our society, it effects everyone. Words like “investment” and “gain” are used when speaking about funding for youth and words “spending” and “drain” are used when speaking about funding for our elders. So many things, including the lack of exposure to one another, makes it easy for them to see one another as rivals or something to fear. When people of all ages get to know one another, they tend to unite around shared goals instead. When generations work together, this breaks down stereotypes, changes attitudes and lives, fosters mutual empathy, and improves communities. Intergenerational partnerships allow each group to see the other as valuable human beings with so much to share with each other.

The youth in these relationships are not just learning respect and empathy for others, they see role models for their own future. They are learning not just the value of other people, they learn to value themselves.

And there’s more. Interacting with older adults enables youth to develop social networks, communication skills, problem-solving abilities, as well as a sense of purpose and community service. Youth involved in intergenerational programs are
* 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs.
* 27% less likely to begin using alcohol.
* 52% less likely to skip school.
* 33% less likely to hit someone.In short, intergenerational programs could be the best resource for the young people of today. Connecting generations is something that we at Bessie’s Hope feel honored to do for the elders, the youth, and all of society. Learn more about our Youth & Elders Program here.

Intergenerational Relationships and Elders with Dementia

Bessie’s Hope was founded almost 25 years ago to bring people of all ages into nursing homes, assisted living and memory care to build intergenerational relationships that enrich the lives of the elders, the volunteers and the community as a whole. Sixty percent of the nation’s nursing home elders receive no visitors. Thus enters the Bessie’s Hope volunteers who give a loving touch, a listening ear and a caring presence.

The discomfort toward to creating relationships with elders in long term care that is common among many individuals in our society is based in fear. Unfortunately, growing old is feared in our society, so avoiding spending time in elder care is a coping mechanism to limit our exposure to our own mortality and our own eventual frailty.  There is also the fear of emotional risk when we open our hearts to cultivate relationships with elders in long term care.

One of the biggest fears that people have about aging is the possibility of a loved one or themselves developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.  Dementia is a term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.  The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases of progressive dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common dementia type, and there are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.

Dementia is often incorrectly referred to as “senility” (from the latin word meaning “old man”), which reflects the formerly widespread, but incorrect, belief that serious mental decline is a normal part of aging.  It is estimated that only 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 10 men, who live past the age of 55 will develop dementia in their lifetime.  Many issues can cause decline in memory or thinking skills that impact people of all ages.

Our own familial elders and the elders in long term care are treasures, including those with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Even as their lifetime of acquired wisdom may be lost, their ability to love and to be loved only grows.

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

-“Nature Boy” by eden ahbez

The vast research accumulated to explain cognitive and functional retrogenesis helps us understand the process of Alzheimer’s Disease as a reversal in the order of acquisition in normal human development.  The final stage in the disease progression mirrors the developmental level of “birth to age 2”.   Research also proves how valuable the relationships between small children and elders who have Alzheimer’s Disease.  (pic with Ruby and Bryan) Just as the children, our elders with Alzheimer’s need our love, our patience, our praise and our recognition of their being very special human beings. Bessie’s Hope works hard to instill within youth and adult volunteers that these elders, like all elders, need and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

The reason Bessie’s Hope has such successful intergenerational programs is the education, training and activity development, which ease the fear and “stage fright” for volunteers of all ages and give them the skills for cultivating mutually rewarding relationships.  Interacting comfortably with individuals who have dementia requires different approaches than what many volunteers are used to.

“Those with dementia are still people and they still have stories and they still have character and they are all individuals and they are all unique. And they just need to be interacted with on a human level.”

– Carey Mulligan

At Bessie’s Hope, we have developed several tips and guidelines for those entering into intergenerational relationships for the first time.  Here are a few tips from our training materials:

  • If someone is argumentative, insulting, angry, or cursing
    • Give them the patience and unconditional love they deserve. Whenever you are dealing with a person with dementia, remember the person, not the disease.  When dealing with a challenging behavior, remember it is the disease, not the person.
    • Do not judge the person. We have no way of knowing the pain (physical and emotional), confusion, fear, or sadness they are feeling.  Remember, part of dementia is a loss of the ability to communicate effectively.
    • Do not take insults or threats personally. In the reality of a person with dementia, you might represent a completely different person or time. Remember they are not trying to give you a hard time; they are having a hard time.
  • If someone talks to you as though you are someone else that they may be remembering in a different time or place
    • This memory is very real. Even though your understanding of reality is different from theirs, theirs is equally “real.”
    • If it seems to be a pleasant or comforting memory, just be in their reality with them. If you are lucky enough to share this space and the people in it with your grandpartner, consider yourself blessed.  It is the closest you will ever get to traveling to another time.
    • Do not attempt to reason or to dispute the reality that person is in. Your goal is not to bring them into your reality, but to make join in their reality.
    • One of the easiest ways to rob a person of their dignity is to be dismissive. Remember, this also applies to individuals who have dementia.  Never talk through, over or about them as though they aren’t there. Include, involve, and respond as though you understand, even when you don’t.
  • If you are asked questions like “When is my wife coming?” or “Is it time to go home?”
    • Be validating and not dismissive or corrective. Once again, you need to exist in their reality.  Even if the person they are looking for passed away, that is not where their head and heart are right now.
    • Gentle deflection may be necessary. “I’m not sure.” “I’ll check on that for you.”
    • Respectfully change or redirect the conversation. “I’m not sure when she will be here. Do you remember the last time you saw her? Tell me about how you met.”
  • If someone in advanced stages of dementia makes no attempt at communication
    • Loss of communication is part of dementia, but that isn’t the same as loss of consciousness. They may be sitting with eyes closed or blank stares, but in their minds they could be small children or even babies.
    • Even those who can’t speak can often hear. Talk to them, sing to them, share with them.
    • Don’t forget about the power of touch. [We will have a future blog post on this topic alone.] A gentle touch, a caress of their hair, rubbing their arms or shoulders, holding their hand – all these offer a feeling of security.
    • Music can be enjoyable to them. You may see a nonverbal resident moving a hand or foot or their head to the music.  And contrary to myth, the music does not have to be slow.  Ideally, the music is familiar and meaningful for the elder.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

-Maya Angelou

We have been talking about our elders with dementia and how you can support them.  But if you have been following our series for Intergenerational Month, you know that whatever we give the elders, we get much more in return.  Next week we will be continuing our series by discussing the benefits intergenerational relationships have on our youth volunteers.  If you would like to learn more about our programs and how you can get involved in an intergenerational friendship yourself, check out our website.

 

The Forgotten & Invisible

“Do not cast me off in the time of old age;

Do not forsake me when my strength fails.”
-Psalm 71:9

Who are the elders that Bessie’s Hope serves? They are the heroes that who fought in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, who championed the civil rights movement, who stayed home and raised their families. They baked our favorite cookies, patched up our scrapes and kissed our bruises when we fell. They are our parents, grandparents, dear relatives and friends who have imparted their wisdom, candor and values to us so that we could build our own lives and families. Who we are as individuals, communities, and a global society is the direct result of the foundations they have laid and the trails they have blazed.

Where are they now? While we’d like to think they’re enjoying their “golden years,” thousands of them are living alone in nursing homes and long-term care facilities right in our own neighborhoods. While these are skilled facilities with caring staff, they can also be lonely and isolating places for our elders who are without family visits.

A staggering number of our elders— even those with family — spend weekends, birthdays and even holidays by themselves, alone with their memories, although surrounded by staff and other residents. This is the “forgotten” and “invisible” population in our society. For most of us who are going about our busy lives and in good health. We don’t often think about aging. But consider the following:

  • The Population Reference Bureau has estimated that the number of Americans over the age of 65 will increase by 75% between 2010 and 2030 from 1.3 million to 2.3 million.
  • One third of the baby boomer population have not had children during their lives. This does not include those who have lost their children during their life or for whom their children, for various reasons, cannot provide care and support for their aging parents.
  • According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 50 percent of nursing home residents have no close relatives, and 46 percent have no living children.
  • An estimated 60 percent of nursing home residents never have visitors.

Sadly, many in this population rarely leave the nursing home premises. Medical challenges, disability and the death of close friends and loved ones take a gradual toll on their mental and emotional health and well-being. Limited social contact only exacerbates the problem. It’s no wonder that depression among the elderly is rampant.
This population also has simple, more basic needs, which if fulfilled, often eliminate the bigger needs. A happy, satisfied person is a healthier person. Studies show people who live longer and healthier lives have strong support systems that keep them motivated.

Bessie’s Hope has seen the difference on-going socialization and relationships can have first-hand. Bessie’s Hope intergenerational programs afford elders an opportunity to participate in meaningful activities, form new relationships and feel connected with the community. This decreases loneliness, boredom, and depression while increasing self-esteem. A report on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia prepared for the Department of Veterans Affairs sites that intergenerational activities have been linked to increased social behavior. In 2017, 92% of residents reported that Bessie’s Hope volunteers added joy to their lives and helped them feel wanted and important.

Also, Bessie’s Hope programs have a positive effect on the residents’ health. Research proves that kindness increases serotonin (an important “feel-good” hormone that creates a feeling of well-being in us) levels. When serotonin levels increase, the immune system is strengthened. Participation in pleasurable activities or activities that induce pleasurable memories increase immune system efficiency by releasing endorphins which increase the proliferation of T Cells (the main soldiers of the immune system).

“We are not victims of aging, sickness and death. These are part of scenery, not the seer, who is immune to any form of change. This seer is the spirit, the expression of eternal being.”
-Deepak Chopra

 

Our seniors have given us much and can still teach us many things. Treasure them, what they have achieved and how far they have come in life. And most important, reach out to them and show them that we still care and that we have not forgotten.

Learn more about us on our website and watch for more in our Intergenerational Month series each Wednesday in September.

The Importance of Intergenerational Programs

“Connections between generations are essential for the mental health and stability of a nation.”
Margaret Mead

         

If you think about the people you know from different generations, you are likely thinking about your family; your parents and grandparents, your children and grandchildren, your aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces. The story of intergenerational relationships, therefore, is the story of families. As society has changed and evolved, so too have family ties changed over time. Today, in addition to the traditional familial unit, families exist in many different forms such as single parent, grandparent-grandchild, childless, same-sex couples, and “step” and “blended” families. Families differ also in their housing and living patterns. These changes call for new definitions, new relationships, and a new way to make these essential connections.

Consider elders in nursing homes and assisted living communities. People who move into a nursing home experience change in social status, loss of autonomy, the feeling of having no place to call home, change in social contacts, and the reduction of activities – all of which endanger their identity. Nursing home residents want to feel part of society and remain in contact with family members and friends, maintaining social contacts. Contact between many nursing home residents and their families becomes rare after they move for many reasons: lack of interest, a general avoidance of topics of disease, and geographic separation. In fact, 60% of nursing home residents receive NO personal visits. Although nursing home staff strive to provide the support and relationships that elders need, it is a challenge that is frequently beyond their ability, as many are overwhelmed with administrative tasks and providing basic medical care.

Bessie’s Hope was founded in 1994 by Sharron Brandrup, Linda Holloway, and Marge Utne to address this need, and they quickly discovered the power of intergenerational programing. Bessie’s Hope intergenerational programs afford elders an opportunity to participate in meaningful activities, form new relationships and feel connected with the community. In doing so, Bessie’s Hope remains unique as the only organization in the US that proactively brings people of all ages and backgrounds together in this life-transforming way, in work that does have the power to strengthen the very fabric of our society with threads of empathy, compassion and respect.

Today, almost 25 years later, Bessie’s Hope volunteers visit thousands of nursing home and assisted living residents each year. [Learn more about the Intergenerational Programs at Bessie’s Hope] The success of our programs is based on the following:

  • Education and Training – Youth and adult volunteers receive education regarding aging, dementia and nursing home life. Their training includes communication tools, which prepare youth, group leaders, families, adult groups and individual volunteers to have meaningful interaction with elders of all levels of cognitive functioning, including advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Activity Planning – Bessie’s Hope staff guide activity planning to ensure that all activities are age and capability appropriate. Activities are also integrated into the school’s academic curriculum and into the youth group’s objectives.
  • Relationship Building – Because of the structure and frequency of the visits, Bessie’s Hope programs cultivate mutually rewarding relationships between the elders and volunteers of all ages.

We see the successes of these programs every day in the elders that we serve. Loneliness, boredom, and depression are decreased, while self-esteem and social interaction are increased. A report on Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia prepared by the Department of Veterans Affairs sites that intergenerational activities have been linked to increased social behavior. In 2017, 92% of elders of varying cognitive levels reported that Bessie’s Hope volunteers added joy to their lives and helped them feel wanted and important.

“For me, bringing the young and old together like this, is not just a pleasure, it’s a necessity.”
A 96 year-old participant

 

Also, Bessie’s Hope programs have a positive effect on the residents’ physical health. Research proves that providing or receiving kindness increases serotonin (an important “feel-good” hormone that creates a feeling of well-being) levels. When serotonin levels increase, the immune system is strengthened. Participation in pleasurable activities or activities that induce pleasurable memories increase immune system efficiency by releasing endorphins which increase the proliferation of T Cells (the main soldiers of the immune system).

The elders aren’t the only ones who benefit from intergenerational programs created by Bessie’s Hope. Research shows that children need four to six involved, caring adults in their lives to fully develop emotionally and socially. In general, children develop higher self-esteem, better emotional and social skills (including an ability to withstand peer pressure), and can even have better grades in school. The involvement of a reliable, caring adult helps children develop life skills, and builds self-esteem and confidence. One study showed that when a child is mentored by an adult, they are: 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs; 27% less likely to begin using alcohol; and 52% less likely to skip school.

“I love Bessie’s Hope, because the elders tell me to stay in school, and they really care about what I’m doing with my life. They’re like my inspiration.”
A 16-yr old participant from an “at-risk youth program”

 

Children feel special in intergenerational relationships. Children know that being with their Bessie’s Hope “grandpartners” is special. They experience an unconditional type of love that’s not easily found elsewhere. Through sharing in an older adult’s interests, skills, and hobbies, children are introduced to new activities and ideas. Through their life experience, older adults can often bring with them a tremendous amount of patience. Knowledge, skills, and attitudes children pick up from elders tend to stay with them through life more than those picked up from other sources.

Young people become more comfortable with aging when they have many models for adulthood, and older adulthood. This not only helps combat ageist stereotypes [learn more about ageism], but allows children to see a trajectory for the whole of their lives and make connections between what they do and learn now to how they will succeed in the future. Research shows that “planful competence” – the ability to understand the life course and work toward goals – is key to student success in school and in life.

Children aren’t the only learners in our society. Young and old can fulfill the role of student and teacher for each other. Children like to feel needed, and they can share with the elders information about technology, new practices in education, and information on popular culture. Children can also help older people, particularly those facing health challenges or other losses, see the world anew again, through a child’s eyes. Elders have an opportunity to leave a powerful legacy, to make a difference. They can send a message into the future through a young friend. Relationships across generations can fulfill our desire for immortality.

As these relationships grow, the impact can be seen rippling throughout the community with the result being a better quality of life for everyone. Imagine the strength of a community in which all generations support each other. Communities become more than neighbors, but family. And when everyone around us is part of our family, we no longer have to fear that our evolving society will leave anyone behind.

“Show me any social problem and I’ll show you an intergenerational solution,”
Shannon Jarrott, PhD, a professor of social work at Ohio State University.

Therefore, intergenerational programs are not a luxury; they’re a necessity. When we weave all ages into the fabric of our lives, we’re left with a much stronger society.
Bessie’s Hope will continue to stand at the forefront of the Intergenerational Programing movement. Learn more about us on our website and watch for more in our Intergenerational Month series each Wednesday in September.