Archive for July 2010

Will Oprah Embrace Aging? Will you?

Have you ever thought about Aging as a good thing? 

We tend to think about Elderhood as a period of decline and loss, but Dr. Bill Thomas, co-founder of the “Eden Alternative” philosophy of care, has worked for years and all around the world to bring a new message about the gifts of Aging and Elderhood.

Elders and the people who care for them have a voice, but it is often not heard in a culture that values youth, productivity, and physical strength.

Listen to Dr. Thomas and his message for Oprah, then check out the beautiful videos that many ordinary people have posted to YouTube to honor the Elders in their lives! 

Let me know what you think — can we embrace Aging and change the culture of care together?

"It's Just Stress"

It’s time to look more deeply into the very real impact of prolonged or severe stress on our physical and emotional health. If you have been caring for an ill Elder or other loved one, you are especially vulnerable to caregiver stress, which studies show can lead to depression or make you more prone to a range of chronic illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes. Read the rest of this entry »

Mandalas for Elder Caregiver Stress?

by Felipe Venâncio via Flickr

A few years ago I was preparing for surgery, and a therapist colleague suggested I get some Mandala coloring books to color during my recovery.

Mandalas are circular designs, often associated with Hindu or Buddhist meditation, and the designs can be quite intricate.  Once I started looking, I realized that many cultures from around the world have beautiful circular designs connected with their spiritual practices.

I was especially drawn to the more complex designs, and found that I felt serene and my mind seemed to calm while I filled in the tiny spaces with colored pencils, and it was also an easy, no-mess project to set aside if I got tired.

Once back at my caregiver counseling job, I started suggesting the idea to family members who often struggled to find ways to relax during their stressful days.  Several were very intrigued with the idea and immediately recalled long-unused art supplies or neglected coloring books already on-hand.

If you are taking care of an older or ill loved one, or are just looking for a way to calm your mind in the midst of a hectic day, try coloring Mandalas.  You can find the books through your local bookseller, local arts & crafts store, or print some pages online for free at  http://www.coloringcastle.com/mandala_coloring_pages.html

Let me know if this works for you, too!

Young Lady or Wise Elder?

It seems like only yesterday that I had my first real job working with Elders and their families, and started learning the lessons that would lead me into a career that has become my passion. It’s hard to believe that time has passed so quickly, and that I’ve been on this road for almost thirty years, gathering knowledge and expertise in the field of aging and caregiving.

One of the first things I learned was to never “talk down” to an Elder by calling her “Dearie” or “Honey,” or to think of Elders as “cute.”

Imagine my reaction yesterday at a local bistro when the cashier referred to my silver-maned husband as “the young man” and to me as “the young lady!”

It was weird.

And insulting.

I’ve worked really hard for a very long time and taken some hard knocks along the way.  My first reaction was that I don’t want my experience and wisdom invalidated by a patronizing label.

My second reaction, the one that was sort of underneath the first and that I’m ashamed to admit, was my uncomfortable awareness that what the cashier saw before her was my own inexorable aging.

I truly think there is great beauty in the faces of the Elders I know. I love spending hours talking with them, looking them straight in the eye, and listening carefully to their stories.

I don’t know why I’m uncomfortable with what I see reflected in my own mirror; maybe I thought maturity would have a glow about it, a kind of softening that comes with wrinkles and graying hair. Maybe I’m just in that mid-life place where people tell me I look tired even when I’m not, and the mysterious beauty of true Elderhood is still to come.

Either way, I’m not a “young lady” anymore, no matter how you look at it!  I have chosen to embrace my own Aging and to celebrate the gifts that it brings, even as I gather the bumps and bruises, scars and wrinkles of life’s bittersweet journey. 

Above all, I will continue to work toward changing a culture that celebrates youth to the exclusion of Elderhood, and I will never call an Elder “young lady.”

Lisa Kendall is a clinical social worker specializing in gerontology, and is an Eden at Home Educator committed to changing the culture of care for Elders and their care partners.  You can learn more about Eden at Home and the Eden Alternative at www.edenalt.org.

Stormy Weather

A lady at the garage told me there was a tornado warning in our area this morning, a rare thing in Ithaca.  I couldn’t confirm it, although we are expecting thunderstorms this afternoon.  It reminded me of another July day several years ago when a summer storm took down about a third of the huge, beautiful maple tree that graces our side yard, breaking our hearts, but thankfully, not our cars or our necks.

The same storm had blown over a favorite flowering tree in a neighbor’s farmyard.  She and her husband had lived on their property their entire married life, raising cows, pigs, children, and grandchildren.  Now Jean* was the full-time caregiver for Bob,* whose stroke left him in bed and unable to care for himself.

Whenever I visited, Jean lamented the loss of her tree, talking about how strong it had been, how tall, how sturdy.  She just couldn’t believe it was gone, uprooted by the summer wind.  Her grief for the tree continued; she mentioned it every time I called, and seemed unable to get over it.

Jean was a doting wife and meticulous care partner for Bob, and it was clear she was as madly in love with him as the day she met and married him.  Bob was often confused, but always liked to flirt with female visitors, and in his occasional confusion would tell me that he’d been out cutting wood that day, or tending to the pigs.  In his mind he was as strong and as busy as ever. 

One day I watched Bob lying in his bed and Jean hovering over him, adjusting his blankets and teasing him. 

It was in that moment that I realized I was looking at the Great Tree on the farm, the one that had been felled, and for whom Jean was grieving in the deepest, most hidden part of her heart.

*All names and identifying details in this story have been changed to protect privacy.  Lisa Kendall is a clinical social worker who works with Elders and their Care Partners, and is an Eden at Home Educator.

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