Tag Archives: Death and Dying

Finding sensitive and appropriate ways to include this .topic in everyday conversation.

The Sanctity Of Consciousness

ideas-from-the-trenches-open-mindIs she there?  Who can say where there is?  What are the consequences if we get it wrong?

A recent CBC Ideas podcast – Open Minds explores these questions,  and challenges widely-held assumptions about the nature of consciousness.  Even if a person with a traumatic brain injury does not respond to an MRI scan, she may in fact be conscious on another level.  The researchers have found that intensive behavioural assessments at the bedside, actively involving family and friends, reveal activity not detected by the machines.

Unfortunately, the results of MRI scans are often used to justify critical decisions.  For instance, the person is labeled “vegetative,” and shuttled off to a long-term care facility, where there is little or no chance of recovery.  In the worst case, there can be pressure to harvest the organs, as a gift to people who still have the possibility of a “useful” life before them.  So it’s really important to make the best possible diagnosis before making any decisions, especially irreversible ones!

One surprising aspect of the research is the development of 2-way MRI processes that enable the subject to respond to simple questions with MRI signals.  This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for communicating and building relationships with people who were previously thought to be “brain dead.”

The podcast concludes with a discussion about the “philosophy of disability” – the practice of thinking through issues without giving privilege to able-minded or able-bodied perspective. Lots of breakthrough possibilities!

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Why Do We Have So Many Nursing Homes?

Donald Street residents, Barrie ON

Donald Street residents, Barrie ON                     (Camphill Communities Ontario)

A recent paper published in the USA reviews several decades of research that proves the benefits of living in small-scale community settings. (Community Living and Participation for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: What the Research Tells Us)  The studies show conclusively that adults with developmental disability have much better life outcomes when they have choice about where they live and what they like to do.  They are also more likely to become full participants and net contributors to the life of their wider community.  For these reasons, large-scale institutions are pretty much a thing of the past.

Waiting for... ???

Waiting for… ???

The same case could be – and has been – made for our elders.  Yes, they often need more care and support as they get older, but that in itself is not a case for institutionalization.  Lack of mobility, a communication disability or frail health do not reduce a person’s value!  (Physicist Stephen Hawking comes to mind as an example.)  We do great harm to society when we park these folks in “nursing homes,”  but this is now done as a matter of course.

Why do we welcome people with developmental disabilities with open arms – and shun our elders?  Are we being driven by fears – by denial of our own mortality? Out of sight, out of mind?  No, let us SEE more of our elders, and welcome them back into our minds.