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… ???
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.
Joyce Elming, 83
In a recent series of three articles, Lisa Queen describes many of the ups and downs – the highs and lows – of growing old in York Region. (See links at the end of this post.) It is remarkable how much dedicated effort, ingenuity and heartfelt concern can be found in all corners of our region. There are indeed many hands hard at work.
It is also apparent, however, that seniors’ isolation is growing, and reported cases of elder abuse are becoming more frequent. In spite of strenuous efforts, things don’t seem to be improving for many folks. What’s missing?
One could say that the psycho-social fabric of community is breaking down. Traditional networks of social fellowship and mutuality are disappearing and being replaced by a confusing array of programs and services. Of course, the service providers do the best they can, but it is really difficult to cope with the growing burden of complex policies and regulations. The human relationships just get lost in the shuffle.
The best way to get things back on track is to become stronger advocates for community living. Of course we should help folks stay in their private homes if that works for them, but we should also be helping them to consider options – communities like Hesperus Village for instance, Peer support goes along way to reducing the need for expensive funded services – and restores the magic healing power of human contact.
York Region senior population to increase 148% over 2 decades
York Region senior citizens face highs, lows of aging
York Region senior caregivers share ups, downs
This recent article by Jo Snyder (Wellesley Institute) really got me thinking.
The Healthy Torontonian: Unanswered Questions on Public Perceptions of What Causes Poor Health in the GTA
Many of us have been brought up with the belief that good health is fundamentally a personal responsibility. If we make good choices with diet, exercise and sleep habits, we are much less likely to get sick. However, the research cited in the article paints a different picture. We learn that socioeconomic factors (e.g. income levels, working conditions, physical environment…) account for lfifty percent of health outcomes. Large, growing segments of the population are suffering bad health as a result of factors that are beyond their control.
Conclusion: If we invested more time and money in community care, we would need to spend much less on health care.
In recent weeks I have been doing research about the the growing number of senior citizens who are ‘isolated and disconnected from their communities. It is difficult to identify direct causes ; the problem is systemic. The psychosocial fabric of our communities is weakening, and vulnerable people are simply being left out. This serious situation is getting more attention and there are many efforts to remedy the situation (e.g. the recent Request For Proposals from the federal New Horizons Program).
However, two recent news stories highlight well-intentioned projects that are actually creating more problems, at least in the short term.
Seniors being evicted as renovation looms at Unionville’s Heritage Village. The good news is that lots of new units of affordable housing for seniors are coming on stream. The bad news is that 110 vulnerable tenants are being evicted, and the new units will not be onstream until 2020. I am sure that every effort will be made to help the tenants make a transition. However, I am concerned that planners – even those who are dedicated to housing vulnerable people – underestimate the effects of shocks like this. Surely we can do better.
State of the art Alzheimer’s facility in Toronto lacks money, patients. This building with all the latest bells and whistles was opened with fanfare 18 months ago. The story goes into detail about the lack of transparency (competence?) in management and governance matters. There is also the all-to-familiar cry from a failed CEO for a fat payout. The real story for me, however, is what is NOT said. What has life been like for residents during these 18 months of confusion? What is the quality of care now, when the building is up for sale? How do the families feel?
When will we ever learn that buildings and technology are only a part – and not the heart – of the solution?
There has been an enthusiastic response to the recent launch of Toronto’s new poverty strategy. Of particular interest is the fact that people living in poverty were invited to participate and help to shape the recommendations. Here is a quote from a recent tweet by Alejandra Bravo of the Maytree Foundation:
At its foundation is the notion that every community member, including those living in poverty, should be able to shape processes that impact their lives. To develop the strategy, the City of Toronto and United Way Toronto created an approach that recruited, trained and deployed community animators in the city-wide consultation process.
I am a big fan of person-centred or self-directed initiatives. It makes alot of sense to include the affected folks right from the beginning and to work through the issues together. This way, we are much more likely to get good outcomes.
More work is still needed in order to fill the seats on the other side of the table. Why should employers and landlords pay any attention? Could the strategy be improved if they were more directly involved?
NEW PROJECT SEEKS TO REDUCE POETRY IN WATERLOO REGION
This headline almost appeared in the announcement for a major POVERTY-reduction project.(Someone caught the typo at the last moment.) Sherri Torjman, one of the organizers, had this to say about the slip-up:
Reducing poetry would not have advanced the poverty agenda. In fact, it would have had quite the opposite effect. The community would have been far less rich, both culturally and emotionally. Reducing poverty and enhancing poetry actually go hand in hand.
Torjman developed this argument more fully in the keynote address for the closing session of Reclaiming Our Humanity Together at the National Poverty Reduction Summit, hosted by the Tamarack Institute in Ottawa on May 6-8, 2015. She gives many illustrated examples of projects that succeed because they engage many people deeply, She concludes:
We reduce poverty through proven policy interventions. Decent affordable housing. High-quality education and training. Good jobs and adequate income security.’
We reclaim our humanity when we add poetry. Voices. Soul. And above all, dignity and respect for every human being.