Phoebe, younger and older
I have been living at Hesperus Village for several years now, and have heard many stories from older people about their youth and adult life. Although there may be regrets and a touch of sadness, there is usually an overriding feeling of warmth and gratitude for all their life experiences and special human relationships. For instance, I remember Phoebe speaking about her participation in the groundbreaking work of the brain surgeon Wilder Penfield, and how happy she was to have had this opportunity. Her expression in the photo above captures something of this highly refined emotion. (Watch the Hesperus video for some other stories. If you don’t have time for the whole 12 minutes, tune in for the conclusion at the 10-minute mark.)
It is for this reason that at Hesperus we sometimes speak of the fulfillment of old age. Aging is not an illness or a disease, but a ripening process with wonderful fruits. Expressions like aging with grace, dignity, success and so on, are well-intentioned, but stigmatizing. Let’s just call it AGING!
If we would just take a little time and listen to the old folks, we might discover that aging isn’t so bad after all – We might even learn…
KITCHEN INVASION – photo by Nicole Doray
OK, but what do you DO about cognitive decline?
It’s all well and good to talk about healthy aging and so on. But how do we create the conditions where this can actually happen? The recent Cook Look Eat event at Hesperus provided some inspiring lessons.
- Strong, healthy sense IMPRESSIONS – so many invigorating tastes and smells
- Renewing LOVING INTEREST in our immediate natural environment – have you ever contemplated a love-age plant?
- FINDING FRIENDS – old and new – around the kitchen table
Kudos to the amazing foodie impressario Caryn Colman for weaving her magic.
With many thanks to event partners hesperus village and seeds for change.
RECIPE FOR COGNITIVE ASCENT – photo by Nicole Doray
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
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?
In partnership with United Way Toronto, PEPSO recently published The Precarity Penalty: Employment Precarity’s Impact on Individuals, Families and Communities and What to do about It. People are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, even when working several jobs. The researchers make the case that conventional employment statistics only tell part of the story. Even when the economy “strengthens,” large segments of the workforce continue to struggle.
A team of researchers at York University have recently published a paper that explores employment precarity in a specific sector: Liminality in Ontario’s long-term care facilities: Private companions’ care work in the space ‘betwixt and between‘. Government regulations and labour standards cover much of the work done in the Long Term Care sector, but there is a growing demand for paid “companions” – people hired by families to care for loved ones at risk of neglect. In many cases, these arrangements work very well. However, the researchers make the case that the employment situation of many (if not most) of the companions is precarious, and that the current system is simply not sustainable.
Reading these reports, I learned that “liminality” is no longer something we observe only at the edges of our society. More and more people with professional training and a strong work ethic are being pushed down and exploited. So the question arises: How do we demonstrate to employers – institutional and private – the benefits of returning to fair and stable employment practices?
The truth is long overdue. Now comes the hard part: reconciliation.
Posted on the Globe website, June 1: It has spent five years gathering testimony from 7,000 survivors about the abuses they suffered in residential schools. Now, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is about to release its report on Tuesday and recommend how to heal Canada’s relationship with indigenous people. Here’s what you should know about it. Link to post