Thursday, 20 August 2015

Dementia Village

It's interesting to look at how other countries look after their elderly. I am fascinated by places that 'go the extra mile' and customize situations to meet individual needs in a unique way. I recently saw a  news piece on something called Dementia Village in Amsterdam. It is a true 'village' for people with dementia, without an institutional feel. There is a grocery store, hairdresser, restaurant and other amenities that  motivate residents to stay active and participate in life. There is a huge staff to resident ratio and all are trained to manage dementia. The living space is very home like and people are grouped with others who share similar interests. It is an absolutely phenomenal approach to Alzheimer's care and one that should very much be used as an example around the world.

In Ontario there are some retirement homes that have memory floors for people with dementia. They will often have items that people with short term memory loss can interact with. Things like a baby carriage and dolls. I have seen women residents carry around the dolls and push the carriages recalling a time when they had young children. There may be rooms with a calming environment to help people cope with agitation that is sometimes present. This however is not something I have seen in Long-Term Care where the majority of people with dementia end up. Homes that have these special customized floors are often private settings where the cost can be substantial so many on basic pensions cannot access the care and are left with the only other option - nursing homes.

With our growing population of seniors, it is quite obvious that we will also have a growing population of people with cognitive impairment. We, as a society, need to find innovative ways to provide care in the coming years or we may end up with many falling through the cracks in terrible living situations. Easier said than done though. Something like this would involved tremendous planning and money and most importantly, buy-in from government bodies willing to look at options for meeting the needs of the vulnerable in our society.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Fountain of Youth

Today I read a news piece about a woman who just turned 105! Best of all she is well and volunteers at her local hospital. Despite having good genes - likely a prerequisite to living so long and healthy - it seems to me that she has somehow figured the secret to staying 'young' and vibrant.

Whenever you hear about people reaching 100 or more, the question the interviewer always asks is: what is your secret to longevity? The most common answer given seems to always have to do with healthy living (though sometimes its 'a drink a day') but,  maybe it's more than that. Perhaps it's a mix of many things - one part genes for sure, one part healthy living, one part healthy attitude and probably several other factors as well. But assuming things we can't control - like our genes - what makes the difference between ageing well and not ageing well?

Ageing is inevitable and is far better than the alternative, but it seems like many are searching for the 'fountain of youth'. Maybe that fountain is in our heads........ What keeps you young and what makes you feel old? Is it true that you are only as old as you feel? Does an ageing body always necessitate an ageing attitude?

I met someone recently who never tells anyone her birth year - she says it creates restrictions on what she can do if people know her age! She doesn't feel her age and with her attitude, simply doesn't look her age either.

I think that seniors of today are in fact 'younger'  in spirit and likely healthier than seniors of the past - many work well past traditional retirement or volunteer for many years after retirement. Many travel and have hobbies. Many exercise and worry about healthy eating. They aren't defining their abilities by the number on their birth certificate. It's about attitude, feeling vibrant and useful and a willingness to learn. Could this be the real fountain of youth?

Friday, 7 August 2015

Elder Orphans

In my years as a hospital social worker, some of the most heartbreaking cases involved people who did not have families. It was especially difficult if demenita and relocation was involved. The memory of some will stay with me forever. Those without families are by necessity, fiercely independent and understandably often have trouble accepting  and organizing help.

So, it is with great interest that I read articles about 'Elder Orphans' of the future. This is a term now used for people without children in their later years. It is expected that anywhere from 20 - 25% of our current boomers will be in this category when they reach old age. Family seem to provide a great deal of 'caregiving' in studies that are done - I read one that said in the USA its is approximated that 70% of caregiving is done by families currently. With less people having children and less children per family, the issue of caregiving is sure to impact the seniors of the future in a big way.

That being said, all social workers have encountered families that are either unable, unwilling or incapable of helping with caregiving and decision making so having children is not a guarantee that you will not encounter issues in the future.

So, I wonder - how can we ensure that we are not among the group that end up relying on strangers to make decisions for us and arrange our care? I don't really know if there is a clear answer yet. There is nothing like human contact and concern from someone who knows and loves you.  I suppose planning ahead is the key to reducing the chances of having to rely on 'the government' or strangers for care. Creativity and innovation in terms of sharing & providing care might become a necessity. My advice to everyone: plan for old age whether or not you have children. This would apply to finances as well as care. Are there people you trust that you would give your Powers of Attorney to? Consider Long Term Care Insurance if you are concerned that you won't be able to afford care in your old age. As you get older but are still healthy, look into non-traditional seniors housing - in the next 20 years I am certain that we will see a rise in co-housing structures, innovative retirement care and different care at home models. It's never a good idea to wait for a crisis. The healthier you are when you make decisions, the more likely you will have choice and can guide your own destiny.