Quality of Life for the Elderly
- The Eden Alternative: Improving the lives of the Elders and their Care partners
"An Elder-centered community honors its Elders by de-emphasizing top-down bureaucratic authority, seeking instead to place the maximum possible decision-making authority into the hands of the Elders or into the hands of those closest to them."
When the elderly could no longer care for themselves, they used to end up in a long-term care facility to await death. A paradigm shift is slowly taking place as the focus is changing to caring for the individual in enabling quality of life rather than just providing basic care till death. People are living longer and the expectations of old age are much different than 20-30 years ago. They are no longer willing to settle for having only their physical needs met, but require a more holistic approach.
Most people are taking more responsibility over their personal health and well-being. Research has shown that keeping the mind and body active gives people a quality of life, even as they get older. The government has changed the age of retirement so many seniors continue working, some out of necessity and others out of a choice to continue doing what they love. With vast amounts of information available via the Internet, people feel more empowered to make informed decisions about their life choices and refuse to settle for what used to be the “expected” progression of aging.
My mother’s main concern in getting older was that she wanted her mind to stay alert. In her mid-70’s she learned how to use the computer. It was amazing how quickly she mastered the skills needed to send and receive emails or chat on Messenger, even though she used only one or two fingers to type. It opened up a whole new world to her and gave her a social network that would not have been possible before; it gave her a way to stay in touch with her children and grandchildren all around the world.
A few years later she moved into a long-term care facility. The computer was her life-line as she learned how to use Facebook and started interacting with friends and family in a new way. She learned how to do Google searches whenever information was needed. This resource was particularly helpful when she took over the task of care-giver to the finches in the home. She found out how to provide proper care, raise baby finches, etc.—and it wasn’t long before they had some to sell! She has a quality of life, an activity that gives her purpose, a network of friends and family to give her a sense of connection to the world. There is no longer a need to feel isolated and alone as once was the case when people moved into a care facility where they felt abandoned and forgotten.
There is a new initiative taking place where she lives called Eden Alternative and she became the resident representative, providing input to the committee overseeing these changes. This initiative is being implemented in stages and follows the guidelines of the Eden Alternative philosophy. This organization was started in 1991 by Dr. William Thomas, a Harvard-educated physician and board-certified geriatrician. They are “dedicated to eliminating the plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom that make life intolerable in most of today’s long-term care facilities.” Their goal is to shift the control over one’s own life back into the hands of the individual rather than from top-down decision-makers who know “what is best.”
Whether long-term care facilities adopt the Eden Alternative philosophy or another one like it, this change of focus must happen. As more and more baby boomers become elderly, there will be a demand for a more holistic approach to care including pets, gardens, interaction with children and continued learning. Some facilities are creatively sharing space with a preschool or kindergarten enabling interaction between the two ages. Larger institutions who for financial reasons can not do extensive renovations, smaller feasible changes are being made such as creating smaller neighborhoods of 10-15 residents where they share a smaller dining room and lounge. They have access to a small kitchen for coffee or tea and snacks. Through grant programs, computers with Internet access is available for residents to communicate with friends and family. Visionaries are beginning to realize that thinking outside the box is a necessity to meeting the social, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs of the elderly as they seek to continue living the best kind of life they can with whatever ability they have.
Changing the focus to the living of life and away from illness and death alone improves a person’s quality of life. The places that have made these changes notice that a person who is enabled to stay active and involved in real-life situations experiences improved health and regains an interest in what is going on around them. The elderly have so much knowledge and expertise to share with the world that it seems a shame that it often does not get shared with the younger generation. With proper care they can continue to interact with others and live a fulfilling life. Through the medium of the Internet they can also teach and mentor others in many meaningful ways.
Just as my mother, who now has an opportunity to share her life with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, others can have an impact on their own world in whatever way they choose. If they are a writer, they can write down their stories and share them with others (perhaps even through HubPages!) If they are interested in continued learning, they can sign up for free online courses offered to seniors. The elderly may not have the physical stamina or the health that they once did, but they have much to share with the world and we need to honor them by providing a quality of life that shows they are valued and cared for. Always remember, one day that will be you—choose now how you want to live when you are old.