Replacing “Eldercare” with “Eldership”

A few months ago I was invited to talk about AgeSong for a film that is being produced. Following are interview questions and my responses.

What is the primary difference between AgeSong and other assisted living communities?

Individuals are not their diagnosis. AgeSong moves from “assisted” to “community living,” from “eldercare” to “eldership,” replacing medical labels, such as Alzheimers and Dementia, with “forgetfulness” and generally accepted assisted living terminology, such as “activities” with “meaningful engagement” and “quality of life at any age, stage, cultural background, or ability.”

 What is your personal view of aging?

Aging is an antedated term. An individual can be an elder at any age. The importance of this view of aging hit home for me when my granddaughter died at the age of four years, 11 months. She was a true elder, living in the present, preferring to be outside, in the garden, dropping stones one by one to hear them ping, opening and closing the window blinds to see changing light patterns. Olivia, born with neurological challenges, was slower than other children in traditional developmental stages of childhood, but she enjoyed life fully. Like Andy Goldsworthy, the famous British sculptor and founder of modern “Rock Balancing,” she was brilliant in touch, sound, taste, and sight, though not in the usual child development stages, such as walking to running, bicycle riding, or climbing.

How was your granddaughter like the elders with whom you work?

In many ways, Olivia was like the elders with whom I interact every day, moving cautiously, because her eyesight was different from that of most children. Like a particular elder who has lived in AgeSong’s communities for over 20 years, Olivia needed to be changed every couple hours. But like AgeSong’s a respected community member, who is now in her 60s, this daily living need for help did not take away from Olivia’s full participation in life. I learned from both Olivia and from AgeSong’s elders how to listen and be present, rather than being tied to my computer and need for daily accomplishment.

I’ve heard memory loss compared to meditation. Could you tell me about that?

My yoga teacher said her mother, who had been an author running around the country on book tours, became much happier and relaxed when she slowed down after she developed rapidly increasing memory loss. Nader Shabahangi, AgeSong’s founder and CEO, compares memory loss to meditation, a state in which one doesn’t think about about the future and all the things one needs to get done, but rather allows oneself to experience a more peaceful state. He says that we start forgetting from the moment we are born and that we can aspire to, not fear, changes in memory.

What interests AgeSong community members?

Elders love children, music, and sharing stories about their lives with folks who like to listen to their stories – staff, Gerowellness interns (MFT and other therapists in training), volunteers, family members, and international visitors. They come from a variety of backgrounds and enjoy celebrating multicultural holidays and learning about different spiritual beliefs. They enjoy exercising to music in the morning, taking daily walks around the picturesque Oakland neighborhood, and dancing (whether standing or sitting) to their favorite music. Each community members also has his/her own special interests.

Why do you work with Elders?

Formerly AgeSong’s Regional Director of Engagement and Education, I now prefer to serve as a consultant, spending time socializing with community members and their families and friends and providing experiences in which they can gain self-respect and be respected by others. As a member of the same generation as many AgeSong elders, I have similar tastes in music – opera, classical, jazz, blues, folk. I turn to elders in the community to learn patience, self-acceptance, quietude, compassion, and other “Eldership” attributes.

I work with community members to learn how “to be an Elder,” rather than “to care for” Elders. Care is mutual. We learn from each other. I facilitate Elders Academy and provide training programs in which participants explore Eldership as a state to aspire to, rather than fear. I teach others in order to learn about being an Elder, myself.

About

Dr. Sally Gelardin is a Career and Life Transitions Educator. As former Regional Director of Engagement and Education for AgeSong’s elder communities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Career Planning and Adult Development Career Coach, she writes articles for industry and public media and designs training programs for paid and family “care partners” (alternative ways of viewing “caregivers”), volunteers, and community members on how to serve elders and how to be an elder. Dr. Gelardin presents on innovative approaches to public health, psychology, entrepreneurship and leadership. For more information, contact sgelardin@gmail.com and view sallygelardin.com.

NOW is the time for the Senior Living Industry to get better!

Following is a response to Senior Housing Forum  6/7/17 post, “The Senior Living Industry Is A Disaster And Will Never Get Better.”  Steve Moran, publisher,  brought up several commonly held views of senior living that are addressed in this article.

  • Owners and operators are greedy.
  • Companies don’t really care about residents, or family members.
  • Nobody is willing to change.
  • The industry is too expensive.

 

Owners and operators are greedy. Companies don’t really care about residents, or family members.

Owners and operators are like everyone else.  They care about residents and family members. Some just don’t know how to demonstrate their care, and at the same time, remain solvent and build their public and/or private business.

“Care” is based on the same roots as “career” – “carros,” or “karros,” a word in many languages that mean “wagon” or “wagonload.” Owners and operators are carrying a heavy weight in a cart that bounces along a rocky road, not knowing exactly where they are going.

The senior living industry a tough industry, in which people who live in the communities are physically declining and dying. Many owners and operators work in the industry for personal reasons, such as having cared for  a parent or close friend or having experienced working in various positions with residents in an assisted living or nursing community. As a result, they want to improve the quality of care for community members.

According to Nader Shabahangi, founder and CEO of  AgeSong’s elder communities for over 20 years:

At one point, the senior living industry only saw its role as one that assisted elders with basic living needs, not to help them live in meaningful communities that provide continued integration of elders in and with society. The former approach often led to the valid criticism of senior care providers ‘warehousing’ elders.  This warehousing criticism was based on an overall simplistic approach to eldercare which led to large profit margins in the industry. Now developers and operators have a difficult time to let go of such margins. But in order to provide more sophisticated and intelligent care, more professionals in social work, psychology and other human services need to be employed, all people who cost more.*

 Nobody is willing to change.

Like most of us,  many senior living owners and operators don’t know how to change. The senior living industry, like other industries in the 21st Century, is in constant flux, because so much new information is coming in every day. In order for decisions to be made, information needs to be absorbed, digested, and shared. Owners and operators need to be ready to try different solutions and be open to changing a decision if a better solution comes along.

We all, including owners and operators, need to change the way we view terminology, such as “care” and “caregiving.” If we change the meaning of “caregiving” to “care partnering,” where owners, operators, family members, staff, and residents learn from each other, instead of of “caring for” residents, then we have a whole new approach to the senior living industry.

If we change the term “residents” to “community members,” then we equalize the playing field.  Community members are like everyone else, including owners and operators.  They happen to have one or more disability that requires assistance.  Who doesn’t have one or more disability that requires assistance? How many owners and operators know how to operate the technology used in their communities? How many owners and operators make all their own meals? We all need care and we all have varying abilities!

When we see something we like or dislike about another person, we have that quality in ourselves. We see community members who are depressed, afraid of declining and eventually dying.  Are we afraid of getting older? losing some of our memory and/or physical ability? Dying? The more we communicate meaningfully with community members, the more we learn about ourselves. All levels of employees need to be engaging with community and family members throughout each day.

Committed assisted living community staff and management often experience burnout, working long hours for low pay compared to other industries. According to Nader, “The carepartners, who belong to the lowest paid people in the United States – yet are asked with helping our elders (one time that will be you) in most intimate and relational ways – are tired of working two and sometimes three jobs to make ends meet.”

What if management, staff members and volunteers identify what they love to do and then explore how they can use their passions to fill a need in society, as advocated by Richard Bolles, whose career book, What Color is Your Parachute?, has sold 10 million copies all over the world?

What if they first experience a self-assessment of their motivated skills through a Knowdell card sort,  (physically arranged the cards, rather than taking a paper and pencil assessment), and then apply their motivated skills to meet the perceived needs and preferences of community members in a way they could provide quality services for community and family members? For example, if a staff member or volunteer likes to write, she could interview community members and transcribe interviews for Pen Pal letters to elders in other assisted living communities.  If an executive director has language teaching skills, he could conduct a staff English speaking session once a week.

What if we changed the way we view elders?

Nader says:

The profit margins of yesterday belong to an outdated concept of who are our elders: not useless members of society but rather highly mature, experienced as well as knowledgable people whose wisdom must be used to steer this planet and people in more sensible directions, whose experience can maintain certain ethical and rational standards of sustainability for both civil conduct and care of our planet.*

For many years, at AgeSong’s elder communities, members of the community, at any age, stage or ability, have been invited to join “Elders Academy,” and to participate in groups together. The groups are often led by community members.  Individuals, who happen to have Parkinson’s, memory loss, aphasia, and other physical, emotional, or mental challenges, speak up, dance, sing, play music, have political, psychological, and philosophical discussions, and support each other. They are “meaningfully engaged,” rather that just “entertained” by professional entertainers.

Instead of dressing up the community for visits by current or prospective family members and state licensing representatives, management and staff members invite visitors to participate in the community. At AgeSong’s WoodPark community in Oakland, the daughter of a community member brought in a sewing box to engage her mother, who is deep into memory loss, with recollections about sewing, a hobby that her mother enjoyed in the past. The mother-daughter pair is joined by others who have interest in sewing. A family member led a men’s group. Family members play the piano and sing with community members. They hold birthday parties for their loved ones and invite members of the community to participate. Members of the community entertain their fellow elders playing the piano and singing familiar tunes. All management staff lead groups and walk the floors several times a day to engage with room-bound folk, as well as others who are roaming around the community or sitting in isolation in a public room. A “Family Connect” email is sent out weekly.  Quarterly “Champagne Brunches” are held for families and friends with their loved ones. Volunteers and entertainers return frequently because they are having such a good time with community members.

In addition to the basic required assisted living skills, line staff and management staff, along with community members, family and friends, volunteers, and visitors, are trained to apply concepts collectively developed by AgeSong management staff, such as the following:

• Providing Meaningful Engagement with Individuals of a wide range of Ages, Stages, Forgetfulness, & Abilities

• Finding Meaning in “Challenging Behaviors”

• Seeking to Understand, rather than Control

• Recognizing Mental and Physical Interconnectedness

• Celebrating a Variety of Spiritual Beliefs

• “Getting to Know” New Community Members

• “Learning From,” as well as “Providing Care For,” Elders

• Celebrating the Cultural Heritage of Community Members, Staff, and Visitors

 The industry is too expensive.

Why not design services and products that cut down industry costs and yet enhance quality of life? The time spent by care partners in providing basic living skills could be changed to “quality time.” Brushing hair could be a “beauty parlor” activity.  Showering could be a “spa” event.  Dressing  could be the “Queen’s Dressing Table.”

Changing adult briefs every two hours takes much too much staff time, energy, and financial resources.  How about changing how we view this unpleasant task to “Groom of the Stool?”  Ben Franklin invented the flexible catheter for his brother in 1752. How about using urinary or other type of catheters?

Summary

Most of today’s senior living community owners and operators are not greedy. They passionately care about the folks who live in their elder communities (https://www.argentum.org/magazine-articles/making-senior-living-career-lifetime/) and are willing to change. Like most of us,  many owners and operators just don’t know how to change, and at the same time stay within budget and make a profit. We all need to expand our vision of who elders are and how to both fill the needs of others and work with passion.

Nader says:

Elders are a resource, not a liability. Aging allows us to mature, not to decline. This shift in attitude towards our elders and anyone being older than what is considered young (and has that not moved to a younger and younger age with teenagers now being used in marketing and on billboards everywhere?!) – this shift, indeed, is the challenge ahead of us? Senior care providers can either help or obstruct the much needed attitudinal change towards valuing our more mature members of society.*

Companies really care about members of their community, staff, and family members. The industry is too expensive for most folk. There is a need to create products and services that keep costs down and keep improving quality.

NOW is the time for the Senior Living Industry to get better!

 

 Bio

Dr. Sally Gelardin is an Elder Community Consultant.  As former Regional Director of Engagement and Education for AgeSong’s elder communities throughout the San Francisco Bay area, Career Planning and Adult Development Career Coach, and Career and Life Transitions Educator, she writes articles for industry and public media and designs training programs for paid and family “care partners” (alternative way of viewing “caregivers”), volunteers,  and community members on how to serve elders and how to be an elder. For more information, contact sgelardin@gmail.com and view sallygelardin.com.

References

Adler, J. Making Senior Living the Career of a Lifetime. Retrieved June 9, 2017: https://www.argentum.org/magazine-articles/making-senior-living-career-lifetime/

Bolles, R. Why Pursuing Your Dream is Still Important. Retrieved June 9, 2017: http://www.jobhuntersbible.com/articles/view/why-pursuing-your-dream-is-still-important?

Career Planner.  How To Use the Knowdell Motivated Skills Card Sort. Retrieved June 9, 2017: https://www.careerplanner.com/Video/Knowdell-Motivated-Skills-Video.cfm

Fuller, J. Top 10 Ben Franklin Inventions: Urinary Catheter. Retrieved June 9, 2017: http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/famous-inventors/10-ben-franklin-inventions1.htm

Moran, S. The Senior Living Industry Is A Disaster And Will Never Get Better. June 7, 2017. Retrieved June 9, 2017: https://www.seniorhousingforum.net/blog/2017/6/7/senior-living-industry-disaster-and-will-never-get-better?pmc=MC&MyID=sal%40gelardin.net.

*Shabahangi, N.  Reflections on Eldercare Today and In the Future. Retrieved June, 7, 2017.   http://agesong.com/today/18204/reflections-eldercare-today-future.

Zarralli, N. It Was Once Someone’s Job to Chat with the King While He Used the Toilet. April 6, 2017.  Retrieved June 9, 2017: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/king-toilet-attendant-england

AgeSong WoodPark Jan/Feb 2017 Newsletter

The January/February issue of the AgeSong WoodPark Newsletter is out!

In this recent issue AgeSong Founder articulates the condolences from the residents of WoodPark to the families of those lost in the Ghost Ship artist colony fire. New GeroWellness Groups are going to be forming, input appreciated. There is a new program to be facilitated by the GeroWellness interns and 3 local classrooms – in this group students and elders will work together to create a Memory Book. Also in January and February AgeSong at WoodPark is addressing intergenerational needs with a new program on Meaningful Based Relationship (MBR) facilitated by Dr Nader Shabahangi, PhD, CEO and Founder of AgeSong, and Dr Bryan Ricks, MD. Also shared in this issue is a look back at what was new at WoodPark in 2016.

Check out this issue below or find it on the AgeSong WoodPark webpage.

Click the image to download the WoodPark Newsletter.

Click the image to download the WoodPark Newsletter.

 

Musical Holiday Celebration at WoodPark With a Performance by The Linwood Project Choir

Happy Holidays at WoodPark: A Holiday Celebration Featuring the Linwood Project Choir

Linwood Project Choir entertained WoodPark residents, family, friends, & team members with Christmas songs on Dec 11th. We all had a wonderful time and sang along with a few of the carols ending in a beautiful & fun rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas!”. Delicious holiday treats were served after the program.

AgeSong WoodPark November/December 2016 Newsletter

The latest WoodPark Newsletter is out! Read the recent news, stories and about the upcoming events at the communities.

Included in this most recent edition of the WoodPark Newsletter are greetings from Sandra Mirasol, the Executive Director, and an featured article on diversity and the different ways different people are “smart.” Also meet October Elder of the Month, Joan and September Elder of the Month, James. Find out about Upcoming Events at WoodPark and the newest upcoming Intern Groups: A Women’s Group and the Welcome Group who are meeting to work on a new welcome protocol for new residents.

Check out the AgeSong WoodPark November/December 2016 Newsletter!

AgeSong WoodPark November December 2016 Newsletter

Click to download the November/December Newsletter

AgeSong at WoodPark Celebrates the Arts

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AgeSong at WoodPark celebrates the Arts with leading Bay area musicians, theater performers, and artists.  Upcoming musical groups include Linwood Project Community Chorus and Anything Goes Chorus. Recent participatory musical performances include Hitsville Soul Sisters and Traditional Chinese Music with LuAnn and Friends. Recent participatory theater performances include StageBridge, the first theater group in the country featuring elder actors.

AgeSong Communities are Culture Hopping

AGESONG AT HAYES/LAGUNA

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Twenty-one rapt listeners, including community members, staff, care partner, volunteer, and family members, enjoyed a SF Conservatory of Music mezzo-soprano and pianist Sunday, October 23 at AgeSong’s Laguna Terrace.

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 Back at the Hayes/Laguna communities, others were enjoying the sports on tv and Sunday afternoon movies.  In the morning, folks enjoyed exercise and a tea ceremony in the Forget-Me-Not Cafe. Freedom to be….and to engage at all the AgeSong communities!

AGESONG AT HAYES/LAGUNA & UNIVERSITY

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At the same time as the  SF Conservatory of Music recital , another group of elders, from both AgeSong at Hayes/Laguna and AgeSong University, some of whom were contributing artists, attended the Art for Elders annual art exhibit.

AGESONG AT WOODPARK

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The day before, AgeSong at WoodPark elders were mesmerized by Chinese traditional music played by high school student Lu Wang and friends, who also displayed their talent in sketching community members.

It was a “Cultural Hopping” weekend for the AgeSong’s elder communities.

 

 

AgeSong Celebrates 20 Years!

 

img_0552AgeSong celebrated their 20th Anniversary on October 19th on AgeSong’s lovely Laguna Terrace. Sam Peoples and Lynne Billig performed amazing jazz for the 20th Anniversary celebration. Delectable appetizers and beverages were served to community members, families and friends, and staff.

 

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The Dog Whisperer

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Edgar, a WoodPark new community member, likes dogs.  His niece brought Brownie today to visit with WoodPark elders.

Question posed to elders: Did you have a dog?

James: Fido, like Brownie

Luis:  Brownie, ordinary

Anitita:  Star, bit daddy’s hand

John: Ponzo, Pekenese

Sally:  Tiny, Toy Fox Terrier

Brownie stands up for treats and cookies. He also dances. Brownie was a Rescue Dog – adopted from a shelter.  He looks life a mix between a collie and a terrier. Did you ever see Cesar Milan, – dog Whisperer, tv show?

 

Edgar is sweet and social, loves to fix stuff. He worked in mechanical,  fixing cars.  He loves Brownie, music, Spanish,  besta  me mucho (Kiss me).

 

Edgar’s niece with his favorite dog, is from Columbia, on the south side of Latin America, next to Venezuela. She lives in Catalina, north side of the city, hot, beautiful beach. This was the first city that brought in slaves. It was a walled city for 500 years. Street are filled with with stones and steels, lots of museums, tourists, and romance. People want to have a wedding there. His niece was born is Calle, a beautiful city with lots of trees and mountains, diversity of weather, hot weather, good food. Her favorite food is soup with plantains, yuk, potatoes, and chicken.