The AgeSong Vision: Changing How We Approach Aging and Senior Care

AgeSong is about the dream, the vision of elevating elders to a position of respect; of being valued by all of us. All of the AgeSong Communities share a common mission: which is to accept people for who they are. This informs all we do at AgeSong and allows us to approach aging and eldercare from a new perspective.

At AgeSong the perceived limitations of mobility or communication are not the important focus, it is about who you are in the moment.

In the AgeSong programs we try to understand who this elder in front of us. The programs at AgeSong all share the common goal of creating therapeutic environments where each little action and each little event is something that we can learn from about the elder. This helps inform the multi-disciplinary approach to care.

A fundamental emphasis at AgeSong is an attitude of ‘being with” rather than doing to. Senior care as we know it is not working because the focus is only on the physical well-being, which is important, but spiritual and emotional parts are often times forgotten. We find in our personal lives that if our emotional, or spiritual well being is cared for mostly likely our physical well-being is too.

Walking through one of the AgeSong Communities you will often find a care partner or intern just sitting with an elder. There is a powerful connection that can occur by just sitting with one another. Instead of wanting something tangible to happen. One of the ways we do this is we bring in therapeutic interns into the community and they learn how to work with them and be with them. This allows therapeutic encounters to happen but also gives the added benefit of having the elders feel a part of an ever evolving culture within the community.

The daughter of a resident speaks about how she felt coming to AgeSong that her mom was coming into a home not a facility. She found all the staff made them feel welcome as a family. Her positive experience shows how she felt that AgeSong treats her mother as if she was a family member not just an occupant.

Can we walk in an elders footsteps? Can we learn more concretely what makes an elder happy? what gives them joy? Those are goals at AgeSong and part of the AgeSong Vision.

The AgeSong Vision is not just a dream, or an idea or something on paper but it is something that we live everyday in our communities. We really try to teach and education people about so it can be come something much larger, beyond AgeSong.

Related Post

Read Nader Shabahangi’s post about “AgeSong’s Central Vision” to find out more about the AgeSong Vision.

Find out More!

Read more stories about Eldership on the AgeSongToday blog.

Explore more videos in the AgeSong Video Library

AgeSong’s Central Vision

by Nader Shabahangi, AgeSong Founder and CEO

AgeSong and Pacific Institute are vision-driven organizations. This means that people who belong to these organizations understand their work as contributing to a larger vision of a more loving and aware world that makes room for the many diverse expressions of all there exists. At its core, AgeSong is grounded on the belief that we live in an interdependent world where all is related with and to each other. As such, AgeSong emphasizes a relational model of working together as opposed to a model that believes in absolutes, that is in one right way of being and doing.

At AgeSong’s elder communities, we strive to create, both in theory and practice, a place where we can allow people to be who they are, a place where the intention of those with whom they interact, such as carepartners (commonly termed caregivers) staff, interns, family, and volunteers) is to understand more deeply about the Other facing them. As such, AgeSong desires to create learning organizations where we ask such basic questions as the following: Who are we? What helps? How do we help? What does it mean to live, to age? How do we age? At AgeSong, our intentions are to take a stance of curiosity rather than knowing, to understand how we best care for the other and to appreciate difference as much as homogeneity.

At AgeSong’s elder communities, AgeSong and Pacific Institute implement the foundational belief that all phenomena we humans experience are meaningful and important for a deepening of human awareness and for the enjoyment of life. This belief understands phenomena normative society designates as undesirable, even deviant – through labels such as disturbance, disorder, illness or disease – as essential for understanding and living human life. Among the phenomena mainstream regards as unwelcome belong also aging and old age and often any behavior different from what we consider normal, ‘appropriate’, or ‘well adjusted’. AgeSong elder communities share in the belief of the meaningfulness of all phenomena through by creating therapeutic environments at its elder communities. In this spirit, AgeSong works together with Pacific Institute to combine resources, apply internship training, and implement AgeSong’s varied and diverse specialized programs. These specialized programs are modeled on an existential, processwork philosophy and psychology that are non-comparative and do not pathologize. Such a philosophy and way of life do not separate the world into good or bad, right or wrong, better or worse. As such, this philosophy and practice stands in contrast to present-day mainstream perspectives with their emphasis on dividing the world into things that are more desirable and less desirable.

At this time, the following programs are being implemented at AgeSong senior communities:

• Community Living (Assisted Living Care)
• Forgetfulness (‘Dementia’) Care
• Engagement and Outings
• Expressive Arts Therapies
• Gero-Psychological Care
• Spiritual Care (Interfaith)
• Palliative (Hospice) Care

The intent of these seven programs is to address the many different facets and dimensions of aging, old age and of being human in as comprehensive a way as possible. The central concern of all of these programs is to educate and train carepartners, staff and interns in a basic attitudinal shift. At the heart of this shift is learning to perceive life as meaningful. Though seeing something better than something else, such differentiation and judgment are necessary in some parts of life, applying this attitude without discrimination to the care of the human being marginalizes and perpetuates suffering.

Towards an Attitude of Curiosity and Acceptance

An existential, processwork-oriented attitude that lies at the foundation of an AgeSong therapeutic environment approaches human beings and the world we inhabit with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance. It is this attitude of curiosity and acceptance in which both AgeSong and Pacific Institute would like to train carepartners, staff, volunteers, and interns. Such an attitude welcomes and enjoys difference. It understands perceived difference as an opportunity for growth, and thus wants to learn from it.

Stated personally:

“From each difference I perceive in the other allows me to see a part within myself that may as yet be unfamiliar to me. That which I perceive as different is different because I do not identify with it or know yet. What I know already I do not regard as different or ‘other’. It is my attitude towards difference that is essential here.”

I have a choice to reject or accept difference. In rejecting difference I state that the ‘other’ is not part of me, is not worthy of being understood further. But would I not want to understand what I don’t know if it could help me understand myself better? In accepting difference I state that there is something I can learn from the other, something that deepens my awareness of myself, hence the world within which I live.

This attitude of acceptance and curiosity translates into the way each of the specialized programs is carried out. For example, in assisted living care the special needs of the elderly residents are met with an attitude that understands each need as a way the elderly communicate their unique difference to us. All kinds of possibilities can lay behind a community member’s tentative or slow walk, need to be fed, or desire to be quiet for a long time. Rather than ‘seeing’ these ways of being as aberrant, we might understand them as ways of expression in their own right. This holds true as well for those elderly who seem to forget what they once knew, appear confused to us in the way they go about their daily lives. If we do not judge forgetfulness or confusion as abnormal, but rather as the way this particular individual now lives his or her life, then we could see the wisdom behind this change and difference. As importantly, we can enrich our own lives with another way of being we did not imagine or ‘see’ before.

Educating and Training a New Generation of Carepartners and Interns

The central task in teaching and educating a new generation of managers, administrators, supervisors, coordinators, interns, carepartners and volunteers is to start with showing how each of us holds certain beliefs, values, ways of seeing people and the world. The purpose here is to have us become clearer about how our beliefs shape our perception and thus determine how we see our world. It is important to show how, for example, what we judge to be undesirable or aberrant can also be seen as something valuable, even enjoyable. Working primarily experientially, we are invited to probe in ourselves for character and behavior traits with which we would normally not identify. In this way we may begin to first notice and then counter the tendency to judge whatever may be in front of us.

Another training consists of learning to make contact with one’s own ‘inner elder’. This training conveys a connectedness to the wise part in oneself. This part allows us to learn to look at life and living from the ‘long view’. In such a perspective all phases of life are seen as important for the creation of a full life.

Central to the attitude of acceptance and curiosity is learning to be cognizant about our expectations. Noticing our expectations, becoming explicit of them, helps us be in and with the moment. We develop a ‘beginner’s mind’ attitude where we feel more and more comfortable with not knowing what will be, what should happen. This attitude allows us to enjoy what is. Enjoying the beauty of the moment means enjoying life, enjoying all that happens. This enjoyment is based on us being present with the unexpected events that often go unnoticed: the graceful movement of an elder, the faint smile, the warm hand I touch, the green plant I see, the food I taste, the raindrops I hear.

Important in this shift to an attitude of acceptance and curiosity is learning the art of listening. This involves as much noticing our desire to speak as our tendency to assume what the other is saying. Language, however, both verbal and non-verbal, is very complex and difficult to understand fully. Every word, movement and expression contains multiple meanings, often unknown even to the person communicating. Here trainees will learn ways to listen and understand, to take time paraphrasing and helping the other search for understanding.

Warriorship of the Heart

What we want to communicate to the world ought to be congruent with our message itself. At AgeSong we desire to communicate to others that we would like to re-define aging as an important phase of life. This phase of life is given special importance through re-establishing the role of eldership in our culture and society. To be truthful with others we need to model the ways of elders ourselves: being attentive listeners who continually practice being aware of what occurs in the moment, within and without.

The Seven Specialized Programs

All seven programs are based on the same attitudinal shift towards a loving curiosity and acceptance of the other. The only difference is the form this loving attitude takes. In assisted living care, carepartners practice their loving attitude of acceptance and curiosity when they bathe, groom, feed, walk, and otherwise help, support and sit with our residents. In forgetfulness care, carepartners and interns practice an attitude of curiosity and acceptance when they work with elders’ attempt to remember, find their room, walk the hallway, search for contact, do activities or engage in the many different forms of communication and relating. In expressive arts therapies, interns, staff lovingly follow community members’ many diverse attempts in being creative and expressive. In our spiritual care program residents encounter a safe place where they can express their struggle for meaning and their search for the transpersonal aspects of life. In our memory improvement, interns in training work patiently and lovingly with elders’ desire to remember and to stay cognitively active. In hospice care, elders find acceptance in the way they are and need to be as they move through their process of dying.

Once the attitudinal shift to a loving curiosity and acceptance of the other – whether the other be community members, family members, or carepartners, staff, and interns – has been made, the above programs meld into one. This means that whether we do expressive arts, memory training or assisted living care, the basic attitude with which we undertake each program always follows the process of the elder moment to moment.

A Different Model of Doing Business

At AgeSong we try to walk the talk. The way we care for our organization, for people and things ought to reflect the way we would like to care for community members. This is what we mean by staying aware of the Circle of Care – as I do to do, you will do to others, to yourself. This circle of care extends not only to the people who work with AgeSong, but includes the community and environment, the larger world in which our organization lives. As such, our organization desires to stay aware of this interrelationship by paying attention to how it cares for and relates to this world. Concretely, we try to remember that there are different bottom lines, that return on investment does not only refer to a monetary return but also to what we return to our workers and our community, near and far.
For additional reading and study, please view:

Process Work on the Arni and Amy Mindell website.

From Mindell:
What is Processwork?
“Processwork is the art, science, and the psychology of following the nature of individuals, communities, and eco-systems.
What is this nature exactly? It appears in the descriptions or self- descriptions of nature and people, as well as the subtler often missed signals and deep experiences of everyone and everything involved. Following this nature is often a great help for everyone involved. Following nature often gives meaning and necessary change.
Processwork, also called process-oriented psychology, is a multicultural, multi-leveled awareness practice including people and their natural environment. It is an evolving, trans-disciplinary approach supporting individuals, relationships and organizations to discover themselves.
Processwork uses awareness to track psychological and physical processes that illuminate and possibly resolve inner, relationship, organizational, and world issues. Processwork theories and methods, skills and metaskills are available for anyone to experience and can be tested.
Processwork Applications:
Processwork can be used to help people in all states of consciousness, that is in so called normal awareness states, or in altered states such as psychotic or extreme states, comatose and near-death states. It can be applied to psychological problems, body symptoms, groups, organizations, governments, and has been used for very young and very old people.”

More Info on Processwork

Read more about What is Process Work?

Books by Arnold Mindell:

City Shadows: Psychological Interventions in Psychiatry 

The Quantum Mind and Healing: How to Listen and Respond to Your Body’s Symptoms

The Shaman’s Body: A New Shamanism for Transforming Health, Relationships, and the Community

Dance of the Ancient One

The Deep Democracy of Open Forums: Practical Steps to Conflict Prevention and Resolution for the Family, Workplace, and World

 

 

AgeSong Vision Training Video with Nader Shabahangi & AgeSong Trainees

In this AgeSong Vision Training video we join Nader Shabahangi, CEO of AgeSong, speaking with AgeSong trainees about the AgeSong Vision during the AgeSong Orientation and Training in August of 2015. This AgeSong Vision Training video is a great introduction to the inner workings of AgeSong and how the AgeSong Vision fosters the AgeSong Exceptional Assisted Living experience for both residents and staff.

An Introduction to the AgeSong Vision

Nader introduces the AgeSong Vision and discusses some differences between AgeSong residential communities and the “standard” assisted living residential model.

One of the main differences is in approach to resident life. AgeSong treats their residents as Elders; Elders are thought of as teachers who are giving to their community and to those working in the community. This is in contrast to the passive role residents experience in a more mainstream assisted living residence where the workers exert more control over the residents.

AgeSong Vision Training: Emphasis on Relationships

AgeSong Vision promotes relationships and relational care within the communities. As an example of relational care in an AgeSong residential community, Nader sets up a role play with the trainees where he plays a resident who does not want to put one of his shoes on.

One version of the role play really shows the “relational” approach used at AgeSong.
In this role play Vincent, in the role of Care Partner, did not make the shoe the most important point of contact when he realized the resident was having an issue with everyone wanting the resident to put on his shoe. Vincent made the “individual” more important; he made the relationship important. He asked the resident to put his shoe on and when the resident refused, Vincent asked if he could sit with the resident. By doing this, by sitting with the resident on an even level and having a short chat a connection was made and the goal was accomplished through “relationship” vs through controlling the resident.

The AgeSong Vision gives Control to Residents

Residents are given as much control in daily life as is safely possible. AgeSong works to increase an elders choices in daily life. Also there is a constant evaluation to try to find ways to increase residents choices to give them aspects they can control.

The AgeSong Vision is About Respect for the Resident and the Relationship

Respect for the resident as individual is important in the AgeSong Vision. Take entering a residents room. Build the relationship by showing respect to the resident when entering a residents home. Knock, introduce yourself, say the resident’s name before entering. If the resident does not answer, please announce yourself and inform them if you will be entering, giving them the opportunity to respond. The AgeSong Vision is to emphasize respect and relationship in all aspects of care and contact.

The AgeSong Vision Views the Residents and Elders who are Teachers

In AgeSong Assisted Living Communities we look at the residents as Elders; people who have things to give to us, they teach us, they are our school. AgeSong is like a university almost, a place to learn.

What can Elders teach us? They can teach us values: like Kindness, Patience, Love, Empathy and more. Elders are “related,” and are very interested in those around them. At AgeSong we can learn from them the values they have learned over a lifetime lived. We incorporate those into our working life at AgeSong.

The AgeSong Vision Promotes Mindfulness and Being Present

Elders teach us “Mindfulness.” Being present, be in the moment. You can show that by respect and consideration in our daily routine. How can we be ‘present’ in the moment? Come in leave our phone aside, engage and develop relationships.

At AgeSong we use “Forgetfulness” Instead of “Dementia”

AgeSong does not call changing cognition “dementia.” At AgeSong these conditions are referred to as “forgetfulness.” Why doesn’t AgeSong use the term “dementia”? There are numerous reasons to refrain from using the word dementia.

One reason is “the individual is not the disease” and the idividual is not a problem. We do not want to focus on a “problem” we want to focus on the whole individual.
Secondly there is stigma associated with dementia, it is a negative term that provokes negative responses and alienates that person from others.

Also if you say someone has dementia then you are actually saying that they are “different and separate” from everyone else. Using the term forgetfulness helps us stay related to one another. We are related to those who are forgetful as we all experience forgetfulness.

AgeSong Communities in the Bay Area

Nader discusses the structure of AgeSong and the emphasis on Community. In San Francisco, there is AgeSong Hayes Valley, AgeSong Laguna Grove, and AgeSong University Care. The Oakland community is AgeSong WoodPark.

AgeSong is not just a Job it is an Opportunity for Growth

Working at AgeSong is a paycheck but in some ways it is also like a Spiritual practice. You are growing as a person. Coming to work and learning. Everyday AgeSong employees come in and are working with vulnerable people, frail people, and people who teach them. Everyday they are coming to a class, they are coming to learn.

The Origins of AgeSong

Nader also walks through the origins of the word “AgeSong.” AgeSong: Meditations for our Later Years is a book written by Elizabeth Bugental after the loss of her best friend. She was reflecting on how one’s elder years can give us the opportunity to decide how we would really like to live the final phase of our life. How in our elder years we can have the courage to do life “our way;” freeing ourselves from the artificial restrictions that we accept in our younger years.

Find out More!

Explore more videos in the AgeSong Video Library

Applying AgeSong’s Vision

CLICK HERE to download Spring/Summer issue of We Are AgeSong

Staff, volunteers, and associates are applying AgeSong’s Vision within the organization’s elder and assisted living communities and in the greater community. View Spring/Summer issue of We Are AgeSong.

 

Inter-Generational Events Apply AgeSong Philosophy

 

 

Exploring inter-generational relationships are integral to AgeSong’s Central Vision.  The first vision statement, composed by Nader Shabahangi, AgeSong founder,  emphasizes the organization’s interest in inter-generational issues. He says,  “We redefine aging as providing us with the possibility to mature into the role of the wise elder.”

AgeSong Elder communities and AgeSong Institute are sponsoring several inter-generational events this spring open to the public.  Here are a few:

AgeSong and OLLI Intergenerational Forum

Wednesday, April 18, 2 to 4 pm. AgeSong at Laguna Grove, 624 Laguna Street, San Francisco. Youngsters and Oldsters Change the World Together. Adults not listening?  Planet not going the way it makes sense?  All about power and money?  Join forces with those who have the motivation to make the changes we need! MORE…

Conversations on Aging:  Embracing Elderhood

Saturday, May 5, 10:30 am – noon.  Embracing Elderhood. The Cafe at AgeSong, Bayside Park. With every new transition we are called upon to adapt to its inherent changes.  Psychological research focuses heavily on the changes and shifts in identity that occur throughout early and late childhood, adolescence, early adulthood and mid-life.  What about older age? Featuring a panel of discussants, including Rachael Friedman, Joseph Assouline, Troy Piwowarski, and AgeSong co-founder and CEO Nader Shabahangi.  AgeSong residents, families, and members of the community are welcome, refreshments and snacks will be provided. MORE…

Generations of Success Experience Corps Bay Area Event

Sunday, May 6. Fisk House, 700 Hayes Street, San Francisco. AgeSong Elder Communities in San Francisco and East Bay are proud to be contributing sponsors to Experience Corps Bay Area’s second annual Generations of Success event.   MORE…

Skill Development Workshop:  Working Across Generations – When You are Younger or New to the Field

Friday and Saturday, June 22-23. UC Berkeley School of Public Health Alumni event. Explore strategies that work for those who are younger or new to the field and find themselves leading, managing or working on teams with people older and more experienced than themselves. In a discussion led by presenters spanning four decades, we examine our own perceptions of age, how we can look at age differently, and how we can give performance feedback to someone of a different age/cultural background from ourselves. Participants will work in pairs and small groups and view a short video on perceptions of aging. Presenters:  Richard Barnets, M.A., MFTI, Sally Gelardin, Ed.D., Nader Shabahangi, Ph.D.  MORE…

AgeSong Assisted Living and Elder Communities: Locations throughout the Bay Area, including San Francisco and the East Bay: San Francisco-Hayes Valley • San Francisco-Laguna Grove • Oakland-Lake Merritt • Oakland-Lakeside Park • Emeryville-Bayside Park • Castro Valley-OakCreek