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“DEMENTIA” As A Strategy And Aging

An old woman has been admitted to an institution with a probable diagnosis of dementia and uncommunicative. She doesn’t speak nor appear to understand. However, it soon becomes clear that she can speak and understand.

Silence is, however, her way of punishing the family whom she regards as insensitive to her needs. “They are all living in my house and they treat me like a poor relation. Boss me around all the time!”

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Sharing The Past And Aging

There can be much satisfaction in sharing with an elderly person his reflections on the past. Directly or indirectly, it is part of our history as well. Apart from the facts we could glean, it deepens our understanding of life’s experiences. Together with the old person, we feel the transformation from child to youth to adult and beyond.

In this way, an old person who opens his mind and feelings to us is a unique text on human development and aging.

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Hardiness/Frailty and Aging

The elderly are often less vulnerable than they appear. They may attribute their health to exercise, religion and a positive attitude. It is well known that genetics, good health practices and a certain degree of luck are involved. The very process of enduring beyond the average life span indicates personal survival capacities beyond those of the ordinary person.

In our era, however, this is complicated by the fact that many would have died of various disorders, having now been kept alive through sophisticated medical technology. Therefore, among the oldest-old we find two distinct groups: those hardy souls genetically meant to endure for a century, and the extreme frail who walk a “tightrope” between survival and death.

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Mobility/Falls and Aging

A resident in a facility where I was the Director of Nursing, claimed the reason he and his wife got married while in their late eighties, was the following,” It was a marriage of convenience. Rather than using a cane or a walker, we can lean on each other.”

Mobility is the capacity one has for movement. In infancy, it is a major mode of learning and interacting with the environment. Throughout life, it remains a significant means of contact, sensation, exploration, pleasure, and control. In old age one moves more slowly and purposefully, sometimes with more caution.

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Personality and Aging

The old person is largely responsible for his own place in society. What is experienced as rejection or exclusion by one person may be a welcome opportunity to shed responsibility by another. One individual’s lifestyle may keep him closely linked with society, while that of another individual may encourage an earlier withdrawal.

The reality of individual differences is well illustrated in several studies in the field of aging. As an example, researchers in their studies among men, have identified five types of personality.

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The Future and Aging

Today, in general, Americans are living longer than their predecessors. Yet those who make policy have been slow to recognize the implications of this unprecedented increase in longevity. As a result, social institutions (i.e.: educational organizations, healthcare providers and work settings) have not fully adapted to the challenges and opportunities posed by America’s aging population.

It has been projected by 2030, the U.S. will experience accelerated growth in its aging population. It has also been projected that by 2050, the number of U.S. citizens 65 and older, will reach 88.5 million. That’s more than double the 40 plus million that was originally reported in a federal document on “aging in society.”

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Replaying and Aging

Some elderly people contribute to their own isolation by boring people with tales that are more than twice told. This is one of the most common characteristics complained of by people who say they do not like to be with the aged, although old people by no means have the patent on repetitious speech.

But there is more purpose to this replaying of the past than might fall upon the bored ear. Notice that the scenes retold are very selective. Often these prove to have an integrating function for the individual. They serve to give the person something to organize himself around.  Furthermore, replaying can be the effect as well as the cause of social isolation in a deprived, alien, unwelcoming environment. The old person may have little other choice to call upon his own memory repertoire if he has to have any company at all. This is akin to the effect that sensory deprivation has on a person of any age; the mind takes over and furnishes the stimulation which is absent in the environment.

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“I REMEMBER…” AND AGING

The shape of memory changes for many people in later life. If our typical old person has one real complaint about his own mental functioning, it is likely to concern his memory for recent events. A word, a name or a fact, just doesn’t come to mind when he wants it. What happened in the distant past is likely to be clear and precise in his mind. He can accurately recall events that occurred 60 or 70 years ago, but may draw a blank for what happened a week ago last Monday.

The picture is even more complex than this. The research shows that another type of memory also must be distinguished (i.e. recall for immediate events). The old person in good health does not appear to suffer any particular problems in this regard. He can remember what has just happened, can remember very well what happened decades ago, but has difficulty with the time in between long ago and a moment ago.

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Distress and Aging

No single principle of mental health can guarantee that a person will pass through the challenges and perils of a long life without experiencing distress, loss, suffering, and human error that are part of most lives. However, it is within our abilities to reduce the depth and frequency of suffering and to help each other when our own resources are temporarily overrun.

In old age, distress can be more acute since immediate problems bring to mind earlier difficulties. The old person may be haunted by memories of stressful events and relationships as far back as early childhood. Tormented by both past and present, they may feel helpless. At the same time, there may be fewer resources available to cope with problems in the immediate situation, fewer people to share experiences with, less physical and financial control over the environment and so on.

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Life Review And Aging

Life review is an examination of one’s total life experiences as we enter that period we tend to call old age. It’s a time to set what is known as “our house in order.”

The outcome of an older person’s life review is by no means guaranteed. Like all of the other ways of using the past, it can have either favorable or unfavorable consequences. If the elderly person is hard on himself, he views his life as a string of failures and missed opportunities. He may dwell on his shortcomings as a child, a spouse, or a parent and perhaps brand himself guilty of some obscure transgression that has not been forgiven. At the same time he may feel powerless to make amends and face the prospect ahead with trepidation and dread.

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At a Slower Pace and Aging (i.e.: an opportunity to contemplate)

There is another common change in us as we grow older: we slow down. This change is probably most obvious in our physical activity. But it is part of our mental life as well. Psychomotor speed, as psychologists often call it, is required by many activities. This is the pace at which we carry out all steps of an action, from sizing up the situation, figuring out what we want to do about it, and finally doing it.

Activities and tests that place a premium upon speed often show the old person at a marked disadvantage. He does however perform as well as younger people. But does performance in those circumstances reflect intelligence? When activities or mental tests are designed so that speed is not a significant factor, then the difference between old and young becomes much slighter. The old person reveals his ability to learn, think, remember and solve problems when not being rushed and when allowed to proceed at his own pace.

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SNF MARKETING 101: Tell a Story

Do you often ask yourself what gives your skilled nursing facility its identity or what makes it stand out amongst competitors? If your patients, residents, and staff come to mind, you’re on the right track. But, now what?

Your facility is a story unfolding across all customer touch points.

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Communication and the AD Person (AD = Alzheimer's Disease)

In spite of language losses suffered by an individual with Alzheimer’s, many skills that support communication are remarkably preserved and remain for a long time. When working with the AD individual, the caregiver should keep in mind six abilities that are nearly always preserved.

1) The Use of Procedural Memories
Individuals with AD begin to lose memory for words, information and events quite rapidly, but procedural memory, or the knowledge of how to perform familiar tasks remain relatively intact until the later stages of dementia. The research suggests that this is because procedural memory is the most elemental of human memory systems and is the only memory system capable of operating independently. This system can sustain some very complex human activity such as walking, washing hands, or even driving a car. Procedural memory is like a computer program whereas other types of memory are like data stored in the computer. Alzheimer patients begin to lose data rapidly but still function. They may forget where they are going, but they still know how to walk. They may forget what they are saying, but they still know how to talk.

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Taking Leave and Aging

      • The look on the face of the five-year-old as he boards a school bus for the first time and the look of apprehension on the face of his mother.
      • The last lingering touches of two lovers who cannot bear to let each other go.
      • The moment when one must board that jet and fly off to a new life elsewhere.
      • The apprehension that this could be the last time they shall see each other and that chill of final separation.

The following is an excerpt of a discussion I had several years ago with the daughter of a man (her father) who had recently passed away.

“The last time I saw my father I guess I knew it might be the last time. We talked a little about this and that…nothing important. It was as if we both had agreed to keep it that way because we both knew, and we knew that we knew.

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Perspective and Aging

Definition: Perspective “a view of things (as events) in their true relationship or relative importance” (The Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Some years ago I had a conversation with a resident in a facility where I was the head of the Nursing department. She was close to her 100th birthday. I asked her what she made of her life in general. She promptly replied: “Can’t tell yet! I am still making my life!”

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The Effects of Anxiety and Aging

A person who appears demented may be tormented by grief and anxiety. His demented behavior may have been brought about by emotional pain. A grieving person at any age is less able to pay close attention to everything that happens around him. He takes less care in grooming and dress. He has less emotional energy to welcome new opportunities or to respond to challenges. He feels uncomfortable with his body. His mind may be constantly uneasy or tortured.

Loss and grief are common in old age as death removes loved ones. An old person may have suffered other significant losses, of occupation, residence, physical mobility, belonging, or usefulness – all of which produce a grief response.

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Emotional Intelligence and Long Term Care

Without question, working in long term care is demanding and stressful. In addition to the intrinsic stressors staff must face daily in nursing homes, often they must also struggle with managers who add to the stress. It takes only one thoughtless supervisor to create a work environment that goes from bad to worse in an instant.

Unfortunately, there are managers and supervisors in long term care who may lack self-awareness or the desire to evolve into better leaders. They may intentionally create “power distances” between themselves and their employees. This distance may also signal that they may be unapproachable.

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Musings and Aging

Def: Muse - to become absorbed in thought - Merriam Webster Dict.

For more than fifty years I’ve cared for countless sick elderly and disabled individuals in my capacity as a Registered Professional Nurse.

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Intimacy and Aging

“You’re looking pretty tonight.” Her eyes warm to the compliment. Automatically she checks her hair, newly washed and cut. Even after all these years she is still slightly nervous. But a date is still a date even when you are seventy-and-more. For his part, any tentative feelings are covered with pride and pleasure at being seen out with such a fine woman – much as he felt fifty years and more ago.

“Shall we go?”

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Mislabeling and Aging

Far too often, labeling a person as ‘senile’ is a thoughtless expression steeped in prejudice. ‘Diagnosing’ a person as ‘senile’ is accurate only when we mean there is a continuing pattern of progressively deteriorating thought and behavior coupled with a medically proven diagnosis of an irreversible brain disease. Careless use of this single word (senile/senility) suggests that we think we know what is wrong and there is nothing more to understand or to be done. This attitude is not justified even when the person is, in fact, suffering some form of a progressive cerebral change. But the attitude is particularly destructive when the individual is troubled, yet far from ‘senile’.

Even professionals are capable of making such errors. International mental health teams and researchers in the field of gerontology who have been studying this problem have discovered that many elderly persons who were labeled with the term senile/dementia have come to realize that the problem is, in fact, functional in nature. If this can happen, then people without professional or scientific training may be even more prone to error. Any sign of confusion or mental lapse in an elderly person may be erroneously taken as ‘proof’ of senility.

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