Words similar to this were shared during the press conferences with our Premier Legault in Québec these past couple weeks, due to devasting events caused by COVID-19 regarding our seniors: We need to do better, and we owe it to our elderly population. Together we must take better care of our seniors.
Having worked with seniors, their families, in retirement residences and built a business from the ground up to improve the lives of the seniors in our community I will share my thoughts. If we want to see tangible change and do better for our seniors it runs deeper then just exploring the housing structures and layouts of those buildings and it goes way beyond controlling a pandemic in long term care nursing homes (CHSLD). Housing only touches a small portion, an important one but none the less a small portion of the depth of change we need.
Has this ever happened to you? The door opens at a client’s house and the next thing you know a senior, at your first glance and meeting, is crying in your arms scared and overwhelmed and has no clue what to do? It has to me. It has happened so often that I have lost count. As we sit and talk, they share part of their life story, how they do not know how they got to be the age that they are and really do not feel their age. They wish they had better answers for themselves, they want to live but are afraid of dying and do not know where to turn for support without being bullied. They are tired of being spoken over and seen through. They wish their children, grandchildren or family would come by to visit or even call. This lovely house they raised their family in, as it gets too big and hard to maintain, they start to wonder what to do next. The adult children, out of not knowing how to help or talking about the changes they notice and out of their own fear bully, force or “push” the senior forward. As if it is given that a senior must adapt, react or do things someone else’s way.
Have you ever been there on moving day when a senior has packed up everything, an emotional journey at every turn, and the movers are now loading the truck? Oh! and the people relocating are in their late 80s and one person uses a cane or a walker? I have. Yes, it is understood that time is ticking, and the hourly rate climbs up fast. I get that. But more then once, on more than one move, I have had to chase the mover to come back with the chairs that they asked the senior to stand up form so they can pack the truck. But there is a good hour left before the move is complete with the truck ready to go. Expecting the senior(s) to stand for all that remaining time. What?
You know when an elderly person is at the hospital because of a broken bone and now has caught bacterium that is resistant to medication or spreads easily and going home is no longer an option? Ever call retirement residence or CHSLD options to find a new comfortable home that will meet all the levels of current needs including this bacterium? I have. Being transparent is so important knowing that this person needs to find the best proper care for today but there must also be space to grow into more care. The retirement residence or CHSLD, on their end, can not risk having something go rampant through their clientele as they must protect all the residents that already reside on-site. Since the beginning of my business, it has been my experience that protocols in residences have always been high when it comes to bacteria, viruses, aggression, abuse, level of care required and whatever they need in place to protect their vulnerable clientele. Not every address and business is equal, as it is in any industry.* Residences and communities have been ahead of this contagion curve long before COVID-19.
Last fall I was hired to speak to students in the social work program at a local college. Why? Well, it so happened that during a friendly BBQ in response to the question of ‘What do you do?’ my response created curiosity. “Oh. I think it would be great for you to come speak to my students. We touch upon so many different clienteles but not seniors. Oh, you are enlightening me that we really need to address that clientele.” Gulp. What? Working with seniors is not a part of a curriculum with students who are heading down the path to become social workers at a college level? Nuts. Floored me.
If you work with seniors have you ever tried to trademark intellectual property in Canada? I have. Keywords like retirement residence, retirement living, consultation services for seniors, moving service for seniors, gerontology services and other related terms…. did not exist in the data bank. If those terms exist now in our CIPO data bank I created them for us, for Canada, for my industry and had to spell out it out in a painful process that is still ongoing. There is, or was, so little in that database for industries specializing for or about seniors. What? –(You are welcome!! Did it from my basement office late at night as I shook my head in disbelief at the realization, but I made sure to follow my heart and convictions.)
Oh, the last Census. Did you know that autonomous seniors because they live in a retirement residence, many have their forms filled out for them? And that all we ask is their name, their date of birth and their address and little else? I was stunned when I found out my parents did not fill out their own form, but at the time many seniors in their residence had memory loss, though that was not the case for my parents, they are autonomous. Being curious, not a big sample to base myself on, I agree, but I called 2 other residences. The other two residences have a mix of autonomous and full care including memory care, which offered a better balance to my search then where my parents lived at the time. So, the three residences I spoke with, even with an autonomous clientele, where people can sign their legal documents, their census was filled out and signed for them, at the request of the census authorities. Yup. What? Why? Also, knowing the population is aging, do we not want to gather more information about this population to better serve them?
Ever have a conversation with a friend who says, “I just do not know how to tell my Dad that he is having ‘accidents.’” Really? Personally, I think that that man knows and has noticed some changes in his capacities and autonomy. The taboos are so elevated and surround so many aspects of aging that everyone turns a blind eye and avoids the topic altogether. So much shame. So much guilt. So many emotions. So much fear. Silence and avoiding the topic reigns through so many steps and stages of aging.
Ever overhear a conversation like this “Ok. Lunch starts in 5 minutes. That will give us just enough time to have Mom sign these papers and not have her ask too many questions.” Or this “Yeah my children do not want me to buy new shoes because they tell me I do not need anymore.” I have. So, so many times. It pains the heart.
Ever hear professionals, families, the media, or friends talking amongst themselves and saying that they need to place a senior, or that a senior was put somewhere? I have. Those words have made me cry so many times. I have paid attention to our language over the years and have noticed that when someone has a weakness we place them, “we put him in a special class”, ‘we had to put her in the corner’, ‘we need to place my parents’…..for seniors we use a Placement form when we talk about them not being able to go back home, we put them or place them in a retirement residence or we placed her on the second floor. In a French dictionary, I thumbed through the word ‘Placer’ (Place) the suggestion for how to use that word, translated it reads, ‘To place a senior in a retirement residence’. Really? Is it not only objects that we place or put somewhere, on a shelf, on a table, in a cupboard? People are not items, they never have been and never will be, no matter what their needs are.
It has been my own promise to myself to talk about aging and visit retirement residences wherever I visit in the world, and so far, that has happened in Canada, the United State and Europe. Everybody, may it be the staff members in a retirement community, the tour guides on walking tours, or the host at our inn when they translate the action of a senior moving to a retirement residence they all say it translates from their mother tongue to ‘place’ or ‘put’ a senior in a retirement home. What? I have met one exception to that and that is from a friend who works in this field in the Chicago area. Apparently in that region they say ‘transition to a retirement community’. Yes! One! Just one person and one area out of 21 years of research.
Ever have a vision for an project that is so dear to your heart and you start looking for funding but do not fit into any box, it’s for children but it is about seniors and you want to bring attention to our seniors so you can bring change in our society? I have. There is no box out there where the project fit into. So, I have followed my heart and my vision to bring this project to life. With a big sigh when Québec shut down because of COVID-19… the first-print run of Grandma’s Place sat at the printers waiting to be boxed and shipped. Its release would have to wait until the timing was appropriate. I would have to find a bit more patience until we are ready for the desire to change our society and how we show up for our seniors.
It challenges me deeply to know that it has taken a worldwide pandemic that affects mostly our vulnerable and older population and for our PM to say that now is really the time to start paying attention to our seniors. Yes please! Yes! Let’s see that happen.
If we want change to happen here are the levels we need to look at, based on my years of field experience, in my specific niche and I am sure there is way more that has not been on my radar. This is where it will be so refreshing to see change:
It must start in every household to educate our children on how to respect, honour and speak to our elders;
When we train our staff, we must educate them to always ensure how to properly serve an elderly clientele. To adjust the dance of interactions and the delivery of information to the person being served without dumbing it down. Also, to give thought at every step to ensure there is always a chair for the elderly client to sit on and that that be the last item to be moved out of the house on moving day!;
As we discuss curriculum at all levels of schooling, aging and seniors need to be discussed and our elderly population needs to be invited to contribute and to be seen and heard as a 3-D individual;
When we design documentation and databases our every word matters to show respect to the people who have built our communities;
The voice of our seniors must be heard to help us build programs, services and design equipment for them. Their voice. Their comments. Not someone’s interpretation or forms filled out in their absence;
How we fund programs and projects or when we enhance different networks, we must remain creative and be open to approaches that do not fit in boxes;
Measures need to be discussed on how to break the cycles of emotional, physical and financial abuse towards seniors. May the abuse be at the hand of a family member, a neighbour or a professional, we must all speak up;
Our words build our thoughts. If we want change, we need to start paying attention to the language we use in our conversations, and in every industry that serves an elderly clientele.
Lots of the news, lately, has been about retirement residences, CHSLDs and the changes that need to occur on that level. There could be a bias on my part but for having worked decades with seniors and retirement residences, that is one small slice of all the changes that we must do together. I can tell you, if we were not ready for a pandemic in our lifetime, nor were residences but they were way ahead of our curve with protocol because of their daily action plans, on many levels, to protect and serve their fragile clientele.
Over the past 2 decades seniors: have been in my car as we drove around town comparing housing options; as we pack up and light size their belongings I have captured so many stories and emotions; children have called me not knowing how to help; after and during presentations at community centers and church basements many seniors have spoken to me about how lost they feel; the frustrated and hurt glances when a senior looks at me and says ‘why did that professional avoid me and asked my daughter to answer for me? I hate being seen through.’; and at every business networking event, I hear ‘Oh you work with seniors, Oh that must be so hard, I do not know how you do it.’……and then there are the moments in my office alone not knowing where to turn for support or reasoning as to how we treat and talk about our seniors. A challenging journey though one filled with passion for me.
Oh, and if you think seniors are stubborn, let me make you your coffee the way I enjoy it but not the way you would like it, I hope you like lots of milk! Even though you have told me and voiced your option on how you prefer it. We are all just as stubborn. When we have learned how we like or want something well heck let’s pin that up on the wall as research and development but not butt heads over stubbornness. Seniors are just as stubborn as you and me when they know what they like or are unknowing of how to move forward.
One major important shift, which is 2-fold, needs to happen if we want this deep change:
Seniors must hold onto their power. Without seniors stepping up and owning their space, that they well deserve, lots of the wind in our sails will be lost. Not sure at what age we become a senior but none the less we need you. Lean in. Without you we can not do this.
-We need you my dear seniors.
We must see seniors for who they are today and not for what they have lost.
–this allows us to see the beauty in the person’s eyes, smile and the person’s richness way beyond a walker, a cane or a hearing aid.
For the photo of this post, my laptop is elevated and ready to create a video to thank our Premier Legault for sharing his concerns on our lax approach and engagement towards our seniors and that it is time we find better ways. That laptop is on a box of books titled Grandma’s Place. A children’s book, one to share with an adult to capture two generations at the same time. The goal is to create change in our society regarding seniors.
If we want change then we all need to talk our talk and walk our walk. I am. Are you?
*my knowledge is based on the private sector and the comments shared in this post that address services or retirement residences and CHSLDs are based on that knowledge, not that of the public sector.