“Alzheimer’s patients turn to faraway lands to be in caring hands’ by Denis P. Gray, AP 12/30/14
The Pilot shared an insightful AP article with readers yesterday. It was a real eye-opener to learn that the cultures of Thailand and the Phillipines allow for markedly healthier and happier life experiences for people with dementia, and western Europeans are choosing to have their loved ones cared for there. Gray’s comparison of ‘an old, cold lady who gives you pills and tells you to go to bed,’ to a caretaker who ‘sits on the grass…, gently massaging his legs and tickling his chin,’ is the difference between night and day, or perhaps happiness and despair. How did we develop into a society that abhors aging? Why are we getting dependent care for the disabled and elderly so wrong as a society?
Since 2004, Tidewater Arts Outreach has worked to shift paradigms toward people with special needs. We have been creating dozens of music and arts programs and experiences each month for people in long-term care, crisis care, and other dependent-care settings. Our work has always had a strong focus on the elderly. While there are benefits for people of all ages to engage in creative self-expression through the arts, new research shows the positive outcomes afforded for people with dementia are even more pronounced. We have seen, many times over, the win/win situation created when engaging community artists, using the arts as a bridge, are involved in the lives of the elderly. Sadly, we also have seen the isolation, frustration, loneliness and withdrawal that often occur in group care settings. Another depressing reality: staff turnover in long-term care settings is 40% in many cases, greatly contributing to increased health care costs.
On January 22, Tidewater Arts Outreach brings international trainer and poet Gary Glazner to town to train workshop attendees on the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, a group process he started for creating and celebrating poetry. On January 25 the ME Cox Center, another local not-for-profit, brings elder-care author, nurse and teacher Teepa Snow to town to present effective ways of communicating with people who have disabilities. The elder care community needs and deserves many more programs like these to influence our perceptions of how we might care for our aged and infirm.
We have turned the act of aging into a medical condition, instead of the natural process it is. There is no cure for dementia, only a life of learning to live with it, for those suffering from this horrible disease. We can create wonderful, living communities in America for our elderly, where compassionate care is affordable and where life is celebrated daily. Thailand is showing us the way. Clearly, we can do more for the growing population of people being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. We need to demand more of our healthcare system and of ourselves.