By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
If only America could be more like Sardinia when it comes to the way it treats the elderly.
That’s the thinking of Davina Porock, a British-born researcher who works at the University at Buffalo School of Nursing and focuses on elder care.
Americans tend to treat senior citizens as frail, encouraging them to rest, but “some of the most successfully aging people in the world don’t stop working,” Porock told me during an interview for last weekend’s In the field story.
In Sardinia, she said, the elderly “still keep working. They’re still in the garden, they’re out with the goats, they’re doing work in the house. Even the oldest old person in that family still has a job to do, even if it’s to hold the baby while everybody else does more active things. They have jobs to do even if they take longer to do the jobs.
“So the idea that you still have work to do is really important. It doesn’t have to be paid work. You take that away from people when they go into long-term care” in the U.S. “There’s this hospital attitude of, ‘Well, you’re being cared for, therefore I have to do everything for you, therefore you just sit there. I think that’s dangerous, it’s unhealthy and it’s just soul-destroying.”
Stinging words, but food for thought this Thanksgiving Day – as is this idea that Porock recommends for grandchildren, nieces and nephews visiting elderly family members this holiday weekend:
Ask grandma, grandpa and the aunts and uncles to pull out those dusty family photo albums. Then, young folks, pay attention.
And be curious.
Among the questions to ask:
“What is this?”
“Where is this?”
“When was this?”
“Who is this and how did they fit into your life and mine?”
“What are you doing in this photo?”
“What happened after this?”
The kids, and younger adults, also should take notes.
This is the kind of example that helps Porock explain patient-centered care as it relates to elderly people that have slowed down, but still have something to offer.
She also shared another one that helps explain the difference between traditional and person-centered long-term care:
“In traditional care,” she said, “a nice group of people will go in and sing for the old people, and those in a nursing home enjoy it to a point, but eventually you’ll see them just drifting off.
“If you go into a long-term care facility and have them join in with the music, and make them part of the process, then you will get mood improvement and engagement, and they all will have enjoyed the afternoon.
“There’s also a difference in having a baby coming in and giving them the baby.
“And dogs in particular are just brilliant for that interaction. It’s the unconditional love thing.”
Today seems a fitting time to count the blessings of years spent with loved ones who are still by our side, including those who helped make our holidays bright from the very beginning of our lives.