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Fighting Ageism and Fostering Wellbeing in Elder Care

By Homewatch CareGivers of Crystal Lake

Last week we posted a blog about the significance of person-directed care and why we at Homewatch CareGivers of Crystal Lake (HWCG) are committed to resisting the medicalization of home care. As we briefly explored, for nearly two centuries western the home care practice norms (i.e the medical model) have led to an institutionalization of elder care that has created an epidemic of loneliness, boredom, and helplessness in our elders. The Eden Alternative© calls these three problems “the three plagues” and identify them as, “account[ing] for the bulk of suffering among our Elders.”[1] These three plagues are what the rest of this post is going to be about, particularly their causes and how a person-directed elder care approach is more successful in meeting these felt needs in elders.

The Eden Alternative© defines the three plagues accordingly,

  • Loneliness - “the pain we feel when we want, but cannot have companionship.”
  • Helplessness – “the pain we feel when we always receive care and never give care.”
  • Boredom – “the pain we feel when our lives lack variety and spontaneity.”[2]

While one of the fundamental principles of person-directed care is that every person is an individual having specific abilities, desires, and ailments the importance of identifying the three plagues is that they are ailments of the spirit, not of the body. The Eden Alternative©, whose model we employ, focuses on these areas specifically because there is no way to medicate or “treat” the three plagues from a medical model. Therefore, our mission to eliminate loneliness, helplessness, and boredom must stem from a care that pays attention to the whole person, not just their medical status.

In addition to the goal of eliminating the three plagues requiring a person-directed approach, the three plagues also demand that we challenge the ageism that fuels them. Ageism fuels loneliness both because non-elderly people generally undervalue what elders have to offer and therefore are less likely to incorporate elders in their social spheres; these attitudes also affect feelings of self-worth for elders themselves and this causes many elders to isolate themselves.[3] Similarly, ageism fuels feelings of helplessness in elders because much of society doesn’t believe that elders have anything to offer their communities. Ageism also contributes to helplessness in elders because many people don’t see the unique gifts and abilities that an elder can contribute to their lives.[4] Finally, because ageism pushes elders out of larger society, their lives can lack diversity and connection which leads to boredom.[5]

Now that the problem of the three plagues has been established the question becomes, how do we at Homewatch CareGivers of Crystal Lake address these needs? There are many ways that we seek to eliminate the three plagues, but it all starts with our commitment to the person-directed model of elder care which pushes us beyond medicalizing care and into developing reciprocal care relationships. Of course, the roles of the care giver and the elder are different within the care relationship but we train all our caregivers look beyond the ageism that harms elders and creates feelings of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. In future blogs we will explore many of the specific ways we at HWCG work to address the three plagues, but all of them emanate from our belief that our duty is not only to an elder’s medical care, but to provide a care environment that encourages holistic well-being for individuals.

 

[1] Eden at Home: Care Partner's Workbook. Rochester, NY: Eden Alternative, 2011. pp. 13

[2] Ibid. pp. 13.

[3] Ibid. pp. 14.

[4] Ibid. pp. 14.

[5] Ibid. pp. 14.