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A wiser vision of elderhood

By Ted Goins
For the Salisbury Post
Elderhood has become one of my favorite words and concepts. I first heard the term from Dr. Bill Thomas from New York. Dr. Thomas was a medical director in a nursing home where he discovered that our elders have much to offer all of us. People living in nursing homes were suffering from the three plagues of boredom, helplessness and loneliness. It didn’t and doesn’t have to be that way. The concept of elderhood isn’t new.
On the Polynesian island of Fiji, villages have a centrally located hut called the Vale ni Qase that is a combination nursing home, adult day-care center and a child day-care center. Each morning for generations the village has brought its elders and children to the central hut. The children can help look after their elders, and the elders help look after and teach the children. This is where they learn not to touch the hot pot and hear the stories of their great ancestors.
Dr. Thomas rediscovered the same idea. Why shut our elders away where they can’t learn and be learned from? Leading health care communities are returning to that much more common-sense model. Health care communities are moving toward person-directed care. As the name implies, people who live in a health-care community are calling the shots: “I’ll eat at 9 a.m., not 7 a.m. I prefer my bath time to be in a whirlpool and at night, not in the morning. I don’t like bingo; find me some bridge players!” Health care now includes buffet dining, spa-like bathing, children’s playgrounds, children, plants, animals, and on and on. It’s not just like home; it is home!
Health care is only one facet of this reformation. Assisted living has led many of these changes. Independent living from patio homes to continuing care communities are embracing the same principles. Look at the services and choices! Elders are even completing life plans to plan what they are going to do and accomplish in the years when they can choose to move from production work to wisdom sharing.
An elder is a venerated, respected person who can teach us so much. They have wisdom we can’t find in books. Who are the elders that shared with you? Have you said thank you? Have you shared them with others? Get on the bandwagon! Old age is fast becoming a term of the past. Elders have life to live and life to share.
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Ted Goins is president of Lutheran Services for the Aging

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