My client was a woman of many parts. Over the course of her lifetime, Edith had been an artist, a speech pathologist, a teacher, a counselor, a wife, mother, grandmother — even an astronaut! She had trained with NASA to be among the first civilians to go up in a rocket, but those hopes were dashed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1983.
My client was an also ardent American patriot having emigrated to the United States as a young adult fleeing the spread of Nazism. She had been a beautiful, vibrant, European intellectual of the Bohemian sort.
When I met Edith, she was eighty-five years old and ravaged by the effects of advanced Parkinson’s Disease. She could neither walk nor speak but still had a lively light in her eyes. She lived in a small house with her remarkably caring and efficient home health aide who exquisitely managed all aspects of her care and household.
But, sadly, Edith outlived her money. She could no longer support her independent lifestyle. Fortunately, one of her daughters was able to step up and provide generously for her mother’s ongoing care. It was then determined that it was time for Edith to move to a nursing home, and I coordinated the transition.
Her daughter wanted to fill Edith’s new living space with as many of her mom’s treasured belongings as she possibly could. So we hung a number of her large original paintings on the walls, along with a stunning photograph of Edith suited up in her NASA gear. We covered the bed with her red, white and blue quilt. We hung an American flag and distributed other reminders of Edith’s colorful past and multiple life roles around the room. The place finally and accurately reflected whom she was.
The effect on the staff was immediate and heartwarming! Word spread — they came from all parts of the nursing home to see Edith’s room and learn about her past. They marveled at all this woman had done in her life. They began to see her as a real person, not just as a frail old woman in need of “total care”. The décor of her room focused the staff on the essence of Edith’s humanity.
A final pearl of wisdom: Frail elderly people were once active, involved members of their families and their communities. See them as fully human, and treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Joan Blumenfeld is a Geriatric Care Manager based in Fairfield County, Connecticut. For more information visit her web site at joanblumenfeld.com. © 2010 Joan Blumenfeld.