Responsive Environments for Gifted Elders: Part 3




Gifted Eldercare Comes of Age: Part 3

Once, when visiting a friend in an assisted living/eldercare home, one of the aides came to her suite while we were in the middle of a deep and meaningful conversation. “Wakey, wakey,” the aide said, “time for a shower.” Then, when my friend said she had a visitor and asked if she might be able to shower later, the aide began to make silly movements, acting out scrubbing under the arms and speaking to her as if she were an infant. Soon it was clear that we were not going to be able to continue our work until the aide completed her duty. I was saddened that my friend, one of the brightest people I know, was being treated in such a degrading fashion. Yet, similar behavior is not unusual at present, where our elders, far from being respected and revered, are often seen as objects to be washed, clothed, fed, and told to rest and not make a disturbance; and all on a strict schedule.

Freedom to Self-Regulate

The third element in the series Responsive Environments for Gifted Elders, is the freedom to self-regulate to the greatest extent possible within the confines of institutionalized care. Acknowledging that there must be a certain clarity of protocol and scheduling that eldercare staff members must adhere to, I suggest that there must also be latitude for our gifted elders to find their own rhythm within their new environments.

What might responsive environments that ensure elders the freedom to self-regulate look like? Firstly, caring administrators and staff members will respect individual choices to the greatest extent possible. In other words, my friend whose social visit was rudely interrupted could have been asked, upon seeing that she had a visitor, when she would be available for the aide to return. Another choice that is available in some, but not many facilities, is to allow the individual to select menu items within the structure of a well-balance meal.

Some of the residences I visit offer a one size fits all activity schedule.  A step toward allowing for self-regulation would be to offer the option of activities, rather than the same activity for all residents. While some might enjoy bingo, others might prefer word games, or checkers, or chess. In the day rooms, in addition to jigsaw puzzles, having on hand activities that allow for intellectual and creative risk-taking, such as 3-D puzzles, problem-solving games, and crossword puzzles, provide for the needs of high functioning elders who would benefit cognitively.

Elder gifted individuals are often introverts and need solitude, time for reading or individual creative work. As regulations allow and to the extent that it is healthy for them, they should have the option of choosing times when they will not be disturbed or forced to join group activities. Along that same line, as much flexibility as possible in scheduling will promote positive self-regulation as well. Being able to choose from two or three dining hour options, having the opportunity to be outside in the natural environment,  negotiating times for showers and other hygiene with the staff, presenting themselves for medications without having their names called on a PA system – all of these are examples of how our cognitively aware elders who may, due to health or financial circumstances, be confined to basic residential care, can continue to enjoy the dignity and respect they deserve.

Thus far in this series, we have explored the first three elements of responsive eldercare environments from a model that I have developed – a virtual gifted community, literacy rich environments, and freedom to self-regulate. The series will conclude with the next blog. Please know that I appreciate all the comments and support that I have received!

*Away: markittleman/Flickr/CC BY 2.0: (cropped)


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