The Way We Were

Dr. Brenda Smith-Booth, a clinical psychologist who works with people in long term care, writes “Many long term care residents know, deep down, there is ‘something more’ out there; and that ‘something more’ is often something unfinished – a hope or aspiration that never came to full fruition in their lives.  This is the hidden existential issue of the long-term care arena.”

So, is this a time to grieve what is lost and accept the reality that nothing more can be accomplished?  Dr. Smith-Booth says “It depends.  If the resident still has the will to ‘rage against the dying of the light’ and the facility is willing to endorse some culture change, there are great opportunities for residents to continue to evolve creatively and personally”.

It is true that abilities and opportunities become more limited with age, particularly when an individual faces physical challenges that require 24/7 nursing care.  And, many people at this stage of life would not have access to a clinical psychologist with Dr. Smith-Booth’s expertise and focus.  So, what can the rest of us do to address this issue?

To start, we can recognize the individuality of those in our care.  We can ask them about their background and life before we met them in the role of “patient.”  If they can’t tell us themselves but have family and friends who visit, perhaps we can strike up a conversation and find out more.  To know that the person for whom we provide care was an actress, a switchboard operator, a World War II veteran, a scientist or a mother who also played the flute can inform the care that we provide.

But, what about the “unfinished business” of life?  Dr. Smith-Booth tells the story of Ms. Jones who found comfort and identity in channeling the artistic talent she once put aside into use of a software program that allowed her to create art when she could no longer do so with her own hands.  Then there was Mr. Chung, who exorcised the demons of his depression with poetry and Mrs. Green who was able to deal with the frustration of her aphasia and communicate with the “new” technology of e-mail.

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