For family caregivers, this translates into a very difficult issue, creating conflict and emotional upheaval, and, of course, guilt, if their loved one is afflicted by loneliness. Yet there are some bright spots on the horizon.
One pioneer in innovative long term care reform is physician William H. Thomas. He is a self-described "nursing home abolitionist" and has been an advocate for eldercare reform for decades, creating the Green House Project nursing home concept, the Eden Alternative philosophy and training to "deinstituionalize" eldercare facilities by alleviating the "three plagues" of boredom, helplessness and loneliness. The Eden Alternative, which incorporates pets, gardens and children into the culture of nursing home care has an international following and is actively revolutionizing elder care. In addition, this Harvard-trained physician has written numerous books, one of which he turned into a one-man play which he performed to raise further funds for his visionary goals. He is a passionate speaker who champions honoring and valuing elders and aging with dignity, love & joy. He is truly an inspirational, enthusiastic powerhouse of a man! Click here view a video of Dr. Thomas and catch a bit of his spirit and commitment. And here's another recent video with Dr. Thomas visiting a woman in a nursing home and bringing such joy and delight to her with some beloved opera played through headphones for her. OK, hanky-alert on this one. I melted into tears because she reminded me so much of my own mother.
Dr. Thomas and his wife have also developed and built an entire village in Shelburne, NY centered around these concepts, called ElderShire: Creating Well-Being through Living in Community. The need for this kind of revolution is most apparent to anyone who has experienced the soul-less bleakness that is prevalent in the current culture of nursing homes as "storage" for the elderly. Dr. Thomas' lifework offers hope and vision, along with well-designed and researched programs and materials for creating healthier, happier aging in our world. Given the graying of our populations (in particular the baby boomer generation in the US) these are ideas whose time has come and we must implement these changes now to create a better life for both elders and the ones who care for them!
If you should need further evidence of the importance of banishing the "three plagues" of nursing homes, the article which appeared in Science Daily this week supplies it -- titled: Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Loneliness in Older Adults, Study Shows. The study offers verifiable data that the meditation known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) reduced both loneliness and also markers in the blood for inflamation response, which are indicated in a host of physcial and neurological diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer's.
Won't you join me in supporting this vision and important culture shift in whatever way is possible? I cannot imagine a more worthy goal than to turn our reality of aging (and let's face it -- no one has found the fountain of youth!) into one of health and well-being and joy!