Ever since my decade of caregiving, I’ve been determined not to end up like my mother. My nursing home is going to be a place where I can feel useful, valued, engaged, and loved. But why aren’t more residents clamoring for change right now?
Generational values and medical institutional norms in nursing homes collude to foster a system that will stay stuck without radical concerted culture change. Many of our Elders don’t know that we each have the legal right to define our quality of life, regardless of age or circumstance. And whether or not they know their rights, they were raised not to rock the boat. Who wants to be the one to speak up? Even some of us boomers have timid tendencies, yet if we don't begin now to change the culture of nursing homes, we'll be stuck living in "homes" that, despite bright colors and crafty activities, will perpetuate helplessness, loneliness, and boredom.
When I took the Eden Associate Training, my classmates were all employed in nursing homes—after certification they would put their training to immediate use. I was self-employed. I needed to find another way to be part of the culture change movement. I joined a newly formed Coalition for Culture Change (many states have one) but I also wanted to do hands on work. Finally I learned of our state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program. By going through their free training and dedicating just two hours per week, I would finally be able to do Eden-like work.
Now I think of myself as taking on Dr. Bill Thomas’ three plagues: Loneliness, Helplessness, and Boredom. When certified, I will be empowered to walk into my assigned nursing home unannounced and at any time, to engage directly with residents and staff on behalf of individual residents’ quality of life. Any Elder who feels they lack a voice or a choice can ask me to be her/his voice. And the state and federal Ombudsman offices will serve as my backup, the clout behind the smile.
Consider ensuring a quality future for your Elder self, while making a difference for Elders right now. Every state has a Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, though each operates a little differently. Contact your state Ombudsman Office to find out what’s possible. http://www.ltcombudsman.org/ or http://www.aoa.gov/aoaroot/AoA_Programs