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  • Therese Southwell

"I just want to walk" Acknowledging the toll disabilities take on seniors can bring dignity and hope

This month, while giving one family a tour of Rosette, we met a lovely 86 year old woman named Helen. Helen is immobile, and after several strokes and other age related conditions, she has been in a wheelchair for the last few years. Her family indicated that she never leaves her room at her current assisted living community, has been diagnosed with depression, and never seems interested in participating in activities.

During our visit, we asked Helen what would make her happy right now and what would make her happy at Rosette. Her answer is not what I expected. She looked at me and answered “I just want to walk again." This answer really hit my heart, but it also struck me for a few other reasons.

As someone advocating for seniors with disabilities, I’m unfortunately aware of how elderly people are generally viewed by many people in society. Elderly people’s needs are commonly written off and their disabilities are frequently diminished to just being “old”. Using the reasoning that they have “had a long life already” is faulty and only perpetuates a belief that the struggles and needs of the elderly are somehow less important and thus irrelevant to society. But the truth is that women like Helen are still actively mourning the loss of their independence and mobility, and yes, even at 86 years old. This loss needs to be validated and those feelings respected.

It also hit me because the simple thought of walking was the first representation of what happiness meant to her. Because that initial loss from so many years ago was most likely what started the cascade of loss in other areas to where she is today emotionally.

It’s imperative to remember when caring for the elderly that the loss of mobility leads to many other issues that will begin to quickly compound on themselves if you don’t take the proper steps to create an environment to counteract that decline.

For example, have you ever thought about how the loss of mobility also impacts the speed in which one can access and use a bathroom? If the needed assistance doesn’t come fast enough and an accident occurs it can become an utterly humiliating experience. This loss of dignity is shattering to any person who is also still dealing with their declining mobility. The fear of these occurrences begin to manifest themselves in different ways; ultimately leading to isolation, depression and even dehydration. Cynthia Townsend, who has spent the last 30 years managing care for her elderly clients explains, “We often see behaviors that express concern or apprehension surrounding toileting in the elderly with mobility issues. These can range from fidgeting in their chairs to actively refusing or self-monitoring their beverages to reduce the times they must ask for help. Many cases of dehydration that we see can be traced to this. Also, as we age the sense of urgency is more difficult to control so residents tend not to venture out into larger spaces where they would have a more difficult time getting back to the bathroom. They may really enjoy an activity but choose not to go because of this fear."

The residential concept at Rosette is particularly beneficial is dealing with these concerns. In addition to making the entire house handicap accessible, a familiar single family residence also creates the added benefit that no matter where you are, you are only a few steps from your own bathroom. So not only does this cut down on the energy it takes to travel around to different rooms and activities, but it also creates less apprehension about the need to go to the bathroom while they are participating.

The caregivers are in close proximity at all times in a home like Rosette. They don’t just check in when called. We are companions as well as being very involved in the activities of the day and the meals. We are always available to take a resident to the bathroom or give assistance. The home is mindfully designed so that residents feel secure in experiencing activities and socialization again while also creating connections with other residents that may have the same disabilities and struggles that they do. Eliminating isolation is a major defense against depression and anxiety.

So though Helen’s answer made me feel very sad that moment… it also strengthened my resolve that we need to remember her words with everything we do at Rosette. Our mission is to preserve the dignity of every individual that lives here and to create an environment where life is beautiful and they are actively taking part in it, despite their challenges. We may not be able to help Helen walk again, but with the right environment and the right attention, we may be able to see her much happier and her eyes a little brighter.

To find out more about residential care homes and the benefits they can have on seniors with mobility struggles click here.

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