Saturday, April 3, 2010

Adapting to Changes (Joanna)

After working over two years for Atria Senior Living Group, I have observed and realized that older adults who use a cane or walker very often run into the problem of forgetting their cane or walker. They might leave it in a room after a specific activity, or forget altogether to bring their cane or walker from their apartment with them to other common areas in the building. Some of these older adults have dementia (which can contribute to their forgetfulness about this), but not all of them have dementia as their “excuse.” I have realized that having to use a cane or walker is comparable to getting glasses. After all, when any person gets glasses for the first time, they must adjust and adapt their mind, body, and lifestyle to this change. I'm a little far-sighted, and I remember having my own moments where I would forget to wear my glasses. I would be dressed and ready to drive to work, turn my car on, look out my windshield, and then wonder for a second or two why I couldn't see something clearly in the far distance. Then surely enough, I'll remember that my eyes are not what they used to be, and that I need my glasses! After all, I have lived the majority of my life without any glasses, right? We are creatures of habit. Then, when I started to wear contacts, I had experiences where I completely forgot I was wearing them! I accidentally went to bed at night still wearing my contacts, and discovered this when I woke up the next morning with very dry uncomfortable contacts and irritated eyes! Again, I had been accustomed to not using any kind of visual aid for most of my life. Similarly, older adults may forget their cane or walker, just as I forgot to wear my glasses (or forgot to take out my contacts), since they have lived the majority of their life (70, 80, 90+ years) without the assistance of a walker or cane. It does take time to adapt to changes like this, and sometimes also requires developing new routines.

Another thing my residents have taught me is that if you have some type of handicap, you can still do many things, although you might have to do them differently. For example, one of my residents with a vision handicap told me how it started to become difficult for her to put toothpaste onto her toothbrush. So, she started to just squirt some toothpaste into her mouth, and continue with brushing her teeth in this way. Of course she doesn't share her tube of toothpaste with others! Therefore, being creative in discovering simple ways to adapt a particular routine (such as tooth brushing), can be very helpful for some older adults to remain independent instead of struggling, getting frustrated, and experiencing another loss. (The majority of people without vision problems wouldn't ever think to do this, even though there's really nothing wrong about it, especially if you live by yourself or use your own personal tube of toothpaste.)

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