Authenticity, Why it Matters

By / Posted on August 1st, 2017

Anne Ellett is a certified Nurse Practitioner (NP) with more than 20 years of experience in elder living and memory care, and served as Sr. Vice President with Silverado Senior Living, an award-winning Assisted Living company specializing in dementia care.  Currently, Anne is owner/CEO of Memory Care Support, LLC, a consulting agency working with senior housing professionals as they develop state-of-the-art health and wellness and memory care programs.

In Green House homes, authenticity matters – for example, we strive to build real homes, not fake homes, not pretend homes, not places that look like a home but really feel more like an institution.  We want to create that sense of belonging, of warmth and deep knowing that we all crave.  We want the elders to feel connected to the people and the space.

Best Life supports elders living with dementia (ELWD), and here too, we strive for authenticity.  For many ELWD, their experience has been one of loss and lack of choice.  Family, friends, and professionals may respond to their diagnosis rather than to the individual person, focusing on inabilities rather than retained talents and abilities.  The opportunities for real, authentic life experiences may be taken away, justified by saying, “It doesn’t really matter, they won’t know the difference.”

Best Life understands that being authentic does make a difference to elders and those working closest to them.  We know that real friendships, real relationships are meaningful.  One of the Best Life core principles is “Elder-directed, relationship-rich living.”  Offering opportunities for ELWD to sustain old relationships as well as the opportunity to form new ones is part of a normal life, and should be part of living with dementia.

Relationships with pets can also be important for ELWD.  How many of us enjoy the companionship of our pet cat or dog?  The joy that a dog brings when he puts his head in your lap, or a kitten who runs through the house chasing a ball of paper brings a lot of smiles.  An ELWD who can assist with feeding or walking the dog, or enjoys rubbing the neck of their favorite cat knows the significance of rapport with live animal.

As I visit many care locations, I am sometimes shown a community’s “pretend” pet animal program.  There are many varieties available of these fake pets, all of them claiming to bring joy to the elder.

Best Life focuses on real relationships built on retained abilities. If an ELWD is offered a robotic pet, they may respond and stroke it, but there’s no relationship, no purpose, no bond of love that is formed.

What would be the reason for not having a real pet – a loving dog or a real cat who can be the “diva” of the home?  Do we offer a robotic pet because again, we think, “It doesn’t really matter, they won’t know the difference?”  The magic that happens between an ELWD and a real pet cannot be substituted by offering a mechanical toy.

I’m reminded of one woman I knew who had recently moved into a home and was quickly labeled as a “challenge” by the care team.  Joan yelled out frequently, disrupting other elders.  She criticized both staff and elders and refused to participate when invited to meals or engagements.

As an annual event, the home sponsored a pet adoption day by the local animal shelter.  In preparation, the ELWD helped clear the patio where the public would be coming to view the adoptable pets. On the day of event, many volunteers with a variety of dogs and cats showed up at the home and as the volunteers and pets arrived, the elders greeted each one and welcomed them to their home for the pet adoption.

Joan initially resisted becoming involved, but as the dogs arrived, she focused on one small dog who was blind in one eye and was anxiously barking a lot.  As she pet the dog, it seemed to relax and finally laid down and closed its eyes.  Joan said, “It just needed some love,” and continued to sit by its side for the entire afternoon.

At the end of the day, the dog had not been adopted and the care team asked Joan if she would like to adopt it?  The look on Joan’s face said it all.  The significance of the friendship between Joan and her dog Freddy (Joan’s chosen name for it) was evident as the months passed.  It seemed Joan found purpose and peace when she and Freddy would sit together or as she fed it some of her favorite chicken dish that she had saved from her own dinner plate.

Best Life encourages an authentic, real home where an ELWD has opportunities for a life that is purposeful and relationship-rich. learn more>>