Sunday, 25 August 2019

When a Real Grade 6 Class Moves Into A Nursing Home

I've blogged before about the Eden Alternative approach to eldercare. I've blogged before about the benefits of benefits of bringing children into long-term care homes. But I've never blogged about an elementary class of students moving into an Eden Alternative seniors' home!

This morning I hopped in the car with Daisy, our golden retriever. We were headed for a lovely walking trail nearby our home. Out of habit, I turned on the radio and tuned into CBC. A summer rerun of The Sunday Edition was playing and luckily for me, it was an inspiring episode about a unique model of learning and eldercare.

When I find myself wondering about how to create a society in which everyone gives and receives care naturally, I think of stories like this. These children aren't 'heroes' or 'saints' for learning alongside elders - they just get on with living and learning together. These children will grow up to be natural caregivers.

From the CBC Sunday Edition website page, read on!
Originally published on September 23, 2018.
Old people living out their days in nursing homes and young people soaking up lessons in elementary schools live in separate universes — Canada's generational silos.
But at the Sherbrooke Community Centre, it's a different story.
The Saskatoon nursing home houses 263 high-needs residents. It's also the site of an intergenerational school.
Elder Jeff Siemens and IGen students Jace Hein and Athan Swales on one of Sherbrooke's indoor streets.(David Gutnick/CBC)

Intergenerational school

Every year, after winning a city-wide lottery, a batch of sixth graders ditch the traditional classroom and spend a year attending school at Sherbrooke. It is the only classroom of its kind in Canada.
After 18 years of teaching in a "regular" elementary school, Keri Albert, the program's founder, felt something was missing.
"I lived in a small town and we had all ages and stages and all different types of people around us all the time," she told The Sunday Edition's documentary producer David Gutnick at the end of the last school year.
The Grade 6 IGen students in the playground with founder Keri Albert (in purple on the right) and teacher Callie Spafford in the green shirt. (David Gutnick/CBC)
She remembers being particularly affected by her relationships with older people.
So in 2013, she went to the Saskatoon Board of Education with a proposal to co-mingle the generations.
The following year, iGen was born.  
Her plan: students would complete their provincial curriculum requirements within the confines of the nursing home. They would be constantly on the move — sometimes all together for math, science and reading, sometimes working one-on-one with Keri, sometimes meeting with the elders.
At Sherbrooke, there are no classrooms, no desks, and no blackboards. Students get together with their teachers in the chapel in the morning and again at noon, but the rest of the time they are free to go where they want, and sit with anyone they feel like talking to.
Elder Dr. Jodi Grant speaks at the IGen Graduation with students Shova Akter and Faith Luu. (David Gutnick/CBC)
We're talking about their character development.- Keri Albert
The program is now in its fourth year.
Albert says she's often asked, "How do you do this?"
The secret, she says, is combining lessons.
For example, one recent project had students build entire solar systems and present them to the elders.
"[The students] not only did their research and built the model, but they also got to practise their presentation skills," Callie Spafford, a co-teacher in the iGen program explained.
The purpose of the program isn't just academics, Albert stressed.
"We're talking about their character development, we're talking about goals and plans that they have for themselves in terms of their generosity, in terms of their mastery, in terms of their independence, and in terms of being a part of a community which is belonging," she said.
Helena McKenzie Blenkinsop and Elizabeth Grunau greet the guests attending their iGen graduation. (David Gutnick/CBC)

'It's all just part of the human experience'

"There are things in this environment that you do not see in a school. Because this is an adult world."
Death, for example, is a common occurrence.
"It was so emotional," said iGen student Brooke, describing how she felt after her friend Vicky, a veteran, died.
"When he passed away, we were pretty sad."
"If an elder passes away they are not going to hide us from that. They are going to let us know, and we have to learn about grief and stuff, so we have to learn how to cope," she said.
Albert said dealing with grief in this matter-of-fact way is a valuable life lesson.
"We grow confident. We grow used to and normalized around differences, and we realize it's all just part of the human experience. And at the end of it we're okay," she explained.
Student Adam Brookman and Elder Herb Nolan in front of the Tumbleweed Gift and Thrift Shop at Sherbrooke. (David Gutnick/CBC)
Without the kids, I just feel that a part of me dies.- Dr. Jodi Grant
The school is a life-changing experience for the elders as much as it is for the kids.
Dr. Jodi Grant used to teach literacy and children's literature. For her, the students help stave off loneliness.
"If we didn't see the kids, we would just be a bunch of old people in this building, and that is stark and it's ugly. Without the kids, I just feel that a part of me dies," she said.
"I have the wonderful fortune to be down here with the kids and I am able to read to them and it brings me the greatest joy."
Click HERE to listen to David Gutnik's documentary, The School of Real Life

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

A Personal Conversation About Caring with Mark Stolow of HUDDOL

Yesterday I had the pleasure and privilege of chatting with my friend and colleague in caregiving, Mark Stolow. Mark is the founder of HUDDOL.COM, a terrific resource for caregivers everywhere.
I really encourage you to join me and Mark there to continue to conversation! Have a listen and let me know your thoughts about your caring life.

If you find that these experiences and ideas resonate, consider ordering my new book The Unexpected Journey of Caring: The Transformation From Loved One to Caregiver (co-authored with Dr. Zachary White of The Unprepared Caregiver).

Friday, 9 August 2019


There’s a huge upheaval that many caregivers experience but 

hardly never talk about. It’s when caregivers leave their own 

families in order to move in with aging parents. Or, they move 

parents into the family home. Often, these decisions to move 

are made quickly as the result of some crisis or other. And then, 

as the dust settles, the monumental changes wrought by 

disrupting family dynamics begin to dawn.


Last year I started caring for my Mom and it has been hard. 

Really hard. I had to quit my job and leave my husband and 

daughter to move in with Mom in Milwaukee—I live in 

Madison. Dad passed five years ago, and he had been Mom’s 

main caregiver since her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s. 

So after his passing, there was no one else to look after Mom. I 

felt that I had no choice but to come and live here. I know now 

how hard it must have been for my dad. Some nights if Mom is 

calm, I sit looking at our family photos and I just cry. I wish that 

I would have helped Dad more when he was still alive. Mom’s 

needs are slowly becoming more than I can handle. It’s hard for 

her to swallow now, which scares me, and of course she doesn’t 

know who I am. Sometimes she becomes very agitated, and 

that’s the worst.

Mom’s apartment is on the fifth floor of a nice brownstone in 
downtown Milwaukee. There’s a large picture window above the kitchen sink, and one of my pleasures is looking at the sun sparkling on the dew there in the morning. What I want to tell you about is what I see through the window in the evenings. There’s an apartment below us, and I have a view into their kitchen. Not into their kitchen really, but into their sink. I can see a woman’s hands peeling avocados or potatoes there. The thing is, she’s really good at peeling. She’s not very fast, but she is so deliberate and so . . . skillful. Her hands can peel an avocado without breaking the peel—it falls in a spiral into the sink, and then her knife goes whoosh, whoosh, cutting slices to the pit.
A few months ago, I began to wait and watch for those hands. They comforted me. I looked at my own hands. I thought how strange it was that my hands are here, not in my own home, or shuffling papers on my old desk at work. I take a potato, turning it over under the warm water and rubbing it with my thumbs. With the peeler, I begin to slowly remove a single, snaking peel that falls into the sink. I think, I am feeding my mom and myself with this potato. This is right now, and I am preparing food without which we will not live. Since that night, peeling vegetables has become a form of prayer for me—a prayer to be okay with being in the present with my mom.

Last week I asked readers on my facebook page, The Caregivers Living Room, to tell me about their experience of moving home to accommodate care needs. Here are some replies:

Becky L wrote, “I moved Mom in with us, but I placed her home in a trust so she could sit in her old world from time to time. My son and his young family live in Mom’s home now so when she visits, the little ones make her life a joy! But she sleeps with me at our home because of seizures and falling. None of it has been easy, though.”

Brian J wrote: “When I was little, my grandparents moved into a trailer in the back yard to take care of me and my baby sister. It was a good arrangement for all concerned – my folks got free childcare, the grandparents got extra sets of eyes nearby to make sure everything was fine for them.”

Tracy A wrote: “My Mom refused to move in with us, so my husband and I moved in with her. I never imagined that I would be living in the house where I grew up. It’s 50 miles away from our own house and Mom’s place only has one bathroom. But we made it work. My Mom has done so much for my grown children and myself. This is how I will repay her love.”

Cheryl K wrote: “I moved in with my parents in 2009. Two years ago, my Mom and I bought a house together and moved up to the north Georgia mountains. My Mom was 85 and had lived in central Florida since 1968, in the same house for 40 years. I figured I’d have to wait until after she died, but one day, she just said, “Let’s go!”  We’re in a small town with a community hospital, but our county will Life Flight us out for free if we need advanced, emergency care. And that was the final hurdle for me. No regrets.”

Chris K wrote: “I left the big city with modern conveniences to move into my Mom’s house in a very small and unfriendly depressed, poor farming town with no jobs, no friends, nothing to do and now no major hospital within an hour from us. I’ve been here almost seven years and I’m really stuggling with depression, loneliness and anxiety from helping her with dementia issues. And no help from 3 siblings, only criticism over what I’m NOT doing and that I’m spending their inheritances! God help me!”

Dawn S wrote: “We sold our house and their house to buy a new one that worked for everyone (my parents, my husband, me and our three kids). I’ll be honest, we lost a lot of square footage for our family of five even though the house overall is bigger than our old home. Nine months later, my Mom died. My Dad is almost 93 and is still living with us.”

Jan T wrote: “For the first two years, my Mom lived with us and we moved with her into a bigger house at her request. My own house is still there, but it is musty and neglected.”

Please leave a comment if your family life has been upended by moving in order to give care.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

The Importance & Complexity of Compassionate Caregiving

It is my pleasure to host this guest post from author Christian Worstell on the subject of compassionate caregiving. Can compassion in caring be taught and learned? Or, is it a talent that is either in us, or not? Read on.

Photo Credit: Pexels

What do you think of when you hear the word care? Do you instantly think of compassion, or do you think of physically taking care of someone?  For me personally, care and compassion go hand in hand. But unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Caregiving can be extremely challenging and frustrating at times. The journey of caring is not an easy one and it’s completely normal to feel burned out. As tempting as it may be to feel guilty or embarrassed, it is important to understand that you’re making a huge difference in someone’s life. Your feelings are real and valid, and odds are you don’t give yourself enough credit for your hard work.

So when you’re questioning your purpose or feeling worn down as a caregiver, I challenge you to think back to why you do it. It isn’t always a choice, but here you are doing what so many are scared of.

The thing is, you can’t provide adequate care without compassion. Compassion is essential to caregiving; it involves showing understanding and appreciation for others feelings and emotions. Without compassion, caregiving can be counterproductive.

Research shows that compassionate interaction with doctors can affect healing. In fact, having a connection can actually stimulate self-healing techniques.

It’s no secret that a little compassion can go a long way, but it’s important to note that expressing compassion can have a positive effect on caregivers, too. When you add compassion to caregiving, a true bond can be formed. And this can make being a caregiver a lot easier.

So instead of turning to a self-deprecating mindset, be proactive and utilize skills that you can learn to improve yourself as a caregiver. I know this is easier said than done, but there are some simple steps you can take each day to implement compassion into your caregiving routine.

Use good listening skills

Sometimes we get caught up and we don’t properly listen. We only half listen or don’t listen at all. Developing good listening skills can help you build compassion in your role.

Practice mindfulness

Learning to have more compassion really involves making the shift to assume the best in others. And that’s an amazing skill to have. Make mindfulness a priority, and always give the benefit of the doubt. This skill may benefit you in other aspects of your life, too.

Avoid biases

It’s normal for us to make assumptions, but try your hardest to fight them. Biases can really interfere with your ability to express compassion.

Make eye contact

We’re so busy that sometimes we forget how meaningful simple eye contact can be. Make it a priority to make eye contact from time to time. It can really help to form a connection with your patient.

Pay attention to your body language

Sometimes our body language doesn’t match our words. Be conscious of this, and practice compassionate body language.

Familiarize yourself with caregiver burnout

Learn the symptoms of caregiver burnout and seek help if you feel you are experiencing it. Please make your mental and physical health a priority so that you can be at the top of your caregiving game.

Consider compassion training

Compassion training for health professionals is a real thing. Do some research on it and see if it’s a good fit for you.

As a caregiver, there are so many things you have to keep up with — medications, your loved one’s health insurance, doctors’ appointments and more. Showing compassion is not at the top of the list, but try to make it.

Remember that the best caregivers are the one who do just that — care. Keep this in mind on your caregiving journey and continue making a difference. You are appreciated more than you know.

Author Bio: Christian Worstell is a health and wellness writer living in Raleigh, North Carolina.