Sunday 11 January 2015

Can We Teach Caregiving to the Masses? Should We?

Here’s a question I’ve been pondering this week: can excellent caregiving be taught?  Imagine the perfect caregiver… someone who listens with their whole being, someone who enables the disabled with quiet dignity and humor, someone who puts their charge in the spotlight, while they retreat to the shadows.  Can these skills and talents be taught to our next generation of humankind?

Howard Gleckman spoke in his Forbes blog this week about a radical new approach to Alzheimer’s care.   He was exhorting the virtues of Dr. G. Allen Power’s book, DementiaBeyond Disease in which Power calls for us to ‘see people with dementia as having experienced a change in their world view.  We must not try to change them, but rather meet them where they are, without drugs.’

 Gleckman: He (Power) is, for instance, an outspoken critic of segregated dementia units (often called memory care) that have become the standard in many residential care facilities. At the same time, he offers many practical ideas for helping those with dementia.
Imagine someone who is extremely agitated. You can control her aggression with medication. Or you can identify the cause of her upset, and change it. Maybe she is in pain, or troubled by loud noises. She may not be able to describe in words why she is distressed. But if you know what to look for, you can learn from her body language.

If we agree with Power and Gleckman, we will certainly need to be able to teach good caregiving.  People are required to carry out this approach.  And paying for those people will depend on how much we value the altered world view and experience of those we love with dementia.
But, perhaps it’s a spiritual poverty that we healthy, younger folks feel that will ultimately drive us to teach and train excellent caregiving skills to the masses.
The very wise New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an OpEd last week that ignited a lively discussion in my family.  Here’s what he said about a good definition of ‘meaning’ in peoples’ lives:
                                   Yet what do we mean when we use the word meaning?
The first thing we mean is that life should be about more than material success. The person leading a meaningful life has found some way of serving others that leads to a feeling of significance.
Second, a meaningful life is more satisfying than a merely happy life. Happiness is about enjoying the present; meaning is about dedicating oneself to the future. Happiness is about receiving; meaningfulness is about giving. Happiness is about upbeat moods and nice experiences. People leading meaningful lives experience a deeper sense of satisfaction.
In this way, meaning is an uplifting state of consciousness. It’s what you feel when you’re serving things beyond self.

But Brooks went on to discredit the current, more new-age seeking of meaning with its hallmarks of self-regarding emotion and immediate gratification.  He worries that our society lacks a hierarchy of values and moral architecture – that’s where the discussion in our family started: should we impose a system of moral values that is rooted in justice for the common good, or is personal freedom more in need of protection? I believe it’s a balance. 
One thing is for sure.  We won’t have any caregivers for our generation or the next if we define meaning only in the most individual terms….especially if we choose to treat our loved ones with a human touch rather than drugs.  Society's next big challenge is to create a language and culture of care that gives meaning to all our lives.

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