This is a follow-up post about WEAAD. Elder abuse is a phenomenon that affects not just the victim of abuse, but threatens the fabric of our community. Besides mandatory reporting, prosecuting perpetrators and enforcing existing laws prohibiting elder abuse and exploitation, there are prosocial behaviors which can serve as powerful and effective preventive interventions to guard against the isolation and vulnerability which often lead to elder abuse.
What Are Some Examples of Prosocial Behaviors?
The term was coined as an antonym of the more prevalent term “anti-social” behavior. It comes in many different theoretical forms, but they all recognize that we humans are social beings and depend upon one another, notwithstanding many of our “atomistic” beliefs about who we are and how we interact with each other. In this respect, prosocial behavior is tied to our very survival, but a functional approach is what I’m concerned about here because I’m looking at ways to foster elders remaining visible members of our community. The basic behviors might include: demonstrating concern for others, sharing time and resources, caring for others and active empathy.
Isolation as a Precursor to Elder Abuse, Inclusion as the Antidote
It may not occur to many of us that someone’s ability to live independently in the home – a/k/a aging in place, can have disadvantages and drawbacks. From my experience, I see plenty – but don’t get me wrong, I am definitely not against aging in place! I am concerned that sometimes it gets glamorized in unhelpful ways. I have seen some elders dig in their heels at the suggestion by loved ones that they bring in some help to perform household chores or share in meal preparation. In its worst expression, it becomes a vow by the elder that they will only be removed from their home “on a gurney.”
How Our Focus on a Rights-Based Approach to Elderhood Often Overlooks the Prosocial Activities of Inclusion and Participation
Most elder abuse occurs in the home. Many elders face abuse and abusive situations in skilled nursing facilities or other facilities and these tend to be the attention grabbers. I think of this fact when I read the ruling on appeal issued by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals last May, which upheld a jury verdict of $1.21 million in damages against an operator of an Oklahoma City, Oklahoma nursing home for abuse of one of its residents by nursing home employees. Keep in mind that nursing home administrators have many resources to assist them in training and supervising staff, one of these tools is known as TPAAN and here’s more information about it.
Our Collective Fear of Dementia Often Means We Shun People Affected by Dementia
When we’re talking about elders aging in place, we have to consider folks with dementia. People with dementia have trouble thinking and sometimes their loved ones in particular (most of whom have no special training in communicating with people with dementia) or other community members have a difficult time not correcting those errors in thinking, cognition or memory impairment. But what if we looked at those “errors” not as errors but simply as a different way of being in the world? How could we get through to see and listen to someone in that different world the person with dementia inhabits? Remember, there is still much opportunity for communication, which can and does still happen. The more challenging question is how we can facilitate it. I think of music and its use in Alive Inside and I recently learned from a Canadian friend of the Butterfly Model, a new version of person-centered care that recognizes that
for people experiencing dementia, feelings matter most, that emotional intelligence is the core competency and that “people living with a dementia can thrive well in a nurturing environment where those living and working together know how to “be” person centered together”
We Can Still Be in Relation With A Person Whom We Struggle to Understand
This person-centered care is a relational way of engaging with a person affected by dementia. It also reminds me of Naomi Feil’s validation therapy, which is also relational. So, this leads me to the inevitable question, can people engage in this type of relational work without specific training and/or outside the context of institutionalized care? I will write more about this soon….
©2018 Barbara E. Cashman, www.DenverElderLaw.org