Through taking many classes in the Health & Aging Department at McMaster University, I have learned the importance that the community has on aging. As a student in gerontology and health studies, I have just started to become educated in the benefits of age friendly communities, and have seen a need for others to become more aware of this topic. An article written by Dupuis (2010) considered an interesting perspective when he looked at older adults with dementia and the need to still incorporate their lives into communities, along with solutions on how to do this.
The Dupuis (2010) article looks at how we can improve the lives of individuals with dementia as well as their family. Long-term care (LTC) centres are faced with pressures such as low staff assurance, high turnover and a lack of specifically skilled workers to allow for these specialized programs to be implemented. Dupuis (2010) identifies some necessary changes that need to occur to improve the well-being of those with dementia. The two goals for this new approach are a framework centered on meaningful lives despite the level of dementia the older adult has, as well as readdressing how we currently support not only the people with dementia but also their families (Dupuis, 2010). Dupuis (2010) argues that leisure is the solution to help older adults become more engaged in the community as well as helping meaning be found for the lives of the older adults and those close to them (Dupuis, 2010). A more socio-cultural approach to dementia and the care of these individuals are crucial. By looking at things from a wider perspective, we can confront the ways that we discriminate against those with dementia, and understand that which we are uncomfortable talking about (Dupuis, 2010).
Dupuis (2010) looks at how the community can impact these policies and work with those who have dementia and their families. The guiding principles of this framework are a relationship-based approach that calls for:
– Acknowledging the dynamic of family/friends as a support system
– Ethical principles of ‘do no harm’
– Reevaluating the ways which people with dementia may be impacted
– Recognizing individual and community rights
– Making sure these individuals in society are valued and considered citizens
– Respecting diversity and inclusiveness
– Recognizing there are different types of people and dementia levels, so not one case is the same as another
– Fairness in policies and accessibility
– Accountability of not only the people who are caring for those with dementia, but the community and family as well.
The three foundation pieces that need to be regarded are an informed society that is educated, supportive environments that allow individuals to be safe, and a sense of connectedness that eliminates this sense of ‘otherness’ that individuals with dementia face due to stigma (Dupuis, 2010). Dupuis (2010) believes that recreation and leisure need to be at the forefront of this framework to act as a way to buffer and normalize the individuals, and to get people to see beyond the diagnosis of dementia.
From experience, I have found that when people find out that a loved one has dementia, how they act around you and your family changes. People that you know and love begin to distance themselves from you, instead of talking and trying to become educated about the disease. There continues to be this stigma that surrounds the illness, creating distance from those who have dementia instead of an understanding and support that would so greatly help not only the individuals with dementia but their families as well. It takes a lot of adjustment as losing the support of your friends and community leaves a gap that is difficult to handle.
Jessica Barlas is studying health and aging at McMaster University.
Dupuis, S. L. (2010). A planning framework for improving the lives of persons with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and their families: Implications for social policy, leisure policy and practice. Decentring work: Critical perspectives on leisure, social policy and human development, 91-117.