Change and the elderly: Continuity is key

Nobody likes change regardless of the age you have become. Joan Wallach Scott wrote, “Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.”

As a Navy wife moving to the “great Northwest” from the Southeast, change was inevitable. And it certainly was not comfortable or free from conflict. I found myself having to find a new home, a new job, new friends, a new church, a new hairdresser, a new doctor and the list goes on. It took up a great portion of my life. But having been here for nearly two years, the change, for me, was worth the conflict that ensued.

What about our senior population? They like change even less than you and I; mainly because they don’t adapt well to it. As they age, they, too, need to find new hairdressers, new barbers and new doctors. Not because they have moved, but because theirs has either retired or even died. Some seniors have to adapt to a new home, whether it be a nursing home, an assisted living facility or the like. Having to give up the familiarity of a home that you’ve lived in for half-a-century is going to cause some inner conflict. Most seniors are “set in their ways” where change for them does more harm than good. So why is change so difficult for them? I think it’s because as you age, it’s harder to adapt to new things or new people. Familiarity is like an old movie. You like to watch “Arsenic and Old Lace” or “Some Like it Hot” because Cary Grant, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are like old friends. They give you a sense of nostalgia. Making changes takes up time and energy. Who would want to change anyway? This is the way it’s always been and it’s always been good enough for me, so why change?

What about those who have a cognitive impairment, whether it is Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia or Pick’s disease? They can’t understand the changes being made around them. They may have lived right across the street from you for decades, but all of a sudden they can’t remember your name. They cannot adapt to the world — the world must adapt to them. They are no longer “tuned in.” You and I may say that adapting to new situations is a part of life, but to someone who has dementia, adapting to new situations is extremely difficult for them to overcome.

So how do we help those who are aging, particularly those with dementia? The answer is simple really — continuity in their daily lives. Maintaining continuity or a normal everyday routine could mean the difference between remaining in their home and having to move to an assisted living facility or memory care unit. For these folks, keeping a routine minimizes their frustrations as a result of daily changes in their lives. They already have a hard enough time living with their disease and its inherit complications, so this is one way we can make their lives better.

Our lives are continually changing, day in and day out. For most of us, we are able to adapt to make the best of it. But for some, it is just about impossible to adjust to those changes. But, with a little bit of education and a lot of love and patience, we can make it a much more positive time for those who can’t adapt well to the world that is changing around them.

Barbara Seiber is the office manager at Home Instead Senior Care, located at 840 Callahan Dr., Suite C in Bremerton.

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