Saturday, December 14, 2013

Older Adult Support: Do They Want or Need It? (Research)

Have you noticed that the older people get, the more they are viewed as being in need of support? The problem with this generalized way of thinking is that support can be a very complex consideration. First of all, how do older people really feel about being receivers of support? Researchers of older adults set out to find that answer by interviewing community-dwelling, childless, older adults who were perceived by many to be “at risk” of lack of support.

The real meaning of support became more evident when the level of receiving support had to be defined. When researchers and assessors asked participants if they had enough support, responses regarding support and the experience of receiving it were explained in diverse ways:

   1) Some participants received support resulting from particular circumstances such as illness. They  viewed this kind of support as acceptable due to qualities of the support giver, and/or by being part of  reciprocal exchanges across time.

   2)  Participants resisted support, however, when associated with difficult interpersonal dynamics or the  giver’s assumptions about the receiver’s incapacity.

   3)  Some expressed concerns about wanting to be independent and not needing support.

   4)  Some felt the idea of being old and the equivalent of being in need of support was negative in terms of  being a support receiver.

Where do these responses leave researchers, needs assessors, and potential support givers? These responses emphasize the importance of examining how support receivers view themselves and their particular support needs before attempting to fulfill them. Support givers must not make misleading assumptions about “at-risk” groups. Although childless participants were perceived to be unsupported, many of them had a lifetime of self-support or an intentionally developed  “web of contacts” that satisfied them just fine.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Widowhood: Holiday Friendships and Choices (Research)

Men and women experiencing widowhood during the holidays can experience especially difficult times when they are grieving the death of loved ones. Through the years, they may have associated holiday traditions with familiar people and places that they shared as a couple. Research on widowhood involving 328 men and women over age 50 indicates that voluntary social support and interactions from friends have significant impact during this stressful transition, particularly during the early phases of spousal or partner loss.

The following suggestions from my book Becoming Dead Right offer additional bereavement support options for those experiencing widowhood and others grieving during the holidays:

“Mourners have to decide the best ways they can adjust to the holidays. One option is to create new holiday traditions. If holidays were celebrated as a family, new traditions can be planned as a family, so everyone can have input. This will give family members an opportunity to discuss their feelings about the deceased loved one and possibly include something in the new tradition that commemorates that person in an uplifting manner. This could be a type of memorial that adds pleasure to holidays in the future, something that would have pleased the deceased.

Whether celebrating the holidays alone, with others, or not at all, people should always follow their hearts and do what feels best for them. There is no one way for everyone. There are different ways that work well for different people. Some people who found the holidays stressful, phony, or too commercial before their loved one died may want to redirect their holiday focus. They might choose to participate in an activity that is calmer and more meaningful to them such as volunteering at places where they can help others or sharing with others in another capacity. Others may want to celebrate alone or with a few friends, take a trip to another state or country, or just be involved with something they enjoy doing that may or may not have anything to do with the holidays, but everything to do with their own quality of life."

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Friday, November 29, 2013

School-Healthcare Volunteer Partnerships: Students Help Hospice Patients and Families (Video 1:46)

Most young people have no idea what hospice means or what role they can play in improving lives of terminally ill patients and their families. When partnerships take place between schools and healthcare organizations such as hospice, there are several bonuses. In addition to improvement of academic and affective skills, students become more familiar with aging, illness, caregiving, death, and grief. They also learn about career choices they may not have considered. Patients and families benefit from the many services these young volunteers can provide.

Some hospices and other healthcare facilities have teenage volunteers doing the following assignments:

1. Perform in-office work including filing, faxing, and preparing admission packets.
2. Host tea parties, movies, and other social events at nursing homes.
3. Provide one-on-one time and attention by reading to, writing letters for, playing games with, or simply talking and listening to patients.
4. Videotape, record, or make booklets of patients’ life reviews.
5. Assist families with yard work, cleaning out the garage, planting flowers, small paint jobs, and home-building projects (i.e. wheelchair ramp).
6. Assist patients and families by doing errands, walking dogs, picking up groceries, etc.

My earliest memory of feeding a nursing home patient was not after I became an adult hospice volunteer. It was during my high school days when I joined a school club that encouraged me to make a positive difference in people's lives through service. Cleveland High School art students share a partnership with Hospice of Chattanooga that also creates service opportunities. In this video, students create ceramic hearts for hospice families. The hearts serve as symbols reminding families of their deceased loved ones. Grateful heart recipients have the support of knowing that students cared enough about their healing to make special hearts to connect with theirs.

Note: Winner of the National Service-Learning Partnership Trailblazer Award, Frances Shani Parker, a national service-learning consultant and former school principal, has been instrumental in implementing service-learning in school districts across the country. Her book includes a chapter on intergenerational partnerships between schools and nursing homes.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.