Socialized medicine a must in LTC

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

Chalk up another one for that disruptive New Yorker who crisscrossed the nation the last two years, speaking to big crowds, imploring change. His words are proving prophetic again.

Bill Thomas, M.D., doesn't know it any other way. Last year, his Age of Disruption Tour attracted thousands from March to November, That's what campaigning for aging-care changes for several decades will do for you.

But it's not just Thomas' recent work that draws attention. Some of the Eden Alternative founder's oldest advice gathers more adherents each and every season.

That especially includes the weeks after the year-end holidays, when the spotlight intensifies on loneliness each year. As if a majority of seniors aren't vulnerable to sad feelings of solitude the rest of the year.

Thomas first attacked the “three plagues” — loneliness, boredom and helplessness — back in the 1990s when he formed the Eden Alternative.

They are, of course, as relevant as ever today. Whether you're a caregiver in one of Thomas' patented Green House facilities or not, the three demons are your enemies too. Save your residents from them, and your job becomes a lot easier.

Let's focus on loneliness in particular. It should not be viewed as somebody else's problem, which is the way it is so often portrayed. You might not be lonely, but that doesn't relieve you of loneliness-busting duties. Especially when the antidote — being social with someone, anyone in need — is so easy to do. Administering this fix multiple times a day could be your easiest task of the day. Call it “socialized medicine” in a new light.

It's not a concept entirely new to McKnight's readers, given some of our recent offerings approaching it from a variety of angles, including my own previous take. But a striking number of articles about the dangers of loneliness have popped up over the last few days alone. Granted, gray winter days can be more challenging to deal with than bland summer days. But if this is this particular plague's time to be in the spotlight, so be it.

We'll even give Good Housekeeping a gold star for effort for trying to highlight the benefits of socialization with the elderly with its article “Study Shows the More You Hang Out With Your Mom, the Longer She'll Live.” So what if its Dec. 30 article refers to a 2012 study as “new.”

The same day, The New York Times' wonderful Paula Span published “Loneliness Can Be Deadly for Elders; Friends Are The Antidote.” In it she cites numerous studies showing health-damaging connections to loneliness while also illustrating charming interactions between happily interdependent seniors.

The point is the issue is being talked about in wider circles, and the topic is as relevant as ever.

Keep up the discussion. Start new discussions with your residents.

An internet search for the word “lonely” in song lyrics calls up millions of entries. You'd be hard-pressed to find any of them used in a positive light.

Why not get in the habit of creating a looping, positive message — for the benefit of your residents, and co-workers and family members — as part of your personal 2017 soundtrack?

Here's a list of 48 words — including optimism, fellowship and hopefulness — that will help you conceptualize what's needed. Battling loneliness requires energy from all of us, year-round. Everyone deserves the effort, especially your residents.

Follow James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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