Help Elders "Unleash Their Power"

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By Loretta Matters, Guest Columnist, Durham Herald Sun, May 2013 Every year since 1963, May has been the month to appreciate and celebrate the vitality and aspirations of older adults as well as their contributions and achievements. It is a proud tradition that shows our nation’s commitment to honor the value that elders continue to contribute to our communities. This year’s Older Americans Month theme, “Unleash the Power of Age,” emphasizes the important role of older adults. Communities across the nation will encourage older Americans to share their stories of how they influence those around them and contribute to the communities in which they live. Unfortunately, not all of our elders are able to share how they continue to “unleash the power of age.” Some of our elders suffer from dementia, and are challenged by a disease that robs them of precious memories, alters their perception of the world around them, and eventually inhibits their ability to communicate with others. Yet, older adults with dementia have likes and dislikes, needs and concerns and hopes and dreams as we all do, but sometimes they need our help to express them. We often miss the opportunity to help them express themselves because we focus on the “dementia” rather than the person. As we celebrate Older Americans Month, consider how you might help older adults with dementia to “unleash their power of age.” Encourage yourself and others to look beyond the disease and truly see the person before you. Sit and listen patiently to what they have to offer. Give them new memories, if only for a moment. Consider, recognize and appreciate how older adults who live with dementia continue to positively impact us. When you next visit a family member or friend, meet an old acquaintance or happen on a stranger with dementia, I challenge you not to shy away from them, but to go softly into their world and see the joy that they still can experience through simple pleasures. It is a reminder to all of us that it is not grandiose accomplishments that most often brings a smile to our face, but simple human interactions … what a gift older adults with dementia give us every time they remind us of this fact. Celebrate the elders in your life. Loretta Matters is associate director of the Center of Excellence for Geriatric Nursing Education at Duke University School of Nursing.