Book Reviews: No. 5: Happily Ever Older, by Moira Welsh
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Written by Cece M Scott
Never in our collective memories have the dire conditions surrounding our long-term care homes, (LTC), been so front and centre to each and every one of us. We are all familiar with the images of elders framed in the windows of their LTC facilities looking scared and isolated during these past many months of the COVID-19 virus.
Even before the virus cut its deadly swath through LTCs, the feelings of dread about ‘ending up’ in one of these homes, or the gut-wrenching feelings of guilt experienced by those who have had to ‘place’ a family member in one of these institutions, has become an unsettling reality – especially for baby boomers who are at the cusp of this singular lifestyle.
And so, Moira Welsh’s book, Happily Ever Older, is both a welcome read and an olive branch of hope in a brave new world, one that recognizes the value of experience, respect, and the comforts of familiarity.
Welsh, an investigative reporter with the Toronto Star, has written extensively on seniors’ issue, with a focus on long-term care, as well as issues related to social justice, health and the environment. She has co-authored investigations that have won three National Newspaper Awards and a Michener Award for Public Service Journalism.
In the writing of Happily Ever Older, Welsh has done her homework, travelling to several progressive nursing homes in the Netherlands, and elsewhere, to conduct deep-dive research into alternative methods and resident-focused, rather than institution-focused, solutions that are centred on dignity, respect and a faithful adherence to treating others as we want to be treated ourselves in on our not so golden years. The foundational philosophy of these more open-minded homes operates on what is known as the Butterfly Effect, one that is specifically tailored to and for residents with dementia, “at a time when for most people, the floor falls out.” In order to illustrate the merits of the Butterfly approach, Welsh shares many examples of what facilitators are implementing at these revolutionary residences – simple things that are not ground-breaking in concept, but definitively singular in their doing. These include such simple things as providing the “stuff of life,” everyday items that comfort in their memoires, things like personal photographs, tea cups, favourite blankets, personal possessions that mean something to the resident. Breakfast, rather than being served at the crack of dawn, is based, to a reasonable degree, on what best fits the individual residents’ way of living. Exercise, an important component to physical and mental health, is reimagined well beyond the boundaries of the usual ubiquitous afternoon Bingo games.
Inga, a resident in a facility where the Butterfly Effect has been implemented, is a heartwarming example of the efficacious and positive effects of an acceptive way of thinking. Mired in her own world of dementia, a fashion plate who likes to dress in leather pants and a tiger-striped blouse, had been known to rage at workers who mistakenly touched the red leather purse that she holds tight to her body. However, five months into the Butterfly pilot program, instead of sleeping in her room a good part of the day, or sitting on her own at the end of a hallway, Inga has blossomed. She now talks and shares stories about the Second World War, about her job as a butleress in England many decades ago, and her evolving life in Canada. She also enjoys flirting with the young male workers she encounters in her daily life. Inga is once again alive, living the best life she can live based on her life situation.
Treating residents in a way that stimulates their engagement in life inspires feelings centred in being “free not from the nursing home, but from the structured rules that forced everyone to awaken, eat and even watch TV at a certain time.”
Notably, LTC workers are fully trained in the spirit and machinations of facilitating the Butterfly Effect, giving staff members the freedom to think intuitively about the people in their care, encouraging them to be close enough to understand the residents needs and wants on both a physical and emotional level. Significantly, the program helps shift the culture in LTCs from a medicalized model to one that allows individuals to live with freedom and the ability to follow their interests.
This salient research and examples that Welsh gives in Happily Ever After, offers a different lens in which to look at what is often the scary concept of aging, one that is so often cloaked in fearful thoughts and loneliness, which in itself is a destructive force. It is a study in viable alternatives, ones which honour and respect the dignity of our elderly parents, neighbours and friends, and offers a message of hope, purpose and belief in the concept of our elders – our future selves- being regarded as esteemed contributions and advisors for those who follow in our footsteps.
Free Virtual Event
Thursday, April 29th at 2 p. m.
Join Cece Scott & Jen Tindall for an author reading and chat with Toronto Star columnist, Moira Welsh, author of Happily Ever Older, a book that explores new and creative ways to live well with purpose and intent as we age.
SPACES ARE LIMITED – So Register today!
Register now for this timely and highly enlightening Free event by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Cece is the feature cover writer for several prestigious publications and is an informed, connected and enthusiastic book blogger at cecescott.com. Her first book, The Love Story, was published in 2019. Her second book will be coming out in the spring of 2021.
Cece is also working on a book of Daily Reflections for Auto Immune Condition Warriors.
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