Saturday, September 4, 2010

Retail Alzheimer's: What I learned from the phrase "aging in place"

I get reports about my mother every few weeks from the intermediate care person, a social worker (frequently changing) who goes to the Alzheimer's home to check in. She makes sure my mother has clothes and is in good health, all things being relative. The latest note came the other day:


I was surprised not to find Martha sitting in her chair in the TV room.
I was told she's been going to Activities so I went there to check on her.
She looked tired. Her hair needed to be done. She was not in a congenial mood. Perhaps I had woken her. We talked for a little while and then I went to speak with E the nurse. E said that Martha has been eating better and gained a couple of pounds. She was stable and aging in place. She was due to get her hair done soon.

Hope this helps.

I guess it helped, because I learned what the phrase "aging in place" refers to. I charged up google and found several websites, including one that defined the phrase as "growing older without having to move." (I guess I could have figured that out, eh?) That was what my mother always wanted to do, stay in her house. That was before she moved. So now she's aging in place for a second time, since she's been in the Alzheimer's home since 2006.

Like everything involved in elder care, this phrase has grown a cluster of acronyms, among them NAIPC, or the National Aging in Place Council. Their website features an older man and woman at the top, arms flung upward in the air with joy. The text begins: "They call them the Golden Years--and they should be just that. Your work is mostly behind you, your children are grown up and your life should be comfortable. We are here to help you." Indeed, that is how things should be, I guess: we should be able to (mostly stop working); we should have children who grow up, and we should be comfortable. That's a lot of shoulds. ("I shoulda been a contendah.") Among their functions, NAIPC claims, is to promote "National Aging in Place Week." Google that and you find out that this is none other than a week devised by NAIPC, one that results in press releases by NAIPC, which can be found on their new website. "Our goal is to provide one-stop-shopping for seniors who have problems and are searching for help," said Marty Bell of NAIPC. "This new site is designed to make it as easy as possible for seniors to find the services they need." Thus closes the circle on the metaphorically rich (a pun!) process of retiring from work and still shopping--this time for resources that will help you to "age in place."

The most interesting site I found was this one: unlike almost anything written about the elderly (or social work more generally perhaps), this site is satirical. Through the trusty method of comparison and contrast, the quoted author posits that jails serve their residents better than nursing homes do. If you want your relatives to have good care, make sure they are criminals; they would get constant care, good food, bedding, and even spiritual counseling. Put the criminals in nursing home care, and "they would get cold food, be left all alone, and unsupervised. lights off at 8pm, and showers once a week. Live in a tiny room, and pay $5000.00 per month and have no hope of ever getting out."

The larger website from which I've taken this link is called "Aging In Place, Seniors at Home." The photographs on their main pages feature happy elderly couples at home with their families. That most of the very old are women doesn't show in the photographs here, nor do we get old people who do not look healthy or poorly groomed. They also define the phrase in terms of shopping:
“'Aging in place' refers to living where you have lived for years, typically not in a health care environment, using products, services, and conveniences which allow you to remain home as circumstances change." The first page of the website is signed by Patrick Rodden, RN, Ph.D. who has his own acronym, namely "CAPS." That stands for "Certified Aging in Place Specialist."

When I went to the "Aging in Place" link to "Home Modification"--clearly an important part of making homes safe for the elderly--I found places to shop, among them "The Alzheimer's Store," whose subtitle, I guess you'd call it, is "An Ageless Design Company." Does this reflect, even within the world of Alzheimer's care, a desire to get outside the inevitable process of aging? Who knows; maybe it's just good advertising copy (not that these two things are exclusive, mind you). At the store, I find a book, Wishing on a Star, which is to the Alzheimer's patient what a children's book is to a child. Here's a description of what the book (it's a "two lap book"!) allows the reader and the receiver to do:

Styled with the appeal and simplicity of a children's book but created for adult audiences, this Two-Lap Book can serve multiple purposes:
  • Stimulate conversation and reminiscence
  • Encourage physical closeness and interaction
  • Provide a calming diversion from an upsetting episode
  • Inspire intergenerational exchanges with children
  • Increase social interaction between staff and residents
  • Promote reading skills in residents who retain their literacy
It's described as "an instant activity," one that requires no preparation. So here, in the ageless world of design, and the excruciatingly slow world of Alzheimer's, we get the ease of use that typifies good products. Ease is an important part of the marketing strategy, it seems. When I hit the link to "Who We Are," I get this description of what Ageless Design (the store's owner, as it turns out) does:
"Ageless Design Inc. is an education, information and consultation service company founded to help all of us have what we really want -- a home that is easy to live in and that enables all of us to live fuller, unhindered lives." (Among the product categories listed on another page is "spiritual," which makes me wonder how much ease there is in that.)

It's probably too easy to mock the collision of Alzheimer's with sales pitches. Such products are often helpful, and information is always already couched in sales pitches when it comes to assisted living, treatments for depression, or even textbook "adoptions." (To say nothing of adoptions themselves, alas.) Would it be possible to use other words to suggest other possible worlds ("new thresholds, new anatomies," as Hart Crane would write) in which the Alzheimer's patient has not simply moved to another level of consumerism? When I investigated the possibility that I was simply following too many .com links, instead of the .org kind, I quickly found that starting from the Aging in Place site, which is an .org got me (easily!) to a .com shop by way of the "helpful products" click.

And so, the inevitable move from reassurance to retail, from difficulty to ease, from time consumption to time savings. Does my knowledge set me free? I sure hope so, because it appears that nothing else is.

Note: when I go back to my post to edit, offers me two links in the right margins of my post: one is for Elder Day Care and the other for Elderly Care in Hawai`i. If not yet read by a human being, my post has already been absorbed somehow into advertising copy directed at none other than the post's author. Spooky.

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