There’s a lot of talk these days about words especially when we referring to bullying for teenagers however we need to think about the power of our words on all ages. Lots of talk to describe people over a certain age, say 60 or so. Elder versus elderly. Elder community or eldercare services instead of nursing home. Care partner instead of elderly caregiver. Older adults rather than senior citizens. I’m especially sensitive to what we call people who are living with severe conditions or are quite frail from age. I know plenty of these folks and I’m here to tell you they are not invalids. Think about that word! Invalid. In (without) valid (validity). Really? That’s like saying you’re sick, you’re old, you don’t matter anymore.
Are you familiar with "nature deficit disorder"? The term, “Nature deficit disorder” was coined by Richard Louv. As our world has become increasingly high-tech our connection to the natural world has diminished. I’ve often heard this associated with our kids but I see it in our elders in hospice and palliative care too. In my hospice training with elderly caregivers, I teach how to use Compassionate Touch to enhance quality of life. I’ve been in lots of hospice and palliative care facilities around the country. It’s striking how little exposure institutionalized elders have to nature. Real nature. The kind that gets us dirty and we get our feet and hands in soil, water, leaves, etc. Real sounds of birds, not in a cage in the lounge, but real, local nature sounds.
When we go to someone in need with an open heart and our belief that there is potential for peace…when we believe in the patient’s ability to grow, and in our ability to be present…when we participate, instead of fix, we companion a fellow human being and that, indeed, changes the experience of illness, dying, and grief.