August 2021: Purpose is Power

The Power of Pets and Plants

During my morning walk I have been listening to “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande. If you have not read it, I would highly recommend it to everyone. It offers a fascinating perspective on aging and death. He shows us that our goal is not to have a good death but a good life. Gawande explores the juxtaposition of modern medicine with purpose and how people really want to live out their lives. He uses his own research, patients, and family to explain his point of view. I cannot stop thinking about this moving book and the new concepts and ideas he discussed.

In one chapter, he introduces us to Bill Thomas, the medical director of Chase Memorial in New Berlin, NY. Thomas explains that the Three Plagues of life in a nursing home are boredom, loneliness, and helplessness. To combat the three plagues, he put green plants in every room. He tore up the lawn and created vegetable and flower beds. He brought in one hundred parakeets for resident rooms, four dogs and two cats for companionship. They found that the number of prescriptions per resident decreased, the psychotropic drugs for agitation declined, death rates slowed, and the residents were happier overall. Thomas said ”that the program’s success could be traced to the fundamental human need for a reason to live.”

This made me think of a couple of my past clients.

When Jim moved into assisted living at Colonial Oaks, I brought him an orchid. Every couple of weeks he called me when a new bloom appeared. When I visited him, I saw a sign he had placed next to the orchid that said, “If it’s Sunday give me three ice cubes.” He showed every visitor the orchid and took pride in his care.

My own dog, Ciccio was a frequent visitor of my parent’s memory care community. When I entered the community he would run to the elevator and wait until we went up to the third floor. Once the door opened, he would bound out and run down the long hall to the couch area where the residents played games and watched movies. As soon as everyone saw Ciccio running down the hall they would light up. He would leap into my mother’s lap and lick her face. Then he patiently let everyone pull his ears and pet him aggressively. He would look at me as if to say, “Do I really need to put up with this.” I would reassure him that he was being such a good boy.

I thought about Cora Lee who moved to memory care with her cat, Roxanne. There came a time when she could no longer care for it so one of the caregivers at Cinco Ranch Alzheimer’s took it home and brought it back each day to Cora Lee so they could spend time together. She would tell the caregiver that she used to have a cat just like that and would watch Wheel of Fortune with Roxanne on her lap.

But the most amazing story is the one where a granddaughter called me to help arrange transportation for her grandfather to come to Houston from Louisiana and pass his final days at her house. The ambulance left Shreveport with him on a stretcher and his pet parrot in a cage on his lap. When he arrived at his granddaughter’s house, he said that the parrot had kept him alive for the last ten years. Now that he was at her house and the parrot had a new home, he passed peacefully two days later.

Everyone needs purpose in their lives. Plants and pets can provide that. We have the need to be taken care of and to take care of other living things. Each morning as our chickens wake up right outside my bedroom window and they cluck and fly out of their coop, I know that I need to get out of bed and give them feed and water. I love our chickens but mostly because I have the best sunny side up eggs each morning.

To buy a copy of Being Mortal by Atul Gawande click here.

Please Get Vaccinated

As of Sunday, August 15, there are 454,009 confirmed cased of Covid-19 in Houston/Harris County and 5,151 deaths. We need to continue to be vigilant about listening to our health care professionals and encourage people to get vaccinated. There are daily updates from the CDC about senior living communities and the rules, regulations, and restrictions to protect the most vulnerable population. Please read your emails from your communities and continue to help them successfully fight this pandemic.

Senior Living Specialists Houston is a one-stop shop providing FREE senior facility placement services. We work with families in and around Houston to identify the best senior residence community for each individual’s needs. We help our families narrow down the type and number of facilities to consider and tour typically 2-3 reputable options. We teach them how to tour the communities and help them to negotiate the best price. We set up an advocacy program for afterward. I will go on this important journey with you every step of the way!

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