Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Taking Care of the Aged in a Technological Society

Written by: on April 20, 2013


My dad was 75 years old and was dying. Dad was living in a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) at the time. He had been a successful Presbyterian Minister his entire career. He was a believer in the CCRC concept where individuals can age in place but would have different levels of health care available if needed like Assisted Living or Skilled Nursing. Dad had contracted prostate cancer 15 years earlier and it had been in remission for 14 years. He had moved into the Skilled Nursing Facility for a few weeks until he was diagnosed as terminal. His wishes were to die in his residential apartment. Those were our family wishes as well.

Dad wanted to die with dignity. He had lived a full life. He ministered to thousands of people and was always willing to help people whenever and wherever he could. He and mom traveled the world. He was ready to die but we wanted him to live longer. Hospice services were ordered which provided nursing and aid care in his room. We all visited and said our good byes. It was hard. I went back to work and a week later he graduated to heaven. Dad died naturally and with dignity.

Jardine in The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society: How Christianity Can Save Modernity from Itself, says that modern technological society is debating the idea that dying with dignity can be achieved through assisted suicide and euthanasia which is also economic driven (Jardine, 2004 p. 269). Jardine believes that modern society is moving away from the Biblical value of sanctity of life towards a liberal freedom to do what one wants to do if it does not hurt anyone else, He concludes that what one considers the right to die could quickly morph into “duty to die (p. 270).”

I believe leaders need to articulate their values. I have chosen values that form my morals from the Christian Bible and the Ten Commandments. I am fortunate to work for a faith based Christian organization that holds the same values: quality care born from the command to love others and the belief that God gave the gift of life and only He can end it.

Quality care is born from compassion and love. Western society use to treat people with memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease with lack of understanding and inappropriate treatment. We use to put people with memory loss in with cognitively alert people in Skilled Nursing Facilities. This approach did not work as the cognitive patients would yell at the cognitively impaired residents to get out of their room when the impaired patient would unknowingly rifle through the clothes of the angry patient.

At American Baptist Homes of the West, we have opened up separate home like facilities (The Grove) to compassionately take care of the memory loss resident. Now that we know something about the progression of the Alzheimer’s disease we can care with knowledge. With memory loss, short term memory deteriorates first. Therefore, we learn all we can about each memory impaired resident’s past life. Each care giver is required to memorize this information so in conversation and in activities we can refer to each person’s past experience and wants. Each Grove has a large “great” room that has all the amenities of a home: a living room, dining room, kitchen and family room. This is where most of the daily activities take place. Activities are customized around each person long term memories and what a cognitive person would normally do around their own home. We have found happier residents and a decrease in abnormal aggressive behavior as well as a decrease in wandering and trying to escape. The Groves are secure environments with delayed egress technology.

In my mind, this is a good example of dignified and compassionate care for the aging instead of looking at a dignified assisted suicide solution; your thoughts?

Jardine, Murray. The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society: How Christianity Can Save Modernity from Itself. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2004

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