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The Maplewood question tests our values, Age-Wise, by Owen Houghton

Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. — Matthew 7.12

WARNING: This Age-Wise column will be “preachy” to make the point that residents of Cheshire County should demand that we treat our elders in a manner we ourselves would wish to be treated.

DISCLOSURE: As former chairman of the State Committee on Aging, I met Dr. Bill Thomas and found his logical if not revolutionary concepts now called the “green house” model to be simple truths worthy of adopting in New Hampshire.

BIAS ONE: As a former practitioner in geriatric care and current care giver for a spouse with advanced dementia of the Alzheimer’s type, I have come to understand that green means more than money and facilities. Quality care for our elderly reflects our values.

BIAS TWO: My spiritual persuasion teaches that “faith, hope and love abide” and the greatest of these is love — for God, self and neighbor. All other values derive from love — consider kindness, generosity, humility, unselfishness and justice as windows of the soul.

So… What to do with Maplewood? There have been numerous studies, visits, meetings, hearings and informational sessions on the future of our county nursing home, but I am not sure folks really get it — we have met the future and it is all of us!

When Dr. Alzheimer discovered the disease named for him in 1905, life expectancy was age 53 and dementia was a rarity. Our much longer life span results often in diminishment in mental, physical and financial capacities, resulting in worries of how to meet the long-term care challenges as we age.

With the unknowns of our future, we need confidence that there indeed is a safety net for us. The Maplewood Nursing Home task force so ably led by John Hoffmann has recommended that the county continue to provide affordable long-term quality care with the added value of a new green house facility.

The green house project is a new approach to long-term care where nursing homes are replaced with small, home-like environments. Since the green house idea was put forth by Dr. Thomas, more than 130 such projects have been developed in 30 states.

The goal has been to modify the institutional medical model of hospital-like facilities. Recognizing that there was a better way, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation put up $50 million to support this concept which allows nursing home residents to live a full and interactive life.

The green house model provides a lasting positive impact for its residents. Green house residents enjoy private quarters and a lifestyle as independent as they are capable, while still benefiting from a social environment. See studies which show that the green house model improves resident and family satisfaction, clinical and financial outcomes at http://thegreenhouseproject.org/research-advocacy/research

Like all of us, frail elders respond as they are treated. It makes perfect sense that the care-climate has a profound influence — good or bad — on the emotional state of individuals, which is reflected in their outlook on life and behavior.

I urge Maplewood decision-makers to reflect on the Golden Rule — the reciprocity of the adage “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” asks us to consider how we would wish to live if required to seek assistance from the county.

We have an opportunity to change from “same-old, same–old” to a new culture of care that is truly person-centered. Do we have what it takes to break through to the next level? The emerging demographics around dementia are swamping us.

G. Allen Power MD, a geriatrician, author, musician, and an international educator on transformational models of care for older adults, particularly those living with changing cognitive abilities, challenges our values:

“This is our crisis. Do we have what it takes to truly transform the lives of those we serve, or will we cling to our inadequate systems of care? Will we finally invest in the education and resources to help our care partners succeed, or will we fall back on blaming the disease, the regulators, the lawyers, or anyone else we can find? Do we have the courage to change, or will we continue to hide our heads in the sand?”

I believe that the Monadnock community is the perfect place to demonstrate our care for each other with the green house model — providing a home-like atmosphere for a meaningful life — helping folks thrive, not just survive!

If we can dream it, why not BECOME IT?

Owen R. Houghton of Jaffrey is an aging-wellness educator, past chairman of the State Committee on Aging, and a member of Monadnock at Home. Readers may contact him at nohoughton@myfairpoint.net

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