Last year, a lecture at CCNM sparked a thought about providing care to the geriatric population. I’ve never envisioned myself working with this community however I have deep empathy towards them. Why? Well for starters, all people including myself, will eventually (or hopefully) become an elder person. All the people I know and love will become older and will need more and more care and assistance. My grandparents and parents will continue to get older and I wonder how their health will be cared for? I imagine it must be so physically difficult to live a full active life and see yourself slowly deteriorate. Even worse, the mental and emotional strain of that decline.
So, How Can I Help?…
One year ago, I was a CCNM student who wanted to help elders but didn’t know how. I wasn’t an ND yet, so I couldn’t treat them. I did personal train with older clients, but these were people who were independent and strong enough to get to the gym to lift weights. I didn’t feel like I was really making an impact on the ones who needed it the most, the one’s who couldn’t get to me.
Last Summer, I decided to make a habit of visiting my Great Aunt and Uncle at their retirement center. I went on a weekly basis to have lunch and spend some time with them and their community. It was great. Every week there would be a few more people talking to me about their health and asking questions about Naturopathic Medicine. I remember one day when my Aunt had gathered about 20 Elderly people for me to give a talk about Naturopathy. It was great (besides the fact that I only found out about it when I got there that day).
A Wake Up Call…
I really cherished those visits with my Aunt and Uncle. I liked being able to see them regularly and the pride that I saw on my Aunt’s face when she would introduce me to her friends. There was a sudden turn of events when I was on my way home from a week at a friend’s cottage for the Winter Break. It was a phone call from my mom that I will never forget.
“You’re Aunt and Uncle are in the hospital. They’re stable, but the doctors found high amounts of Valium in their urine”
Shock… Panic… Tears… and then the rush to the hospital. My Great Aunt and Uncle had tried to commit suicide and I was devastated. I can’t say that I never saw it coming, but you never expect it to happen to someone you love and care about. There were so many questions going through my head. Why did they do it? What could I have done to prevent it? Why wasn’t I there for them? How long have they been suffering for?
As my Great Aunt and Uncle slowly began to regain strength through a roller coaster of physical and mental ups and downs, I had time to process these questions. I put myself in their shoes and imagined all my favorite hobbies and interests taken away from me. What would it be like to be confined to a room for most hours of the day, having TV as your main stimulus, and getting minimal dietary nutrition and exercise? What would it feel like to have your foreseeable future be one of decline, pain and isolation. I don’t believe that this should be the fate of any person, including an older person.
Realistically, many (not all, but many) older people are crying out for help. Many elders (especially ones who are chronically ill) are on a handful of medications that help some of their symptoms but also produce others. Many are sedated and depressed. From my experience talking to the geriatric population, they don’t always voice their suffering and feel like a burden to their families and the health care system. This is not ok. This is not the fate that I want for my Great Aunt and Uncle.
The vision begins…
My vision is to one day have a collaborative Retirement Center and Nursing Home that is run with the Principles of Naturopathic Medicine. The Integrative center would have MD’s, ND’s, massage therapists, podiatrists, nurses, personal trainers, nutritionists, and other health care practitioners all working together to provide the best preventative care possible to the Elder population. I envision Retirement Centers as places to heal, get stronger and live powerfully. Wouldn’t it be lovely to work hard for the first part of your life so that you can retire and still enjoy life? Wouldn’t it be great to look forward to getting old and vacationing for the rest of your life?
Building a Naturopathic Retirement Center and Nursing Home is a huge undertaking. Don’t think I didn’t recognize this. But it is still a vision that I share with many individuals and with small steps and help by many people I know one day we will achieve this.
The first step that I took was spending time with the Geriatric community. Understand where they think the health system is failing them and what an ideal home would look like. What is important to them? One of the most important and empowering things to do with a person is LISTEN!
The next thing that I did was collaborate with a colleague to create a Geriatrics Club at CCNM called “the GeriCare Club”. If you are not a member of the club or don’t attend CCNM please email me at AlisonChen.ND@gmail.com to find out more about the monthly Seminars taking place at CCNM beginning in Sept, 2012. Last semester the GeriCare Club put on 5 Seminars ranging from talks on Osteoporosis, Grief, Palliative Care, Cardioprotective health, and the Aging Brain. We brought in speakers from a wide range of backgrounds and it was a great success. If you are interested in speaking about a topic for Geriatric Health Care, please email me with your ideas and available dates and times.
My next step is to create a group to support the development of a Naturopathic satellite clinic within a Senior’s Home. Stay tuned for all the exciting adventures that await. If you are interested in helping out with the “GeriCare ND Satellite Clinic Project“ please contact me at AlisonChen.ND@gmail.com.
Alison Chen (ND Candidate, 2013)