Saturday, January 1, 2011

The very old and the very young

Reading the New York Times this morning, I encountered an article called "Giving Alzheimer's Patients Their Way, Even Chocolate," which made me think of Shel Silverstein's poem:

The Little Boy and the Old Man
Said the little boy, "Sometimes I drop my spoon."
Said the old man, "I do that too."
The little boy whispered, "I wet my pants."
"I do that too," laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, "I often cry."
The old man nodded, "So do I."
"But worst of all," said the boy, "it seems
Grown-ups don't pay attention to me."
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
"I know what you mean," said the little old man.

The Times article talks about a novel approach to the care of Alzheimer's patients, exemplified by the Beatitudes nursing facility in Arizona. If residents are hungry, they get to eat, no matter what time of day or night--and not only that, but they get to eat whatever they feel like, even if it's chocolate. Diapers are discouraged; the facility instead focuses on more frequent trips to the bathroom with caregivers. Residents are encouraged to use objects like baby dolls or fishing tackle boxes that remind them of previous roles and hobbies. And activities are focused more on one-on-one conversations or games, rather than the typical large group Bingo, which few residents were actually able to participate in. The result of this constellation of caregiving practices is lower rates of many of the behavioral difficulties usually associated with Alzheimer's--delusions, sundowning, aggression, and so on.

As I was reading, I thought...well, sure! It sounds a lot like how we take care of babies. The focus on individualized care, the immediate answering of physical needs (breastfeeding on demand, elimination communication), and the use of security objects (loveys). One director at another Arizona facility, Jan Dougherty, is quoted in the article as saying "Comforting food improves behavior and mood because it “sends messages they can still understand: ‘it feels good, therefore I must be in a place where I’m loved,’.”

Perhaps the unconditional love and answering of needs that is so necessary to the youngest members of our family is just as appreciated by the oldest.

My daughter in the arms of her great-grandfather


  1. That is an amazing photograph. Congratulations.

  2. He's a pretty amazing guy. He took the bus to work at the accounting firm he ran in Taipei until he was 90!