I caught a bit of the Diane Rehm show a couple weeks ago, where author Garret Keizer spoke about the effects of all of the noise in our environment. A caller asked about certain children with disabilities who have more trouble processing when there is a lot of environmental noise.
Keizer wisely responded that we recognize the struggles of these children, but that they are merely “canaries in the mine”, warning us that our so-called “unaffected” children likely are having similar (though less-apparent) problems as well.
This comment brought me immediately to our own “canaries” in the nursing home: people who live with dementia. Instead of seeing their distress as “behavior problems”, we need to recognize that they are extraordinarily sensitive to an environment that is potentially harmful to all of us.
In the traditional nursing home, this is more than environmental noise (though that is an important problem). It is also due to what’s missing: relationship, autonomy, meaningful engagement, physical comfort, love. How much do our elders without dementia–indeed, how much do all of us–suffer from this deprivation?