Residents are well known at Carol Woods Retirement Community. But there is a difference between being well known and being celebrated. Residents, employee and family care partners of the Building 6 and 7 assisted living neighborhood at Carol Woods are striving toward the latter. Kay, a resident, explains:
We want to be, not a family, but a community together. In doing that, we have this project of picking out a person and having them tell us about their background and having a really big day for them, and with people, other people coming in from other parts of the community.
Kay and her neighbors are working to foster a stronger sense of ‘being me’ and having a lot of fun in the process. This collaborative work is part of The Quest Upstream: Carol Woods’ Journey to Support the Inclusion of People Living with Dementia and the Well-Being of All Community Members. At Carol Woods, residents with and without dementia live side-by-side in an inclusive, non-segregated community.
Over the last year, Carol Woods’ community members have been working with great intention to take the support of residents living with dementia to a place where well-being is proactively nurtured and the right to live freely is protected and maintained. Core to this quest is the understanding that most distress among persons living with dementia represents an expression of unmet need. Instead of treating distress through reactive interventions (very downstream), our primary goal should always be proactively supporting well-being (an upstream approach).
To help community members strengthen their upstream efforts, through a series of neighborhood retreats, we have been exploring the domains of well-being, as described by the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program, and proactive ways to support each one. Each neighborhood retreat concludes with the collaborative identification of some opportunity areas for improvement. Then each neighborhood democratically selects a goal and develops an action plan through regular neighborhood huddles, inviting all neighborhood members to participate.
The first well-being domain we explored was ‘being me’, which highlights the need to have our unique personhood recognized and honored, and the importance of opportunities to express who we are and what we value about ourselves. As members of the Building 6 and 7 neighborhood reflected on their sense of ‘being me’, they realized they wanted more opportunities to express their uniqueness and to learn more about and celebrate each other. This led to the collaborative development of the This is Me Showcase! The showcase provides an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the unique gifts and contributions of one or more community members each month – residents and care partners alike. The showcased community member has about an hour to share his or her This is Me story, followed by a lively reception.
Jen, an employee care partner, describes how the showcase brought out new information about a resident she has known for years: “Rod’s showcase helped us see a talent, poetry writing, that he had cultivated for decades but never talked much about, and it was not something we thought he would have done!” Rod says of the showcase:
I’ve been a background person all my life. When I was asked to do the presentation, I felt hesitant, but I also felt responsible for being useful. I enjoyed it. It brought out the fact that I could put into simple verse ideas common to many other lives.
Rod now attends a poetry reading with residents who asked him to join because they like the way he reads poems.
Andy, another employee care partner, shares what she enjoyed about one of the resident showcases:
One of the things I really enjoyed about Lee’s presentation was how it felt like such an intimate gathering. Everyone was nestled around close to him which seemed like a supportive and friendly set-up. I so enjoyed learning about his childhood, his decision-making in becoming a dentist and about his avocation of working with his hands. It was wonderful to hear which things he chose to share that were important to him. It also was delightful to see the community surrounding him and laughing and smiling along with him.
A few weeks later, Andy was celebrated in her own This is Me Showcase. Below, she describes the experience:
For my own This Is Me presentation, I felt the same close connection with the residents and staff who attended. I wasn’t nervous because I had already seen how Lee had been embraced by the neighborhood. It seems like a such a simple thing, but I didn’t feel any judgement from the group, only acceptance. Really lovely! In some ways, I was also a little surprised by what I chose to highlight about myself. I realized how crucial my experiences growing up were and how my heritage was important to me.
While the psychosocial benefits of being well known and celebrated are easy to understand, a nurse care partner explains the impact such sharing can also have on care and support:
As a nurse, hearing more about folks, watching the joy in their faces as they speak about things that make them who they are, it helps give me perspective about how to meet their care needs, and provides a foundation and context for the choices they make. I get the ‘why’ from these showcases. This is a key ingredient for me on how I approach my care.
The This is Me Showcase is so simple, yet its effects are profound. It is helping members of the Building 6 and 7 neighborhood share more about themselves and connect on a deeper level. As Janie, a family care partner explains, “It’s to help us all know and understand each other better, to help us all understand the strengths that everybody has remaining and appreciate them.”
How does your community support and celebrate ‘being me’? Please leave a comment below. We would love to hear what you are doing.