I consider the ability to go inward and be at peace to be a fundamental element of spiritual health and well-being. Having a peaceful death with a sense of life completion is so important. A person considered to be a frail elder may experience grumpiness, sadness, fear, anger, and loneliness, all of which are understandable feelings given the physical, social, and mental losses so often experienced with aging and dementia.
Spirit-centered care fosters our goal of helping each person—the frail elder AND the caregiver—to become more open, more loving, more willing to try new things, more confident, more joyful, more broad-minded, and more expansive. We want frail elders to have a really good and meaningful time! AND we want to have a good and meaningful time with them ourselves!
HOW TO SUPPORT FRAIL ELDERS IN GROWING SPIRITUALLY:
LISTEN, SMILE, SHARE GOOD HUMOR, DISCUSS BIG TOPICS, INCLUDE RITUALS, and MINDFUL SILENCE
Can we support the frail elder in growing spiritually, even at this stage of their lives?
And, if so, how do we do it?
Yes, there ARE ways to support the spiritual growth of frail elders— and YOU, a loved one, a caregiver, are a part of the frail elder’s spiritual growth. Spirit-Centered Care offers a variety of opportunities for personal or spiritual growth.
Think about your experience with little children. Sometimes young children look at us with eyes that seem to see right through to our soul. Have you ever had this happen to you when you were talking with a small child? It can be surprising to feel seen by someone so young.
Imagine how it feels to a frail elder to be seen in that way—to have someone like you, the caregiver, acknowledge their full essence. They know that if they do not remember a word or need help with expressing an idea, you still see them as whole.
Older adults are all too often painfully aware of how they can’t contribute any more. For elders, having opportunities to make even a small difference to someone else’s day—by listening, smiling, or sharing good humor—helps them experience themselves as still having value in the world. Interacting positively with you, the loved one and/or caregiver, contributes to their general well-being and their environment.
Another way to stimulate our best selves and grow is to discuss and reflect on topics such as gratitude, love, our values, what we’ve learned in our lifetimes. This may happen in short moments of time—when both you and the frail elder reflect on important ideas such as, What is my truth, what do I fundamentally believe, what are my values? The questions we ask can draw out core beliefs from each frail elder.
Talking about BIG topics with elders may be a new practice for you. Take it slowly. Notice when openings arise. Take opportunities to talk about Aging, Truth, Beauty, Love, Nature, Courage, and Strength. Talking about the weather can lead to talking about Nature. Commenting on a flower in a vase can bring forth a discussion of Beauty. Seeing an image of a young person and an older person, known or not, can result in a conversation about Aging. From simple starting points, discussions of surprising depth may emerge. We get to know each other more intimately, increasing the likelihood that the essence of the frail elder will really be seen.
It is okay if you ask simple, deep questions, and don’t get a much of a response. What you are doing by asking is giving the frail elder a moment to pause and consider. You are treating them with respect and dignity. The practice is a process. Over the long haul, it can lead to moments of essence-sharing.
Another way to offer opportunities for spiritual growth is to include rituals in the day: how do you greet the frail elder when you first see them? Is there a predictable order to the time you share? Small, simple gestures are powerful connectors to our essence. Admiring an object in the room, sitting down to a cup of tea or coffee and acknowledging the cup’s warmth, or simply pausing and looking out the window together can be a ritual—and a moment of pause when you both have time to appreciate being together.
Mindful silence can be a ritual. Not the kind of quiet that comes when people are just spacing out—but moments of MINDFUL silence. You can say, “Let’s be quiet for one minute. Close your eyes. Be quiet and feel the sense of well-being that is moving through your body.” Or you can encourage them to focus on the love in each of our hearts, starting with love for ourselves and then moving that out to include others. We can send love to those we know and those we don’t know. By doing so we help expand a frail elder’s and our own sense of their world.
PRINCIPLES UNDERLYING SPIRIT-CENTERED CARE
Underlying the practices mentioned above are the following principles of Spirit-Centered Care:
- Working for our own essence and recognizing the essence of others;
- we are all equal;
- our roles in life can and do change;
- and that deep listening is hugely important to understand one’s own and another’s essence.
The conscious recognition and honoring of one’s own essence and that of others can inspire, motivate and propel everyone practicing The Elderwise Way. Spirit-centered care is not clinical. It is human. Respect is felt in all interactions in subtle and important ways. We help participants understand that, in their core, whatever their intellectual losses, they are not less than they were before. Being valued in this way is internalized—it is something felt. When treated with dignity, frail elders may sit up a little straighter and express themselves with more confidence as they speak.
By acknowledging the essence of each person and treating them with a deep respect, people are drawn out of their isolation and feel free to express themselves as fully as possible. The opportunities to create moments that touch the heart and open the doors to our deeper selves are limitless.