Nearly 40 delegates from Schlegel Villages were in Niagara Falls March 5-6 for Canada’s only conference dedicated to Culture Change in Aging. Four of those delegates brought their perspectives as long-term care residents to the rich conversations at the conference.
They weren’t passive recipients of information, however, but instead shared insights as speakers and panelists who each illustrate what is possible when long-term care providers put living first. The wisdom of these residents enhances their communities immeasurably, and their example is something all should aspire to emulate.
Thank you to Margaret, David, Barry and Phil.
‘You Just Open your Heart to Sharing and Growing with Others’: Aspen Lake’s Barry Hickling on what it means to find community again
When Barry Hickling looks back a few years to a time when he lived independently with only the support of a home care nurse, he admits he led a sorrowful existence. The nurse was often the only person he came into contact with except when his brother would visit.
It was independent living shrouded in loneliness, and there came a point when Barry felt such a life was no longer worth living.
Looking into long-term care and eventually finding a home at The Village of Aspen Lake in Windsor changed everything for Barry. He found community again and an opportunity to contribute a piece of himself to the betterment of others. He’s part of the Village Advisory Team that helps guide the home in its continual quest to change the culture of aging, he plays a key role in the hiring of new team members, and he’s proud to share his perspective with attendees at Walk With Me 2018.
In particular, he’ll highlight the impact he’s felt and seen in others through the Schlegel Villages Wisdom of the Elder signature program, under which organization-wide events such as the Schlegel Olympics or the Pursuit of Passions are organized.
“The thing that I personally have been getting from the Pursuit of Passions, Olympics and other events that I’m involved in is that this is a commitment to me,” Barry says. “This is a commitment to my health and to my best well-being, mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally . . . and that’s a lifetime commitment.”
At the Pursuit of Passions, which in the summer of 2017 brought residents from every Schlegel Village to the Bingeman’s Conference Centre in Kitchener to share their love of art, music, dance, woodworking, and countless other talents, Barry spoke about what it meant to participate.
“I am alive and I’m proud to share what I have and to receive,” Barry said. Living in a home that encourages residents to offer themselves to the community, “brings us to that point where we want to share. You open yourself; you just open your heart and your mind, soul, spirit to sharing and growing with others.
“There’s still opportunity to live and to express yourself,” he continued, “and it’s encouraging, not just to do it, but to have that reception from Schlegel (Villages) that says ‘Yes, you can’. I get that a lot, I really do, and I love it.”
“I thrive on that.”
The man who was “desperately” alone while living independently those years ago didn’t want to survive at all, let alone thrive in any way; he never thought it possible.
Today he’s honoured to share a different narrative.
Changing the Culture of Aging through the Eyes of Youth: David Kent on the Importance of Sharing the Wisdom of the Elder
There are many different angles to consider in changing the way people perceive aging in our society, and David Kent has considered them all. Of all the factors, however, from re-educating current care providers to shifting language to avoid perpetuating stereotypical views, David believes any cultural shift must begin with young people.
Throughout his adult life, David was an educator working with youth, mostly in the realm of physical education, health and history. A rare degenerative muscle wasting disease forced him to cut back on his teaching in his mid-50s and eventually retire much earlier than he’d hoped. In the summer of 2014, after nearly 40 years living with the disease, some serious complications forced him to consider long-term care, and he moved into Erin Meadows.
He wasn’t fully prepared for the range of challenges his fellow residents faced, and he had a hard time adjusting to life in the village, falling into an initial depression while coming to terms with his own state of health. After a few weeks, however, he emerged from his room, realizing that he could choose to live his life to its fullest or give up and let his disease take over.
David isn’t one to give up, and he began to get involved with Village Life. He started teaching his fellow residents; he took on a role with residents’ council; he started researching culture change and helping advise the village of directions to take towards continual improvement, and as he did all this he found new purpose and meaning in life. Remarkably, his physical symptoms improved.
He began sharing his story through Erin Meadows’ parent organization, Schlegel Villages, and he’s travelled twice to the United States to participate in the annual Pioneer Network Conference, the leading conference globally focused on changing the culture of aging. He was also a keynote speaker in 2015 at the Schlegel Villages Operational Planning Retreat and is proud to share his insights at the 2018 Walk With Me Conference in Niagara Falls.
He’s a busy man these days, but through all he does – speaking at conferences; advising ministry of health and long-term care officials; influencing the Ontario Association of Residents’ Councils as a director – David maintains his focus on educating young people.
What began as a partnership between Erin Meadows and a dozen students from John Fraser Secondary School (JFSS) in early 2015 for a project called BAN (Ban Ageism Now) has evolved to become a fully integrated Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program in Health and Wellness for JFSS students.
“The idea is to de-stigmatize the perception the students have of long-term care,” says David, who continues to work closely alongside Erin Meadows team members, JFSS and the overseeing School Board. Students in the SHSM program first think of long-term care as a hospital-like setting, he says, but walking into Erin Meadows for the first time “they are very surprised to see people happy and to see lots of activity.”
If the program can inspire young people to consider careers in health and wellness while reshaping their perceptions of life in long-term care, then the program is well worth it. Yet even if the students follow a different career path, they still gain a better understanding of what it means to age in society, and David says this is all part of the benefit of his efforts with young people.
“It’s about creating awareness of who elders are,” David says, “and what we have done for society, how we have survived and our perception of the world. One of the most important things we do with the students is have some of our oldest elders tell them about their lives and how important it is to cherish your families and try to get the most out of every day.”
Sharing that wisdom inspires young and old alike, and helps change the culture of aging immeasurably.
Pursuing the Passions that Tackle Loneliness and Social Isolation: Phil Fiess on The Pursuit of Passions
“Loneliness and a lack of social interaction is the biggest problem facing seniors in long-term care,” says Phil Fiess, a resident of The Village at University Gates in Waterloo. An organization-wide event in the summer of 2017, known as The Pursuit of Passions, is a fine example of how long-term care providers can tackle the threat of isolation among residents, and Phil is eager to share his views with attendees of the 2018 Walk With Me conference.
At The Pursuit of Passions, residents from every Schlegel Village across Ontario gathered in Kitchener to share their creative flair for artistry. Poets and painters, builders and craftsmen all displayed their passions in booths lining the Bingeman’s conference centre, while some residents provided entertainment in the form of stand-up comedy or song.
Phil was one of the event’s most talked about performers after he and recreation team member Tiffany VanSomeren from University Gates performed a duet from the movie LaLa Land, with Phil playing the piano before breaking out into dance before the crowd of hundreds. The signs of Parkinson’s disease, so evident in Phil’s daily life, seemed to melt away as the song progressed. There truly is power in performance, and Phil embodied every ounce of it that day.
The Pursuit of Passions event, Phil says, “helps to address (loneliness and social isolation) by providing both long term and short-term interaction and an opportunity to facilitate communication, senior to senior and to others.”
“It provides hope for the future by showcasing an Elder still doing things and moving forward . . . and it validates the exhibitor or performer’s existence by providing the audience a chance to hear their cry: ‘I'm still here. I still am worth listening to and I have value to contribute.’ ”
The performers who shared a piece of themselves at the Pursuit of Passions received feedback and validation Phil says is “impossible to obtain alone in one's room preaching to its four deaf, bare walls.”
Phil is the type of person who tackles every challenge head on. He’s extremely active, maintaining a strict exercise regimen, despite the physical deterioration Parkinson’s can present. He’s a passionate observer with a keen intellect, holding a master’s degree in chemistry as well as a law degree, and his advice on changing the culture of care for residents in long-term care and improving life quality is well respected.
Some of his greatest advice to fellow residents is to “strive harder to make friends among the residents, be flexible, and be rigorous in exercise schedule.”
And of course, never give up following a passion, for doing so deprives a person the opportunity to find new meaning and joy in life.
“Dreams, as it turns out, are impossible to kill, no matter how deep we bury them,” Phil says. Following passion keeps dreams vibrant and alive, and this is the message Phil offered attendees at Walk With Me, 2018.
‘Courage put into Action’: Margaret Santos and the Power of Creativity
“Words are courage put into action,” Margaret Santos says. “There is something very satisfying about taking pen to paper or sitting at a computer and typing something, either for yourself or to share with others. It’s yours; it’s your ideas, your thoughts, your words, and once you put down on paper it’s final.”
Margaret is one of the youngest people you might see living in any long-term care environment, the youthful face wheeling around her home at The Village of Erin Meadows in Mississauga. She’s an advocate, a poet, a friendly smile, and an inspiration to many.
Her physical needs require the support the village provides, and in return she offers so much of herself to others. She’s part of the Village Advisory Team helping guide efforts to continually improve life for residents, she takes on major roles with residents’ council and is proud to be part of the movement to change the culture of aging, both within her village in the community beyond.
Margaret attended her second Walk With Me Conference in March 2018, this time as a presenter sharing her unique insights as a young resident who participated in the Schlegel Villages Wisdom of the Elder signature program twice. She first shared her passion for art at the Masterpiece Gala art show in 2013 and in 2017 she shared her poetry at The Pursuit of Passions, which showcased all the many talents and passions countless residents hold close.
“I find it very healing, emotionally as well as physically, to express myself,” Margaret says via email. Verbally, it can be a little difficult for some people to communicate with Margaret, but through the written word her thoughts are beautifully clear.
“I felt so honoured and excited to be attending Masterpiece Gala and Pursuit of Passions with all my friends and those team members who've believed in me from the get go,” Margaret says. “I also felt lucky to be getting so many compliments from people who are much older and wiser than me, thus proving you're never too young to start living out your dreams or making them come true.”
The relationships she’s forged in the seven years she’s lived at Erin Meadows continue to inspire Margaret, pushing her to be the best she can possibly be. She’s been encouraged to study her poetic craft and has been published in The Poetry Institute of Canada Anthologies.
From boosting self-esteem to enhancing fine motor skills, artistic creativity has many benefits, Margaret says, no matter your age or your ability. This is a key message she shared during her Walk With Me presentation.