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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Old Age as described in the second book of the Macabees

The first reading for today's liturgy struck me so forcefully when I first read it that I just have to share it in this blog.

It's a reading from the second book of the Maccabees (2Mc 6: 18 – 31).  The passage tells the story of Eleazar and his faithful adherence to God's law. Eleazar is an old man; listen to how his age, and the markers of his age - his gray hair and his life experience - are seen as honorable by the writer. I include here only those relevant phrases from the entire reading that describe Eleazar in the context of his age, as "an older".

"Eleazar was a man of advanced age and noble appearance"

"Eleazar had a noble mind, worthy of his years, worthy of the distinction presented by his gray hair and his dignity, and worthy of the admirable life he had lived since childhood."

Eleazar chooses death rather than defy the law:
"If I dissimulated for the sake of a brief moment of life, they would be scandalized by me, and I would bring shame and dishonor on my old age. If I therefore have the courage to give up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my years, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and gracefully for the sake of the holy law that we hear."

What new insights about the honor of life's later years might we gain by reflecting on Eleazar’s conviction that only when he shows himself ‘worthy of my years’ will he leave a worthy legacy?

Perhaps as an exercise probing our own internal ageism, we might ask ourselves, “How often is my first impression when seeing a person with gray hair that s/he is worthy of distinction by that very presence of gray. What makes me want to hide my gray hair?

"Eleazar had a noble mind worthy of his years."  Do we believe, really believe that wisdom resides within our elderly?  Is that conviction reflected in policies and daily practices? Or do we, in effect, segregate our elders in some ways from the larger community so that their presence and voice are not available?

Monday, October 30, 2017

How Early is Ageism Taught?

 © Imelda Maurer, cdp

"Ageism is the last socially acceptable prejudice."  This is a quote I've used before in this blog, coming from Ashton Applewhite who states this realization as the motivation for her becoming an activist to fight this socially accepted prejudice.

A Facebook friend posted a link to a commercial from ToysRus.  Yes, an ageist ad regarding TOYS! For YOUNG CHILDREN!

If you want to see the 20-second ad, click here.

Here's one review at the ad's website:

Sally Hopkins
Is this meant to be funny? Ageism is rife in society and this commercial (if you can call it that) denigrates older people by making fun in using the entrenched symbols of ageing - loose/false teeth, grey hair, large glasses, a comfy cardigan and fear by younger people of older people (which isn't correct). Lift your game (pun intended) TOMY. You're demonizing people. This is a thinly veiled swipe at the fictional crone image that again is also much maligned.

The issue here is not a trivial one to be shrugged off.  Ageism is a prejudice that is harmful to the well-being of every older person as well as those who HOPE to live long enough to become 'an older person'. It is a justice and dignity issue.

Monday, October 16, 2017

"No Donuts for You!"

Recently I've been focusing my reading on topics around ageism.  Part of that reading involves being part of an online discussion group.  Lisa Kendall, LCSW-R, CSW-G is, among her other jobs, a lecturer in gerontology at Ithaca College.  Her online discussion leads up to Ashton Applewhite's presence on that campus next week as the Gerontology Institute's Distinguished Speaker.

Applewhite has written the book, THIS CHAIR ROCKS: A MANIFESTO AGAINST AGEISM. I know I have mentioned on my blog before. It merits mentioning again!  I urge my readers to find a copy and read it.

One of the resources suggested for this online book discussion group was an AARP-produced clip about 'what does old look like?' I found the video was in fact ageist, and made online comments to that effect. Ashton responded with her own, more thorough critique and I was more than delighted that she agreed with me. In her comments, Ashton referred to another short (2:14 minute) AARP video in which "an impressively straight-faced actress disguised as an employee—she deserves an Oscar—refuses to serve anyone over 40. It’s a provocative, hilarious, and bitingly effective social experiment."  The link is here. I hope you will look at it and think about its message.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The lie that 'old is bad and young is good' is so deeply held in our culture that we do not recognize it. Carter Williams, a renowned geriatric social worker, a deeply profound thinker and compassionate person revealed to a national audience her experiences that revealed her own internalized ageism.

Carter Catlett Williams, Geriatric Social Worker
Pioneer Network Co-Founder and Pioneer Network Conference Convener
Convener Address August 11, 2013

Carter reflects on her experiences after moving from her home of more than 40 years into a retirement community:

"But once I began to settle into my pleasing small apartment with this generous wall-to-wall window to the east and a view of the treetops, surprising – even shocking-feelings beset me. They were not in regard to physical accommodations or the warm welcome from staff and other tenants, but to the unbidden critical responses that rose in me about social aspects of my new environment. I had known several people who lived here and had visited good friends here for many years, so it was with amazement that I viewed the dining room on my first evening.

"Most everyone, it seems, depended on a walker to get around. Walkers encircled the large room, and at the conclusion of the meal, a procession of bent bodies slowly made its way to the elevator. It was a startling scene that suggested dependency and no sense of their own agency. And I felt emphatically that I didn't belong in it, nor did I want to be identified with it.

"Deep within I rejected the signs of dependence, and fostered the idea that I was different, and didn't belong with people in this condition. Prejudice I didn't know I had – in fact prided myself on not having – was laid there. How could I, a professional geriatric social worker of 40 years experience, harbor such thoughts? I was brought face-to-face with the cultural prejudices concerning old age that pervade our society and had to accept that deep down they had conditioned me along with everyone else. For now that I was joining THEM, the Infirm Old, I didn't like it. I was emphatic in wanting to set myself apart.

"The first conclusion I draw from this experience is that we don't know our innermost souls until we are stripped of our book learning, posturing and our unrecognized absorption of the culture around us that says a person with manifestation of physical aging is not a beautiful human being."

If a woman of Carter Williams' stature is not exempt from this prejudice, none of us, I believe, can feel free of this internalized lie. The good news, however, is that once a reality is named, it can be addressed. This is the happy challenge: acknowledge ageism wherever you see it: within yourself and within your everyday experiences with others.  Then challenge the lie that 'old is bad and young is good' with the good news of truth!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

So deeply embedded in our culture that we do not recognize it

 © Imelda Maurer, cdp

I was surfing through Facebook not long ago and searched for a business associate from my past. This woman is about age 60.  I found her page and read one of her recent public posts which I copy here:

“Did a little shopping today. I'm always taken by how polite the clerks and other shoppers are -- greeting me, opening doors, young people letting me go ahead of them in line. I keep hoping it is not because they think I am old!”

Does your heart break like mine when you read this? Another woman, well-educated and in positions of authority and policy-making for many years, reveals her blindness to the lie, and her acceptance of that lie that ‘old is bad and young is good.’

One of the most serious consequences in acquiescing to this lie of the tenets of ageism is its impact on each person who believes it, and then lives with it. There is a lowered self-image along with, as research tells us, poorer physical, mental and social health outcomes in later life.  These consequences are a kind of poverty that we cannot abide!

There is a second consequence of not recognizing internalized ageism. If ‘old is bad’, I will do everything I can to avoid that label, and to unconsciously separate ‘them’ from me. The old become ‘the other’. We are not like ‘them’. I believe that this mindset of internalized ageism is a major reason why the culture of aging services continues in so many places to be so impersonal and so institutional.  With the blinders of ageism firmly in place, one cannot imagine how life might be different for those needing supportive services, how those in our care are not ‘them’, but ‘us’.

A renowned geriatric social worker, Carter Williams, addressed this very issue when she convened the Pioneer Network Conference in 2013. In my next entry I will share Carter's deeply honest and vulnerable remarks about her shocking recognition of her own internalized ageism.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Let's End Ageism"

At the Pioneer Network Conference in Chicago last week, our keynote speaker was Ashton Applewhite. Ashton has taken on the task of fighting the insidious and pervasive presence of ageism in our society because, as she says, "it is the last socially accepted prejudice". At the same time it is also the only prejudice that every human being is subject to if one has the gift of years.

Applewhite's book is entitled "This Chair Rocks: a Manifesto Against Ageism" and I highly recommend it.

Just this morning I saw an eleven-minute Ted Talk video given by Ashton this past April. You can access it here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"The Last Socially Accepted Prejudice"

©   Imelda Maurer, cdp

I've raised the topic of ageism several times on the blog. In fact it was my second entry back in 2007, titled, "I'm Not a Young Woman".  Ageism must be rebuffed for several reasons, not the least of which is rejecting by word and action the harmful, prejudicial concepts of ageism. For women religious, these actions are also aspects of our call to prophetic witness in which we strive to create, by our words and actions, that just and compassionate Kingdom of God  that the Gospels call us to live today.

In terms of changing the culture of aging services, I believe one of the major obstacles is the pervasive ageism of our society. The blinders of this prejudice prevent us from seeing aging beyond the negative myths.

If you do not know Ashton Applewhite and her work as a writer and activist against ageism, today is a good day because I'm going to introduce you to this woman and her work!

Only when the Pioneer Network (which is holding its annual conference next week in Chicago) announced that Ashton Applewhite will be our keynote speaker did I learn about Ashton. Her book, "This Chair Rocks:A Manifesto Against Ageism is a best seller and for good reason.  Publishers Weekly wrote a very positive review and can be accessed here.

Ms. Applewhite has several videos on YouTube. In one that I watched, Applewhite supports her activism around ageism, calling it "the last socially acceptable prejudice". You can access her YouTube videos easily here.

One last resource on this important topic: Lisa Kendall, LCSW at  Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY is leading a virtual book study of Applewhite's book! I've already signed up for it  and am eager to join the 50+ (so far!) individuals who are part of this online discussion.  Registration is open now; the actual book study begins Monday, August 14th. You can join this group by going to this site:

I look forward to discussing more of "This Chair Rocks" here on my blog also.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mission-Driven = Person-Directed

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

On March 21, 2017, I posted an entry about mission-driven workplaces as exemplified by correspondence from Melissa Angelo, HR Director for The Villa, a nursing home in Baden, PA, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden.

Shortly after that post, Melissa told me about some activities around Employee Appreciation Week and, at my request, sent me some pictures of one of their events.  Each "household" had a tri-fold poster display about how, as staff, their household lives out the Villa Mission Statement and Values.  I asked Angela if I could share it with my blog readers and was so happy she said, "Of course!"

The pictures do not permit easy reading of what employees wrote, but they are so worth reading that I have included some of them beneath the appropriate picture.


We treat our residents with a bushel of kindness and respect, a peck of good old home cooking lastly "a bushel and a pack and a hug around the neck."

Hospitality filled with a cup of Joe. 

A spoonful of love makes the medicine go down 

1 oz teamwork, 1 cup compassion, 2 cups of person centered care. Mix in love

Stir in goodness and positivity.

A sprinkle of care and compassion

A bundle of teamwork

This display reflected how employees saw living out the Villa Values of Respect, Quality, Stewardship, Community and Collaboration

"The Villa is a place where all staff truly strives to provide all the needs of each individual resident. Not just physical needs. We daily attempt to make sure each person feels safe, loved, and knows that they are valued. We want each soul to live there days to the fullest."

"Interacting with each resident as much as I can, stop to give a hug, sing a song, or just give them a smile, never be too busy to show them love."

"The mission statement means showing the residents that we care about them. We help them when they need help. We try to make them feel at home. We also get to know the families. And most of all we all work as a team to keep them safe."

"Our residents and their families become our family – and we share in their joy and grief."

"We make this place feel like the resident's home as much as possible. Let them eat when they want to eat. If they want to sleep in, they can. We treat them the way we treat our own mother and father, with dignity, respect, and honor."

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


© Imelda Maurer, cdp

Yesterday I posted the poem, “Light Within the Darkness”, suggesting that you ponder it before I offered my own thoughts on it. Here are those thoughts.

The writer counters the decline of the physical body with the ongoing development of the mind, spirit and soul. The consequence is “the radiance of the sage”, becoming the light within a dark world.

Recent advances in the study of the brain and adult development do indeed show that there is growth and development on multiple levels in the second half of life. The positive changes of life after fifty do provide for the blossoming of wisdom and generativity.  Indeed, the sages of the world can claim “radiance” in a dark world.

Why don’t we experience that that is so?  My first thought is to blame the pervasiveness of ageism.  Older adults are seen as ‘over the hill’, and ‘past their prime’. That does not make it so, of course. However this is what complicates the matter – self-perception in many cases.

Have you read Kennth Clark’s study done around 1940 with young Black children aged three to seven years? These youngsters were shown two dolls and asked to choose.  One doll was white with blond hair; the other doll was brown with black hair.  Overwhelmingly the young Black girls chose the Caucasian-featured dolls. Here is a quote about the study:

Some of the participants even employed aesthetic language in their unsolicited explanations for choosing the white doll. “Cause it’s white — it’s pretty,” said one child, or “cause he’s not colored like these — they the best looking cause they’re white.” The black dolls, on the other hand, were described as “ugly.”

The Black children in the study had internalized society’s racist views to their own detriment.  Because racism has at least been exposed, though not erased, it is probable that Kenneth Clark’s study would result in different conclusions today. 
I believe older adults are very prone to internalizing society’s prejudices of ageism.  Older adults who internalize this prejudice have their own self-esteem diminished. It is not surprising in a way. Every encounter offers the chance that we are seen, not as a person, an individual with a unique life story and accomplishments, but as an “old person” with all that our society believes about old people
Rise up, my good people! Our task is to confront this ageism from within and from without! Know and honor who you are and who you are becoming! Recognize the signs of ageism within yourself and confront them. Confront ageism wherever you see it.  The darkness of the world needs the brilliance of the sage!

Words to Ponder

The following poem was posted in the free, online monthly newsletter, “Human Values in Aging”, edited by Harry R. Moody, Ph.D.

Tomorrow I will share some of my own thoughts about the poem.  But first, what are your thoughts and insights from reading and pondering this poem?

As the heart grows tired, the courage awakens.
As the steps wobble, the soul remains unmoved.
The radiance of the sage becomes
the light within the darkness of the world.
Can you imagine millions
of strong-spirited,
courageous elders
living in our cities and towns?
It is my hope for the world. 

From William Martin, The Sage's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for
the Second Half of Life, New York: Marlow & Company, 2000.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"To live our mission and to be available."

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

Today, a message-worth-sharing from another of my professional listservs, this one from LeadingAge, the national organization representing not-for-profit aging services communities.

The thread of this message was a request from an HR Director for information about policy and/or a job description for weekend Managers on Duty. (The person who is in charge on weekends when the administrator and other Department Directors are not present.)

There were several responses including some job descriptions and some narratives about what 'weekend managers' are expected to do and how they report that.  There was really very helpful information from several aging services communities.. However, the response that really touched home with me was one from Melissa Angelo. Melissa is the Human Resources person for Villa St Joseph, Baden PA.  This public, licensed nursing home is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden. Melissa ended her narrative of expectations for Managers on Duty with this sentence:

"There is no specific job description but this requirement is embedded within each manager's own job description.  We are like good-will ambassadors doing what it takes to live our mission and be available!"

Everything we do: every policy written and implemented, and every operational practice  in our communities should be viewed through the lens of of 'living our mission'.  Way to go, Melissa! The Villa - residents and staff - is blessed to have you there!

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Old Geezers" and "Return on My Investment": Ageism - 2

©  Imelda Maurer, cdp  
The Gerontological Society of America has a listserv for its members to share news and items of interest with each other.  The following item was contributed last week by Bob Harootyan who is involved in research for a Senior Volunteer Organization in Silver Spring, Maryland:

In a videotaped presentation on 3/6/17, HUD Secretary Ben Carson made two egregious statements. The first concerned the "other immigrants" who came to this country "in the bottom of slave ships." Immigrants -- really? That statement appropriately caused an uproar on the Internet and in the media.

His second statement, however, did not. It pertained to his views as a neurosurgeon and the satisfaction he receives from helping patients. Except that not all patients seem to deserve his help. Carson said that he can operate for 8, 10, even 20 hours on a young person and give that patient another 40, 50 or 60 years of life. But if he spent the same amount of time operating on an "old geezer" [verbatim] he'll be "dead within five years." Carson concluded by saying he prefers to operate on younger people because he wants a "longer return on my investment."

Carson clearly believes that the lives and well-being of older people have less value than those of younger people. And this ageist view is from a medical professional. I'm appalled by his thinking and also disappointed in the lack of uproar about such ageist insensitivity.

It’s true that our culture is more sensitized to the violence borne of racial prejudice, and there was a well-deserved outcry about Carson’s talk about "immigrants" in the hold of slaves ships and their dreams for the future.

Two points about all of this:

1.  We must learn to recognize ageism in any form in which it shows itself.  As much as I like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon, their jokes involving aging adults are AWFULLY AGEIST. Are you sensitive to the trivialization and denigration these two late-night comics engage in when they speak of ‘old people’?

2.    Dr. Ben Carson is a member of the medical community and speaks with total lack of awareness that his comments are ageist.  Unfortunately, he’s not the only medical provider with ageist attitudes. It's not that uncommon in the medical profession. If you are an older adult (let’s say 60 or better) be aware of comments or attitudes of any care provider that reflect attitudes of ageism. If you see them, experience them, either talk about them  with your provider and get relief, or fire that provider and find a better one.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reading with New Eyes

© Imelda Maurer, cdp
Not long ago during a conversation with another Sister, she mentioned a Congregational meeting she had recently attended. The agenda was around aging and retirement needs. Included in the meeting were statements from her Congregation’s Constitutions. Her comment to me was, “I never realized there was so much in our documents that was so relevant to the topics we were discussing.”

That observation brought one of my own learnings to mind:  If we read our Congregational documents – our Constitutions, Chapter statements, and mission statements – with new eyes, we will find riches there never before imagined.  When we read our Congregational documents through the lens of serving our elders, we will discover a new world of meaning in the work to which our own and every Congregation is called.  Such a re-reading has the potential to stir a new vision of what life could be like in our “infirmaries”.  The subsequent new vision and new understanding of this ministry to our own, through the lens of our Congregational documents and values has the potential to shift our mindset about aging, aging services and retirement needs. When the subsequent insights that such a shift in mindset brings, with its mandate for a new intentionality in how things are done, there is born the potential of our being  led to a new place of prophetic witness, a witness to which we are called to be and to provide today in an aging and ageist society.

I was reminded of all of this earlier today as I read the first reading for today’s Eucharistic liturgy. The reading is an exhortation about ministry and the attitudes we should bring to it. Be aware of the new understandings of the ministry of service to our own possible when we read this Scripture through that lens?
(The translation I use here is from The Inclusive Bible. That translation uses the word ‘elder’ in place of ‘presbyter’, but perhaps apt for us.)

1 Peter 5:1-4
I send a word of advice to the elders among you. I, too, am an elder, as well as a witness to the sufferings of Christ and a partaker of the glory that will be revealed. Shepherd the flock entrusted to you. Shepherd it, not just out of duty, but eagerly, as God would have. Don't do it for money, but do it freely. Don't be pompous or domineering, but set an example for the whole community to follow. Then when the chief Shepherd comes, you will receive the crown of unfading glory. Let the young among you respect the leadership of the elders. Let all of you clothe yourselves in humility toward each other, for "God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble."

Monday, February 20, 2017

"Tell me your name again."

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

News of my mother’s death came by way of a long distance call from my brother early Wednesday evening, February 13th, 1985.  I was living in South Carolina at the time, organizing Hanes factory workers in the Carolinas and Virginia. The following day I flew to be with the rest of my family, in shock over a death I was not expecting. 

My first morning back in Texas I made my way to the Episcopal-sponsored Bishop Davies Nursing Center where Mother had moved a year earlier. Through my three or four visits during that year, I had benefitted from a warm relationship with Dorothy, the daughter of Mother’s roommate and with the warm and gracious administrator, Helen Wesley.

As I walked into the entrance of the nursing home I saw Dorothy. She had seen me at about the same moment and came with her arms open to greet me.  “There’s someone I want you to meet,” she told me.  I was introduced to a woman probably in her 40s.  “I sang to your mother on Wednesday.” 

While this woman was explaining why she had done this, I was engulfed in memory upon memory of music in my mother’s life. Mother sang while she swept the kitchen floor; she sang as she washed the dishes and as she ironed our clothes there with the ironing board close to the radio. She sang in our parish choir. How many cool summer evenings did we spend on the front porch naming song after song that we children wanted her to lead us in. And my next thought was knowing how comforting music must have been for my mother, and realizing that had I been physically present I would not have had the emotional strength to sing without unmeasured weeping.  This woman, this stranger, had been there and offered this gift to my mother. I expressed that conviction to this kind woman. Nothing could have comforted my mother more than songs being sung to her in her last hours.

This woman, whose name had already escaped me, told me that her own mother had just moved into this nursing home a month or so earlier.  The daughter had joined a church group on death and dying. One of the things she had learned was that hearing is the most tenacious sense, and is probably the last to leave us.  And so she sang to my mother!  Expressing my gratitude again, I asked her, “Please, tell me your name again”

“Grace”, she said.

 Here is a link to a three-minute video featuring a Sister of St Joseph in Los Angeles. It reflects the role of music for persons in hospice care.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

"Our barns are full!"

© Imelda Maurer, cdp

A brief continuation of yesterday's conversation refuting the belief that later life is circumscribed by "letting go".

We are all familiar with the images comparing the life cycle to the four seasons of the year. Autumn comes, the leaves fall, the trees are bare. We wait for the next season, a stark barren winter, which brings death.

An important initial message from Gene Cohen in his book, "The Mature Mind" is that we must change every idea we have about aging.  This "problem" of aging, Cohen tells his readers, originated with the beginnings of aging studies research.  The studies were always focused on deficits and decline.  The aging process was always and only seen as a problem. Indeed that was brought home to me a few years ago. An area university library was thinning its shelves and the lobby of the library on one of my visits was filled with books from their school of nursing for sale to the public.  As I panned the titles on these old, sometimes worn books, one has stayed with me: "The Aging Problem".  
Cohen says we must look at research which only recently has looked at the positive aspects of aging. We must turn upside down - flip - every belief we have had in the past about aging.

Let's flip one concept here: The season of autumn as symbolic of later life.  

Traditional concept: Time when trees lose their leaves - a kind of decline and approaching death.

Flip concept: Autumn brings the beauty of leaves "turning" to magnificent colors of yellow, orange and red that draw multitudes of us to parks and to the countryside, awestruck with this beauty.  In fact, these colors have always existed in these now-brilliant autumn leaves. When the hours of sunlight lessen, the chlorophyll (green) becomes colorless. Only then can the brilliants colors that have always been present in the leaves become visible. Beauty, continued growth and development becomes possible and visible precisely because of our aging.

Another flipped concept of fall as a season of life was brought home to me at a prayer service sometime ago that was part of a meeting focusing on aging.

This one line has stayed with me and I smile every time I think of it:

"It is fall. Our barns are full."

I hope you smile too and cherish every moment, every 'stage' of life, wherever you are in it, as a time filled with potential for growth and development of your whole person.

Friday, January 27, 2017

There's more to later life than "letting go"

© Imelda Maurer, cdp
Aging is a universal experience. That is why anyone and everyone can speak to the issue, can speak of their experiences.  There is an inherent risk of error and misinformation, however, when the speaker/writer has a public venue, is an expert in other fields (theology or spirituality for example) and speaks to an audience authoritatively about aging.

It has been my observation that these writers/speakers interpret aging experiences through the bias of popular culture rather than from honored, acceptable theories of aging and from gerontological research-based data. The result is the all-too-familiar one-dimensional approach to aging as loss and diminishment. It is the view that saturates our popular culture. This approach is often 'spiritualized' by teaching the spirituality of aging as circumscribed by the task of "letting go".

This topic merits much more comprehensive attention than a short blog post. I make two abbreviated points here though.

First: we human beings experience loss throughout our entire lives. It is a part of change.  Before a new thing can happen, the old thing has to end. Before we got our adult teeth we had to lose our baby teeth. In this change (read growth), there is always a simultaneous loss and gain. This is true multi-dimensionally:  physical, emotional, cognitive and social. We do not experience change for the first time when we retire from ministry, that period often referred to in religious literature as a time of transition.  Every change is a transition. Change happens throughout the life cycle. Perhaps the most profound change we human experience is leaving the warmth and intimacy of our mother's womb where heartbeat and voice are heard and felt in a warm, safe environment. The consequences of not going through that loss need no explanation. Loss and gain -- simultaneous in any change and present throughout the lifespan.

Second: There is potential for growth and development throughout the life span -- up to our very last breath. The popular culture tells us that when our hair grays, when our collagen lessens and we wrinkle, that this all diminishment. We are more than our physical bodies and in the presence of physical changes there are also emotional, cognitive and experiential changes that are NOT losses.

If this whets your appetite for more, read the book, "The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain" by Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D.  Here is a blurb from about this amazing, authoritative book.

"The Mature Mind delivers good news for those in the second half of life, with an extraordinary account of cutting-edge neuroscience, groundbreaking psychology, fascinating vignettes from history and case studies, and practical advice for personal growth strategies. Gene Cohen, a renowned psychiatrist and gerontologist, draws from more than thirty years of research to show that surprising positive changes in our brains have the powerful potential to enhance, not diminish, our lives after fifty."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Can the Environment Hold the Vision?

 ©  Imelda Maurer, cdp  
‘The Christmas season is here and I want to share news of Sister __________. She was happy to receive your Christmas card. Sister frequently enjoys attending Mass at her favorite parish with her family and friends and/or her Sisters.’ There was a full color photograph of Sister engaged with another Sister, and some more general news about this elder.

Though not a direct quote, this was the essence of a message from a Sister-friend from years past. Our physical paths have diverged and this Sister, a member of a different Congregation, is now in a nursing home. The letter was signed by one of her Sisters in elected leadership whom I do not know personally, along with her cell phone number!

What moved me as much as hearing about my friend were the values reflected in this action by her Sisters.  I’ve talked before in this blog about the primacy and importance of relationships throughout our life span. To me, this letter embodied an appreciation of this primacy. Sending this letter to all of Sister’s friends keeps her in the circle of her own community and beyond.
I don’t know how many letters went out in my friend’s name, but I do know two things: that letter touched everyone who received it, and the value of relationships was acknowledged and honored.  In this practice, ‘procedures’ are aligned with ‘values’ or ‘vision’.  It is a delightful example of the environment supporting the vision. I am grateful.

Friday, January 13, 2017

“An Improved Profile” Ageism – 1

© Imelda Maurer, cdp  

There is a TV commercial that I have seen several times promoting treatment for “moderate to severe fat below the chin.” There’s a catchy story line to the ad, ending with the promise that this procedure will result in “leaving an improved profile.”

Ageism pure and simple!  The assumption is that the absence of fat below the chin, the absence of that double chin that sometimes appears as one ages, is better, more acceptable.  This thinking says that the appearance of physical youthfulness is better than that appearance can only happen with physical maturity and an increase in years.

Ageism is pernicious.  Its effects have great potential for impacting the self-image of every single adult who has or at least has the potential of being blessed with a long life.  We cannot address this bias toward age and aging until we recognize it. 

Can you name an instance within the last few days where you saw ageism in the press, on TV, in cartoons, -- or even in your own unexamined thoughts?

Ageism is the last ‘ism’ to be conquered.  Interestingly enough, it is also the only ‘ism’, the only prejudice, to which every single person is subject to.  That is, if one is blessed with the gift of years.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Yesterday's error corrected

A reader notified me that the link I used yesterday is not functional.  I apologize.  I corrected the information in that post and include it here also.

Beth's article with accompanying pictures can be read here here

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"Rebooting the Nursing Home"

Beth Baker is the author of several books. One, which I consider a classic is OLD AGE IN A NEW AGE. It was written almost ten years ago, but it is still so relevant.  It tells the story of several nursing homes in their transition from a hospital-like INSTITUTION to HOME. I consider it a must read.

Beth continues to write about this culture shift in nursing homes and has just this morning posted an article from Politico titled "Rebooting the Nursing Home."  Future consumers of nursing home services as well as present advocates of present nursing home residents must begin to imagine nursing homes in a new way and demand that environment and philosophy.  We must be able to imagine it if we are to make it happen.

Beth's article with accompanying pictures can be read here .

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Loneliness Can Be Deadly

© Imelda Maurer, cdp   January 4, 2017

The title above is taken from today's post of "The New Old Age" in the New York Times.  Tragically, the word 'deadly' is not merely a figurative description of loneliness among elders. Research shows several negative outcomes - cognitive, emotional, and physical -- among older adults who are isolated and older adults who report feelings of loneliness.

In fact, self-reports of loneliness are a prediction of moving into a nursing home because, researchers theorize that loneliness is a precipitant to poor physical and mental health. That is, loneliness is followed by a rapid decline in physical and mental health.

Relationships are at the heart of life.  Life. Period. Not just youth or young adulthood, but LIFE.  Is is possible that in our well-intentioned work to provide "good care" to those elders under our charge, we focus on the physical, and are not mindful of the interpersonal, relational needs all of us share?

How does the environment, "activities" and "the schedule" (!) enable and encourage relationships and friendships among residents and between residents and persons who were a part of their lives before they came to live with us?

The article in the New York Times is well worth reading and  includes several useful related links.  You can read it here .

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

How can you be Providence to the world if you are not Providence to each other?

On October 25, 1866, two Sisters of Divine Providence touched Texas soil after several months crossing the ocean from their motherhouse in France Over the past twelve months, my Congregation, the Sisters of Divine Providence, has experienced a year of profound grace, joy and gratitude.  We have been remembering, celebrating and ritualizing this event that occurred 150 years ago, and we are committing ourselves to honor that legacy by living it into the future.

We end this year with a retreat together at our motherhouse in San Antonio on December 31st.  One of the Sisters on the committee responsible for preparing the prayer for this retreat just sent me a draft of part of our retreat day together.  Part of the prayer is a “dialogue” with Mother St. Andrew, one of those two original Sisters of Divine Providence who came to Texas 150 years ago, and who led this fledgling Congregation until she was persecuted and ostracized by the then presiding Bishop of Texas.

In the dialogue, Mother St. Andrew, a heroine to all of us Texas CDPs, asks this simple question, “How can you be Providence to the world, if you are not Providence to each other?” I could not and cannot read this question without tears.  It resonates with a profound conviction I have had for many years about the ministry of service we offer to our own frail, elder Sisters.  We Sisters have been schooled to serving “the other” in a totally selfless manner.  We have also wholeheartedly accepted the mandate, operative since the days of the Sister Formation Conference, that we should be fully prepared for the ministries to which we are assigned, or to which we feel called.  However, until we Sisters make that shift of consciousness – that the ministry of service to our own members is  on a par with and is as sacred and as Gospel-driven as any other ministry “to others” – we will miss the mark. 

For me, as a Sister of Divine Providence, I live out our Congregational charism when I am “being Providence”, when I am reflecting the abundance of God’s loving care for all of creation.  I cannot, my congregation cannot, restrict living the charism only to “the other”. The charism must also be lived in the way I see my frail, elder Sisters and in the manner in which my congregation sees and executes its ministry of service to their own members.

For women religious following this blog, what is your Congregation's charism?  When you ponder that in terms of the aging of your own members and the aging services they need, what do you see in a new light?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Who is Responsible for Furthering the Mission?

© Imelda Maurer, cdp
Several years ago I participated in a marvelous workshop entitled “Choreography of Culture Change”. One of the questions I brought with me was the role of  Human Resources in this whole marvelous shift of culture.  I think I didn’t know how to pose my concerns well, but concerns I had, because I saw in a particular Sisters’ nursing home community that HR was hiring persons that met HR’s paper qualifications period. In my estimation the consequences were chaotic oftentimes for both other staff and the residents. And of course turnover in more than one department was a major problem.
There is a new HR Director in that aging services community now and she wrote about how she sees her job. I share it with her permission:
“I look forward to partnering with you as we move forward together to further our Mission and Vision. Please know that I am here to serve all of the Sisters and employees. My main focus is to foster a work environment that embraces our core values which ultimately will create the pleasant home environment that all the Sisters deserve.”
With this focus, this HR Director will, I know, be evaluating potential employees on much more than academic, professional, certification or licensure requirements. She will be looking for candidates who are capable of and desirous of fostering “a work environment that embraces our core values”.  And in creating that “pleasant home environment”, employees will also be working in a happier, more contented, more professional environment.  THAT’s Culture Change!
Who’s responsible for furthering the mission? Everyone who walks through the door of the community. And HR is a vital link in enabling that to happen!


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Just a Thought

© Imelda Maurer, cdp  September 1, 2016

Earlier today a Sister friend posted on our Congregational e-bulletin board Pope Francis' "A  Prayer for our Earth" on this day which has been marked by Francis as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation".  Here is just the very first part of that prayer:

"All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists."

I stopped after reading/praying just that much with this thought flooding my heart:  Wouldn't it be a tender gift if every frail elder living in a nursing home or a convent infirmary could lay her head on her pillow at night knowing and feeling that during the day she had experienced that embrace of God's tenderness --- in the face and actions of those who by assignment or appointment are there to meet her needs.  Wouldn't that be wonderful!  Wouldn't that be in total alignment with Congregational documents, Chapter statements and mission statement!

Just a thought.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Can the Environment Hold the Vision?"

©  Imelda  Maurer, cdp  August 23, 2016
One of my Facebook friends posted the following poem this morning.  

You Start Dying Slowly by Pablo Neruda

You start dying slowly
if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life,
If you do not appreciate yourself.
You start dying slowly
When you kill your self-esteem;
When you do not let others help you.
You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine,
If you do not wear different colours
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.
You start dying slowly
If you avoid to feel passion
And their turbulent emotions;
Those which make your eyes glisten
And your heart beat fast.
You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,

How true all of this is. I read it through the lens of any older adult.  That passion, that purpose and meaning is so vital to being fully alive as long as we have breath.

There are two necessary factors necessary for living with purpose and meaning: the initiative required on one's part to live  precisely with that passion, and the environment in which one finds oneself.  If elders are to find purpose and meaning, there must be possibilities within their environment for that to be present, facilitated and nurtured. I am reminded once again of the statement repeated again and again in a presentation I heard on a totally different topic two years ago:  "Can the environment hold the vision?" This question should be posed and studied and returned to often by any individuals or teams responsible for providing aging services -- in any setting!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

I Can't Abide It!

© Imelda Maurer, cdp   

I'm in a "red hat" mood as I write this morning -- the 'red hat' indicating that part of my personality that instinctively reacts with strong emotion to issues/events I consider valuable or important.

The issue is about how aging is too, too often presented to Sisters.  As a gerontologist, I studied the aging process and the various theories of personality development.  What I know about aging is rooted in a solidly grounded knowledge base, affirmed by my own experiences as a woman in her eighth decade of life.

The women in whose circle I am so honored to be a part are characterized by their life of selfless service to others.  They want to do good; they want to be good.  If and when they are given directives on how to be good -- and I refer specifically to the issues around aging -- if the words come from another Sister, those words, validly or not, are empowered with a special credibility by the audience.

My most recent exposure to such a presentation to elder women and men religious held the same familiar pessimistic view of aging only as an experience of loss and decline.  The spirituality suggested is that of "letting go".

We experience loss throughout the life cycle. Losses are not experienced for the first time when we leave "active ministry".  We do not have to learn -- for the first time -- how to deal with loss when we are in our later years. This concept and lived reality merits its own chapter!

Aging does not always bring physical or cognitive disability. Additionally, how we age is uniquely individualized. When we generalize otherwise, we are guilty of ageism.

I groan for my Sisters when I become aware of common presentations on "aging and spirituality" because
---  "letting go" is only half the story
---   "letting go" is not an experience unique to our later years; and
---    because spiritualizing myths and negative biases about aging does not provide a solid foundation of spirituality,
---   this false foundation does not reflect the God of Mercy, Compassion and Abundant Providence who planned the whole of life for those so cherished by the very action of creation.

As I listened to the address I'm referring to, I had to take a break and view something that shows an entirely different picture of aging.  I've had this clip on my blog before, but I think it is so affirming of the other half of "letting go" that I  share it again.  It is an ad for women's health, but it is so marvelous in presenting so many qualities of life in our later years.

Treat yourself to this one minute clip here

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"I have found my tribe"

At a Pioneer Network Conference some years ago, Karen Schoeneman who directed the nursing home regulatory section at CMS talked about her initial experience with the Pioneer Network. Actually Karen was present as a co-founder of this wonderful organization, the Pioneer Network.  Karen expressed her strong identification with these other co-founders, persons who believed that residents in long term care settings should be in the drivers seat this way:  "I felt that finally I had found my tribe."

Those are strong and profound words from a  person who might have become just another bureaucrat in Washington DC writing nursing home regulations, but who instead maintained her integrity as a passionate advocate for changing the culture of aging and aging services.

That spirit within this pioneer network continues and it was deeply sensed and acknowledged by certified nursing assistants who attended this year's annual conference held in New Orleans.  One of those CNAs wrote of his experience at this gathering in New Orleans in the blog at CNA EDGE.  You can access that blog here entitled "Among Kindred Spirits" here . I encourage  you to read it.

Monday, August 8, 2016

If You Are a Family Member BE AN ADVOCATE

©  Imelda Maurer, cdp
If you are a family member or a friend of someone who is receiving aging services in any environment -- home, assisted living or nursing home setting -- it is so imperative for the well-being of that person or those persons with whom you have this relationship that you see your role as an advocate for that person or those persons.

Acting as an advocate is a work of Mercy. Pope Francis has reminded us during this Holy Year of Mercy that true mercy is not practiced by words only, but by actions.

My suggestions here do not imply that staff is not maintaining clinical standards, or that things in the aging services organization or not what they should be.  Rather, I urge a healthy collaboration with the interdisciplinary team, providing a second pair of ears and eyes as well as a loving heart. What I suggest and urge are three aspects of advocacy for your family member

1)  Informed consent. Never take the direction or interpretation of any healthcare provider as the final word without an adequate explanation. If a new medication or therapy is prescribed, or if a change  in either is recommended, an advocate should have sufficient information to either consent to or to refuse the recommendations. It goes without saying, of course, that if a family member is capable of making decisions, then s/he should receive the information necessary to make such an informed decision to accept or to refuse treatment. In such circumstances, the advocate can best serve by listening to the desires and needs of the family member and by helping to answer his/her questions if there are any.I

2)  Know the standards of care. To be an effective advocate, you must know the standards of care. You cannot advocate for another if you don't know "what the rules are."

I'll give an example from my early days as an advocate, embarrassing as it is to reveal!  I was in my beginning weeks as an ombudsman. The daughter of a nursing home resident told me that her mother complained that on mornings when she needed to use a bedpan, if she were eating her breakfast (from her tray on an overbed table) no staff member would bring her a bedpan, telling her she had to wait until after breakfast.  When I approached the administrator about this, she told me with great confidence, authority and good humor why no bedpan was offered under the circumstances at hand: "If the CDC got wind that we were doing that, we'd be fined like you wouldn't believe!"

I remember being puzzled, but I didn't know what to do with the answer I had received.  This administrator, one with a great lack of integrity in this instance, got one over on the advocate -- because I couldn't answer her explanation.  I wouldn't have had to quote a regulation, I would only have to say that this nursing home resident has a right to have her needs accommodated -- whenever they arise.

3.  Be that second pair of eyes and ears.  As a family member you visit often and take time to sit and listen to your family member.  Because you really know that person you pick up nuances of mood, physical and/or mental changes.  You may well become aware of issues that even good staff may miss merely because you know the person so much better.  So discuss these observations with the charge nurse, or with the home health nurse that comes in.

I saw a chart that is recommended for nurse aides to use for this very purpose.  I offer it here  for your use as a guide, not to be checked and handed in, but to be used as a guide and as talking points if you detect changes in your family member.

(When you click on the link, you may get a warning about viruses.  The site is safe.)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Making Connections

©  Imelda Maurer, cdp

As I write this, it was two days ago to the hour that we gathered for the final session of the Pioneer Network Conference, our luncheon and its stirring program.  Since my return, I've been doing the mundane tasks of getting back into my routine as well as addressing some issues with short deadlines. 

At the same time, I'm aware that I have several business cards here on my desk, indications of new connections  I made at the Conference.  I'll do more than just adding this data to Outlook.  I'll be in touch with these new-found common-visioned colleagues.  I've also been  mulling over my experiences at the Conference and, as at every conference, I came home with ideas about how to implement some of my "what if", some of my "why can't . . . " visions.  There are two projects I will work to implement this coming year.

A CNA who was at the Conference has already reflected on one experience that provided a clear connection between what she heard at the Conference and how it applies to her work every day as a CNA.  The following is the core of what Yang writes in reflecting on a conference experience:

This really is “what it’s all about.” A person centered environment means that as we approach and respond to our elders, we pick up on the cues that provide us with an awareness of how they as individuals are perceiving the situation and use this as the context for our interaction with them. An unhurried and indirect approach with a light touch creates an atmosphere of cooperation and reassures our elders that they are in control.

The full entry can be accessed here.

The investment of time and money involved in participating in a national conference is totally wasted if new ideas learned are not put into practice back at home.  Does your organization  have and implement a policy about staff bringing back conference ideas and insights?  Is there an expectation that these ideas will be shared with staff and stakeholders?  Fiscally, it is just being responsible. Ethically, I believe we are morally impelled to act on what we know helps to move from INSTITUTION, even if it is a "loving institution", to HOME.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

“Her mind is shot – resign.”

© Imelda Maurer, cdp
July 13, 2016

The title of this post is a tweet from Donald Trump sent late last night responding to Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comments about his competency to hold the office of President of the United States. It is the most recent example of ageism being 'alive and well' in the field of politics and throughout our society.

Such statements are blatantly ageist, blatantly prejudicial. Ageism – with all of its negative effects for older adults, and future older adults – will continue to flourish until us as a society name this prejudice that permeates our society. And the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Which brings me to the question posed in yesterday’s post:  “What are the challenges?” I offer two here.

On a personal level:
We must challenge ageist statements whether they are directed to us personally, or if they are general prejudicial statements. When a sales clerk calls me “young woman”, I refute it nicely and graciously but firmly.  After all, the basis for anyone calling a woman in her 70’s a young woman is because our society sees youth as a more acceptable state than age. This bias must be acknowledged and addressed. 

We must monitor our immediate responses to events and persons that may reflect that we are drawing a conclusion based on chronological age. This practice will lead to a greater consciousness about the degree of ageist attitudes that heretofore have been present but unacknowledged, and therefore not attended to.

On an organizational level:
For those of us whose work involves services for older adults, the previous suggestion of checking immediate responses to persons and events holds true also.  Do we automatically believe that this person or that cannot accomplish a certain task because of his/her age or state of presumed disability?

A second aspect is to assure that all policies related to aging services are free of a negative ageist bias.  An easy test of that is to see if any policies are age-based:  “When a Sister reaches the age of 75 ----.”    If Sisters are required to have their driving skills tested ONLY because they have reached a certain age that is ageism being practiced openly and blatantly.  Insult is added to injury when the driving skills test is done not by an occupational therapist specialist but by a representative of an insurance company! Clearly, the concern of the insurance company is its bottom line.  Period.

I have had participants in workshops argue the previous point with me.  I stand on solid gerontological principles in this regard however. If we want a convenient, orderly organization, the ageist policies may be the way to go.  If we want an organization where every member is encouraged to continue to develop and live life as fully as possible, we will do away with “when a Sister reaches the age of 75 ------”. It may be a little messier and require a little more time with individuals and/or situations, but it is the more honorable way to facilitate life in an organization.  It honors the dignity of the older adult who is seen and judged as a whole person, not someone categorized because of her chronological age.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ageism Snakes its Way into Politics

This political election cycle h as been crazy, as so many pundits have reminded us.  Indeed it has been a strange and unpredictable period of political history. However, even in the midst of this unpredictability, examples of ageism are front and center. Its presence proves that our culture is soaked in the prejudice of ageism.

Four years ago an 84-year-old Clint Eastwood spoke to an empty chair during the Republican Convention.  It did not go over well.  The most common ‘analysis’ by pundits was age-related:  “What were they thinking, asking an 84-year-old-man?”

Two years ago Chuck Todd interviewed Nancy Pelosi in the context of national elections possibly resulting in the Democrats regaining control of the house.  Chuck wondered if Former Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, would seek that position once again, asking her if she didn’t think that perhaps she was too old for that position. 

Last month there was much chatter about the unfortunate decision of Bill Clinton to visit Attorney General Loretta Lynch while their planes were on the tarmac in Atlanta.  One commentator mused that he wondered if perhaps Bill Clinton is “not at the top of his game” any longer.  In other words, Bill Clinton, at age 69 – in making what many consider a very unwise decision – made that decision because he’s slipping, because, after all, he’s 69.  What else can you expect?

To date, no one in the public area has come back to denounce any of these instances as ageist, as negatively prejudicial.  Had Chuck Todd suggested that Pelosi is unqualified as Speaker because she is a woman, he would have lost his job at NBC.  Sexism – not acceptable.  Had someone suggested that Clint Eastwood’s flop performance was due to his Irish ancestry, the outcry would be to denounce ethnic prejudices.  Racism -- not acceptable.

But  ageism? No one speaks up against blatantly ageist remarks.  Why? A major reason is because collectively, as a society, we do not recognize this bias. Ageism is so ingrained in our culture that we don’t sense its presence. We too soak it up without realizing it.

And what’s the challenge:  There are two.  See this space tomorrow.