Have You Had an “A-Ha” Today?

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Joan Devine

Joan Devine, Director of Education, Pioneer Network

For those of us engaged in this incredible journey to change the culture of aging – we are searching for ways to bring more than the traditional model offers in terms of quality of care.  We are trying to find ways to assure that the elders in our communities — and in our lives — have meaning and purpose, and the right to define what this means to them!

This journey is not an easy one.  Common sense and intuitive for many, maybe, but not easy!  Finding those sparks that ignite our passion and help give us not only guidance in terms of direction, but the ‘oomph’ to keep us going often comes from what many describe as “A-Ha” moments.

And where do you find those “A-ha” moments?  Well, I can tell you that on my journey, they have come from many different places.  One of the first was many years ago, before I even knew what this movement was all about.  I was working in a hospital where we were piloting ‘patient centered care’.  In our first meeting as a leadership team talking about what this pilot should look like, I remember my manager, a very wise woman, ask the question “and when did we lose the patient?”.  I couldn’t help but think, how right she was – why were we spending all this time on an initiative to define how the patient could be the center of care – shouldn’t that be what we were already doing?

In my 20+ years working in long-term care, I had many “A-Ha’s”.  One of the most memorable happened at a community that I knew was very proud of their resident-centered practices, including natural awakening.  I was walking through the halls very early one morning, and in each neighborhood that I walked through, I saw a nurse or med tech pushing a med cart down the hall – going into rooms to give 5:00 or 6:00 am meds.  That’s when the “A-Ha” hit!  I don’t know about you, but if I am woken up at 5 or 6 am, enough to safely take some pills, then natural awakening for me isn’t happening!  That “A-Ha” really drove home to me the need to look at all of the systems and practices, policies and procedures, that can impact the outcome we are trying to achieve.  I can’t support natural awakening if I am still giving medications to residents based on the routines of the institutional model.

My mother, who recently passed away after living with dementia for a number of years, provided me with many “A-ha” moments.  Some were very simple, like getting me to stop and look at the beauty of the clouds.  Others made me realize that even with all my years of experience in healthcare, I didn’t realize how broken the system was in terms of support for Elders and their families.

But I think the “A-ha” that had the most profound impact on my life and work in elder care came back in 2006 at my very first Pioneer Network Conference in Minneapolis, MN.   I found myself walking down the hall with a very nice woman, and as we walked, we got to talking.  In the midst of the conversation, this woman made a comment about “Letting the residents…”.  Then she stopped herself dead in her tracks.  “Let the residents!  We don’t LET the residents do anything!  They are adults and can make decisions for themselves…it’s their life!”  Wow…what a message.  And what made the message even more profound was realizing who this nice woman was.  She was Rose Marie Fagan, one of the founders of Pioneer Network, and that time, its Executive Director.  It wasn’t just the message Rose Marie shared that had such an impact on me, it was realizing that for all of us on this journey, if we are not constantly paying attention, then we can slip into old thoughts or old practices.

I haven’t missed a Pioneer Network annual conference since that year – it’s one of the best places I know to have those “A-ha” moments – sometimes from a conversation in a hall, sometimes from what you hear from a Guide in a session, sometimes by sharing your story with others or sometimes just making you recognize an “A-ha” that you didn’t notice you were having back at your community.

So, I leave you with 2 thoughts.  One, consider joining us in Denver where I guarantee there will be many “A-ha’s” to be had.  The second is — as you have A-ha’s, please share them.  And why not start here.  Tell us your favorite “A-ha” moment!

3 comments on “Have You Had an “A-Ha” Today?

  1. Sister Imelda Maurer on

    Great column, Joan. One of the exciting things for me in working to transform the culture of aging and aging services is the realization that the A-HA keep coming as we become more conscious of the potential ageism/institutionalism present in what might have even been revered practices.

    We never have all the answers; life just keeps opening up new vistas if we maintain a mind and heart open to learning.

  2. Cathy Lieblich on

    I have had many A-ha’s in my 40 year career dedicated to changing the way our society treats our elders. The first one I can remember was reading Dr. Robert Butler’s book, Why Survive? Being Old in America published in 1975 and realizing to what extent our society is ageist. That’s when I realized that changing the culture of aging and elder care was my passion.

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