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ChangingAging® is an effort launched by Dr. Bill Thomas, a pioneer in the positive aging movement, to change the way American society perceives aging. “How we perceive aging, to a very large degree, determines how we age,” said Dr. Thomas.

Dr. Thomas and his team brought his way of thinking about aging and elderhood to JGS Lifecare this past summer––along with music, stories and poetry––to make the point that our view of aging is influenced by culture as well as biology.

Changing our negative cultural perceptions of aging is as important as advancing medical care. Through two theatrical performances, Dr. Thomas challenged common misconceptions, toppled stereotypes about people who live with dementia, and explored aging as a rich process of growth. He encouraged the audience to disrupt negative ideas of aging, and to celebrate the developmental stage of life beyond adulthood, called elderhood.

Dr. Thomas’ philosophy is not new to the leadership, board and staff at JGS Lifecare. “We’re a supporter of his model and a believer in his principles,” said Susan Halpern, vice president, Philanthropy. “When our elders require residential care, they want options that offer them meaningful life, by preserving their independence, autonomy, dignity and self-control, which affords them purposeful living and meaningful experiences.”

Dr. Thomas’ principles are being woven into the JGS Lifecare culture and guide us as we take an active role in helping to redefine how our community views the aging process and how we deliver care to our elders.

Meaningful Experiences

During Phase I of Project Transformation, Dr. Thomas’ principles were incorporated into the philosophy and design of the Sosin Center for Rehabilitation as part of The Green House® model of care. Built less like a hospital and more like a home, Sosin offers its residents a warm and personal environment and a sense of normalcy, to help speed their recovery and ability to return home.

There is also a new philosophy underway geared toward delivering person-centered care and meaningful experiences. Residents and their families have greater autonomy and control over their daily schedules and care plans, and staff strive to get to know each resident’s personal preferences and needs. This allows us to honor elderhood and seek opportunities to provide purposeful living.

“Being needed is important at every stage of life,” Dr. Thomas reminded us.

Intergenerational programs enable all of our residents to find true purpose and meaning as they share their wisdom, stories and experience. They have been interviewed as part of a teen oral history project, and enjoy intergenerational activities like challah baking, painting, and planting seedlings with children from area day schools, play groups and with PJ Library participants.

Residents of Ruth’s House have stayed engaged in the community with activities ranging from blueberry picking to a cruise at Brunelle’s Marina to lunch at area restaurants. Participants in the Wernick Adult Day Program remain connected by hearing about the latest news or sharing stories in experience-based groups, such as veterans or former teachers.

“Our residents and patients still have much to experience and more to share,” said Cheryl Gumlaw, director of Life Enrichment at the Leavitt Family Jewish Home and a guide in the Sosin Center for Rehabilitation. “We aim to help them to engage in life in ways most meaningful to them.”

Community Outreach

Under Project Transformation, this new “culture of caring” is evolving not just across the JGS Lifecare campus, but even out to the community. JGS is teaming up with The Longmeadow Council on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association Springfield Chapter, to make Longmeadow a “Dementia-Friendly Community.”

Speaking at a recent Longmeadow Select Board meeting, Mary-Anne Schelb, director of Community Relations at JGS Lifecare, asked the town leaders to recognize the need for training and education to make Longmeadow a community sensitive to the special needs of this growing population.

“Dementia is something that we should become more aware of, because it makes our community more elder-friendly,” Schelb said. “We can all help ensure that people with dementia feel understood and valued.”

The Alzheimer’s Association hopes that within three years, Massachusetts will be the first dementia-friendly state in the United States. There are 21 towns that are going to become certified, and the hope is that Longmeadow will be one of them. In January, there will be a kickoff where Emily Kearns, director of the Dementia-Friendly Massachusetts Chapter, will be speaking.

“Our residents and patients have a lot left to experience and to share,” said Halpern. “We want to help provide the opportunities for them to engage in life and the community in ways that are meaningful to them.”

Be a part of the transformation.