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Michael Marley – Do You Understand the Emotional Needs of Older Adults with Dementia?

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Do You Understand the Emotional Needs of Older Adults with Dementia?
Michael Marley – Do You Understand the Emotional Needs of Older Adults with Dementia?

On this episode of Boomer Living, I’ll be speaking to Michael Marley. His passion for helping families through difficult situations surrounding dementia long-term care has led him to counsel thousands of families. His goal is to help them come out of their crisis stronger and with the right next steps for their situation with over a thousand families seen.

Timestamps:
[00:00] Pre-intro discussion
[01:31] Introduction
[02:11] Walk us through why you made the shift in your career and where are you located right now?
[03:19] Do you feel that your past roles prepare you in any way for your current role?
[05:07] What are some of the biggest commonalities that you’ve seen with the kind of help that they’re seeking?
[06:06] How do you tailor your advice for each family? Or each specific family situation? What kind of questions do you ask them to ensure they’re getting the right solution for them?
[07:51] Do you ever find it hard to maintain a high level of let’s say “empathy” for their specific situation?
[11:40] What are some of the top reasons why a potential resident may be hesitant to enter the senior living community? Do you have any other top reason why a potential resident may be hesitant to go into a senior living community?
[13:03] The emotional needs and commitment to each other are very hard to separate. Let’s say in a situation like that, what solutions can you explore to get around these roadblocks?
[14:30] You cannot give what you don’t have.
[15:47] Designing communities that serve the older population.
[18:55] What do you think are the biggest misconceptions our society has around dementia? And why do you think all of these misconceptions exist?
[21:03] How would you know, what’s the difference? Senility, cognitive decline, Dementia, Alzheimer. For someone that’s outside of the industry, how are they to understand this?
[22:26] Stories of those with dementia: Storytelling, letter writing, family and friends abandoning and not visiting those with dementia. The importance of communication. Just because the person with dementia stops talking doesn’t mean they are not listening.
[27:55] There is definitely more need to learn how to communicate, understand, and care in emotional ways with folks with dementia. You can train somebody, which is fine. Everybody needs to be certified to make sure that, but without a heart, it’s not going to work.
[29:27] In the future, do you think there’ll be more people like you? Who tries to have an understanding of the experiences of the families before trying to match their loved one with the right senior care home?
[30:38] How and when did you find that senior living senior care was your calling?
[32:52] Ultimately your loved one is the one that’s going to make a decision and along the way of family members can navigate with them, but ultimately, it has to be what is best for your loved one?
[34:56] Do you have anything else that you would like to share?

Michael Marley’s experiences in senior living care homes go back 11 years, all in the UK. In that time, He has had meetings with literally thousands of families, who’ve typically reached a crisis point with a parent (usually), who is still living at home. Probably because of his previous background in both marketing and coaching, he used each meeting as a learning point, at least equal in measure to any information to be given over to the family in question.

Over time, Michael discovered that the commercial side of senior living was very focused on what it thought might look appealing to families, but there was little understanding of the trauma that families themselves go through when arriving at this point in their lives. This then became his area to develop, where very few others were paying that area too much attention.

Not too long ago, Michael started putting simple explanations and analogies on to social media, where very quickly he had well over a thousand followers on Linkedin alone, from families and healthcare workers around the world. He has just started working on a book, that is specifically for the family, rather than focusing on the future care home resident.

Michael’s Links:
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-marley-29633313b/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GetBizults

Transcript:

Michael: 0:00
And I thought sometimes in senior care, we forget about that. We’re so busy on solutions and lovely homes. And maybe we don’t always talk to that person enough. And if they are, and also it’s very relevant right now at this point in our lives that we’re typically, particularly in the UK, we’re typically dealing with people who lived through World War Two. And all of it. I know the US where they have some of it, but the UK was there through all of it. The houses were bombed and they lived without food and all the rest of it. So, they lived through a very difficult time in their lives, in their young lives. So, the thought of being at home and maybe being a little bit vulnerable for some of them, it just doesn’t scare them. They say, Oh, I’ve lived through worse than this. So, I had to learn all this.

Hanh: 1:31
On this episode of Boomer Living, I’ll be speaking to Michael Marley. His passion for helping families through difficult situations surrounding dementia long-term care has led him to counseling thousands of families. His goal is to help them come out of their crisis stronger and with the right next steps for their situation with over a thousand families seen. I’m sure he has a wealth of expertise that he can share with us today on the podcast. So I’m very eager to pick his brain. Michael, thank you so much for being with me today on Boomer Living.

Michael: 2:04
Delighted to be a guest on your podcast. It’s been an interesting last year for anyone dealing with senior carers.

Hanh: 2:11
Yes. And I’m excited to hear about your journey. So now, your current role, has you counseling families to complex and very difficult situations. Your background is in marketing and coaching. So, can you walk us through why you made the shift in your career and where are you located right now?

Michael: 2:29
I’m on the outskirts of London. I should always stress that London, UK, because there are, of course other London’s in the world. I got into senior care when my own father was passing away. And as a family, we decided to look after him at home, he had a terminal illness and so tapped into a mindset that I’d not had to use previously and dealing with the practical issues, getting equipment into the home and and understanding why he would be the way he was and found that I was quite natural in terms of as each stage developed, I knew what to do and thought, wow. I never realized there are some, most of us don’t if we’ve not had aging parents and had to deal with any issues it’s not something we pick up and read about.

Hanh: 3:19
Most people know about it, learn about it in the thick of it. And often people don’t really care or want to prepare ahead of time. I guess that’s my journey as well. So now, do you feel that your past roles prepare you in any way for your current role?

Michael: 3:35
Very much so because when I started out, obviously you’re learning from those that have gone before. And what I found was that it was very focused on the person going into senior care. And I realized that it was a jigsaw puzzle with a lot more pieces than that. And you can have everything in place for somebody to age and move into senior living and nursing care and so on, but actually you’ve got to manage families as well. And there’s a, it’s the bit that intrigued me. I’d done some coaching in the past and it intrigued me what the adult children who are typically in their fifties were going through. And sometimes there was, some infighting and, or just vulnerability cause there was just one adult child and they felt the burden was too great. And then I got to thinking about how we tended to use generic language in senior care. There were all these terms, like person centered care, and I think who else would, should be centering the care on, the care is for the purse. And then I realized that a lot of the terminology just didn’t engage the famlies. They didn’t really know what it was. So it started me down a role of almost trying to untangle all that and put it across in a way that people understood. And that led to social media where I’ve used a lot of analogies and some unusual pictures to explain a particular situation that people have really enjoyed.

Hanh: 5:07
Now, I know you a large number of families during your time in the senior living care home industries. So, now I’m sure each family’s issues and unique. So, what are some of the biggest commonalities that you’ve seen with the kind of help that they’re seeking?

Michael: 5:23
I think depending on the type of help dementia, as you know is a big thing. And I don’t know if it’s the same in the US but in the UK, a typical care home will designate about a third of it’s bedrooms to dementia. But two thirds of the inquiries are for dementia. So, there’s a disconnection at the moment with what’s going on health wise as a population. And I’m sure it’s very similar in the US. When you relate that to what the architects and the builders are building, they think, Oh, we need some rooms for dementia and the rest will just be for aging in place, or maybe some nursing input, but actually dementia is way bigger than is currently being catered for.

Hanh: 6:06
Absolutely. So, how do you tailor your advice for each family? Or each specific family situation? What kind of questions do you ask them to ensure they’re getting the right solution for them?

Michael: 6:18
Initially I try and find out about their situation. So very typically you’re dealing not so often with the person who needs the help. Occasionally you may deal with their their wife or husband which brings its own challenges. But when you’re dealing with that or children, that the first thing to find out is, are they doing this on their own? Does anyone know they’re doing this? Sometimes they’re doing a bit of research thinking, thinking way ahead. And they haven’t spoken to mum or dad about this. And sometimes that, as I say, they’re doing it on their own or they have two brothers and one sister. And so, I try and understand. Why you’re doing this now, and are you doing this on your own? Are you doing it with some others? How do they feel about this? Does your parent, the one you’re looking on behalf of know you’re looking at? And before you can go too much further, you need to understand the background to it because sometimes people are just going off on their own without the support of the parents or the siblings.

Hanh: 7:23
Yeah. Yeah. I’ll tell you the family dynamics. It’s such a huge component to the transition, to the success of, where the loved one is going to be. Cause I think often, I think, families loved ones they want to do what’s best for their mom or dad. However, because it’s such an emotional, especially if, they didn’t have, the research education awareness, and then certainly budget accordingly. So, you have all these all these components that affect your well-being finances, health emotions, and then making that big leap to where your mom or dad is going to be. Family dynamics either stick together or, break apart. So yeah. Let’s say after such a large quantity of families coming to you, do you ever find it hard to maintain a high level of let’s say “empathy” for their specific situation? Because I know empathy, fatigue, those have common issues in these types of difficult jobs.

Michael: 8:22
I would say I’ve gone through a threshold there. So, the first company I ever worked for were an American company, Sunrise Senior Living. And they had us template and some very nice homes for people to go to. And I naively thought that that you’ve got lovely homes. You’ve got people getting older and there’s a natural solution there. And what I had to learn eventually was empathy with the older person, because not everyone wants to be safe and secure and have companionship in our home. You sometimes have an older person who says, “I don’t care if I have a fall at home. Home is where I want to be.” And you almost had to do a bit of a U-turn and thing. Okay. We have solutions for most people. But some people are just completely resistant and I can tell your Hanh, my own mother is one of those. She’s at that stage now. And she says, “I don’t care. I don’t care that I could fall at home. And no one would find me for two days. It’s my choice.” And she still has all her mental faculties. And so, there, there was, I learned to become empathetic to the older person who says, “I don’t care what my kids say, the, these are my wishes.” And I thought sometimes in senior care, we forget about that. We’re so busy on solutions and lovely homes. And maybe we don’t always talk to that person enough. And if they are, and also it’s very relevant right now at this point in our lives that we’re typically, particularly in the UK, we’re typically dealing with people who lived through World War Two. And all of it. I know the US where they have some of it, but the UK was there through all of it. The houses were bombed and they lived without food and all the rest of it. So, they lived through a very difficult time in their lives, in their young lives. So, the thought of being at home and maybe being a little bit vulnerable for some of them, it just doesn’t scare them. They say, Oh, I’ve lived through worse than this. So, I had to learn all this.

Hanh: 10:25
But, let me tell you, they’re in their seventies and eighties, they’ve already created their families and have a heritage and live in that particular home, maybe 50 plus years. So, there is an attachment, in all regard, right? That’s where they raise their kids perhaps. And I think you’re right. I think too often, we, as a provider, whether it’s housing, caregiving, tech, and so forth. We’re thinking of all these amenities, which are huge. However, how much of those amenities did we have them included, especially when it comes to their emotional needs? I’m not sure. I’m not sure that we’ve done a good job in that. Okay.

Michael: 11:06
I agree. I agree with you.

Hanh: 11:08
Yeah, because I think we’re product oriented. It could be, like I said, housing tech and all those are all huge components, but along the way, their emotional needs, kind of got lost. I’m reminding myself how important it is because, we had our loss in my family before COVID, with my dad and then of course, during COVID and I see the journey are blocked. Oh, I’ll tell you. Yeah. It’s just tough. Now, what are some of the top reasons why a potential resident may be hesitant to enter senior living community? And I know we’ve discussed some, do you have any other top reason why a potential resident may be hesitant to go into a senior living community?

Michael: 11:57
Here’s a big one Hanh. As people are living longer and in the UK, and I’m sure it may be similar in the US people are in the last 10 years are going into that sort of thing later. Maybe they’re staying healthier for longer. So, very typically they’re in their late eighties, and it’s more and more common now to find someone who needs that additional support who’s still married. Their wife or husband is still around and the industry assumes this is the next stage. “Why are you holding back?” And I did a social media post, no, very simply put up a picture of a couple of getting married in the 1940s. And I wrote, and I said, “That’s the reason.” Simple as that. And the number of people who liked this post, they went, “Yeah, of course, they stood there as, young 20 somethings and they made a promise. And now you’re asking them to unbreak the promise. One of you goes into the care home and one of you stays at home. It’s bigger than we thought.”

Hanh: 12:58
Yeah, it is. It is. And you know what, here we go, is that emotional, right? The emotional needs and commitment to each other that very hard to separate and God bless them. God bless them. So, let’s say in a situation like that, what solutions can you explore to get around these roadblocks?

Michael: 13:19
It requires a lot of sensitivity. Typically I would talk to the the spouse that’s in better health and say, “Okay, I completely understand, but at some point you’re going to need a, to recharge your batteries. You’re going to need a break. Think of a home as a place to, have a short holiday for your husband, your wife, and just try that out. So you’re not breaking your vows. He’s coming home to you after the two weeks.” And often that’s a way of it starting off. There, there’s an old saying. I think when you get on an airplane back in the days when we could fly from holiday and stuff, where the captain says, put on your own oxygen mask before you attempt to help anybody else. So, if you are an 88 year old woman attempting to manage a 90 year old husband, you will get worn out and you will need some time to recharge your batteries. So, it’s coming in at a more of an empathetic angle to say, “Don’t think of this as breaking wedding vows. Just schedule some regular holiday breaks so that you can better enjoy your time together when he comes home.”

Hanh: 14:30
I love that analogy. I love it. Recharge your batteries because you’re right. You can’t give what you don’t have. And Let’s face it, I’m in my mid fifties and my siblings go all the way to 70, but here’s the thing. It takes a whole family to care for my mom. So, I can’t imagine, even from my dad was around for him to care for my mom or vice versa because that’s what happened. My dad passed away and my mom did care for him. Let me tell you, we all need a break. We’re human and that emotional and physical strain on a caregiver. It’s, it’s tolling. And I love your analogy, I think it’s perfect.

Michael: 15:09
And it’s one of the ironies of life, isn’t it? That the most challenging role. Because you think a young mum looks after a small child, but the child is small and the young mum is young and suddenly you’ve got this couple who are in the late eighties. And if it’s the man, that’s not well the the lady is no longer young and he’s not child size. He’s big. And if he falls, he’s a lot more difficult to pick up than a toddler. And so it’s quite ironic that the hardest challenge of all will happen at the time when you could least manage that situation.

Hanh: 15:47
I love that analogy I think is great. I also think it’s a good thing that we have options optionality for the folks to choose how, where they want to live. I know in the US I there’s abundance with regard to, whether it’s a greenhouse where there’s the housing, that’s like the golden girls. And then there’s CCRC continuum of care, independent assisted living, dementia care, and so forth. So I think it’s wonderful that we have these options because let’s face it. First of all we can’t group everybody in the older adult is one demographic within that 50 plus there’s maybe at least 10, 50 to 55 cohorts. And then you get, 80 to 85, perhaps that’s the window that they may be moving into a community. And even when they do move in, it’s at varying level of cognition of strength and of course affordability. So the good thing is that there are optionalities. So, that’s great, but the downfall is, I’m not sure if any of those, whatever to successfully serve their emotional needs. It’s a tough one. It is a tough one. We can try, but I’m not sure if we ever successfully will be able to do that.

Michael: 17:02
And I agree with you Hanh I look at the buildings and what the architects are coming up as their vision for senior care. And it’s almost there’s a race to become more and more like an upmarket hotel. So there’ll be a sweeping staircase and a chandelier. And and I see a lot now of homes in and around London has a small cinema room and the, these are not really thinking about emotional needs. So typically the homes with the cinema room you ask, how often does it get used? And they say, no one uses it. Televisions are big. Anyway. You know what, and they hadn’t been to the, they hadn’t been to the, to, to the movies for the last 20 years. Why would they start going now? What, the television in their rooms already big, but so somebody designing something aesthetically pleasing, but it’s almost, they’re designing it for themselves are not thinking about the emotional needs of the person who’s going to live there.

Hanh: 18:03
Yeah, I agree.

Michael: 18:04
Maybe they should ask them.

Hanh: 18:06
And here’s the other thing too. I think it’s awesome that all industries and all the various sectors that are caring for this aging demographic. But you know what, in conjunction that’s missing is the market study, truly representing what this demographic wants. Now I get it. A lot of folks, including myself who enter this is due to a loved one, or understanding a loved one’s journey in this aging in the later years. I think it’s really important, especially COVID post COVID. There needs to be a very thorough market study and getting the feedback directly from the stores and not just, professionals. And those are all very good, but we’re also leaving the key component, the customer, the residents into the market research. All right. So, what do you think are the biggest misconceptions our society has around dementia? And why do you think all of these misconceptions exist?

Michael: 19:05
Good question. Here in the UK, the government 10 years ago, set out a target that by 2015, end of 2015, we would have 2 million people who’d signed up to become a dementia friend. So, they had a basic grasp of what it was. But it’s now 2021 and they’re still banging the same message. There’s still this dementia friends project and someone will give a fairly basic talk and someone gets a badge and there, gives their email address and there now our dementia friend. So, there’s now 3 million of them, and I just think this is not enhancing people’s understanding of it so much. I see so many reactions with families. So, sometimes there’s denial. Even within homes, if a resident needs to move from the assisted living to the dementia area, people say, “Oh no. Not yet. Not yet.” Almost as if you don’t move into the dementia bed, it will stop it happening. But of course, and I don’t think enough people realize it’s actually a disease. It gets talked about as a memory loss, but it’s a disease and it like most diseases it’s just going to progress, and there are familiar symptoms. So, I can talk to someone for the first time about their mum or their dad. And they say “It’s got really bad.”, but and I say “Do they still know who you are? Do they know you’re their daughter?” “No, they mistake me for someone else.” And there were a number of questions I can ask where I can tell roughly where they are on a dementia journey. But I think the public, even in terms of reading, certainly in the UK, there is a lot of clinical stuff they can pick up from the doctors, but it talks about names, it’ll say it’s Vascular Dementia, or it’s Alzheimer’s. If that’s not your field, if your day job is you’re a Baker or a car mechanic.

Hanh: 21:03
How would you know, what’s the difference? Senility, cognitive decline, Dementia, Alzheimer. There’s dozens and you’re right. That someone that’s outside of the industry, how are they understand this?

Michael: 21:17
Yeah. So, I don’t feel we talked to them in layman’s terms and it’s something I try to do. I try and explain why it happens. What you can do to try and manage the situation a bit better. There are so many aspects to it, aren’t there? There’s sundowning where the parents gets a bit worse as it starts to get a bit darker later on. Mixing off the mixing up of names. There’s almost a, eventually an airbrushing. So, if you think about the typical old family photo and you’d have all the small children on their knees at the front and the oldest at the back, or, big group of 20, but the older person will gradually airbrush those young ones out of the picture because in their minds they haven’t been born yet. So, then names get forgotten first and it’s about the families explaining to these great-grandchildren it’s not personal. They still love you. You can still talk to them and have fun. Don’t be offended by this. But all this sort of stuff is not talked about in the literature that they pick up from the doctors. They just talk about names of dementias.

Hanh: 22:23
Medical terminologies.

Michael: 22:25
Yeah. Yeah.

Hanh: 22:26
It’s great. I guess maybe an MD wrote that, but I think it’s really important just to have the social aspect of folks who are caring for these loved ones day to day. And some of these learnings that I have gone through is, day-to-day stuff. You never correct them. Never correct them. And you never tell them, “Hey, that’s not true.” And just meet them where they are and enjoy the storytelling, that they’re reflecting, they’re creating, they’re imagining what’s wrong with it. Don’t we don’t, we all need a little bit of imagination as wild as it might be. I feel like in my life, I’m trying to be creative, and sometimes in a difficult situation, you have to remind yourself this too will pass and find some humor, some comedy just imagine that storytelling along with your loved ones. And that’s so important because, that’s how you relate with them, right? Because now you are in their own wavelength. You’re you are in their minds. And, one thing I find it really exciting too, is their writing. I was so impressed with my mom’s choice of words and her grammar, and it’s choppy. If you lived part of that journey, you understand, even though the words are choppy, but the choice of words, the sentence structure is choppy, but those words are so descriptive. Does that make sense?

Michael: 23:48
Yes, it does. One of the saddest things I ever see is when someone is at home with dementia and the friends stopped visiting because they feel awkward and they don’t know what to talk about. Cause you know, you and I, we would talk about COVID and the things going on at the moment. And one of the best solutions I’ve ever read was that somebody had written down a whole bunch of stories that had happened long ago, screwed them up into a bowl. And they all went in a bowl and they said to their friends, “You still come and you put your hand in the bowl and you pull out your ball a paper. And that’s what you’re going to talk about.” So, the friend visits and says, “Do you remember that time? We all went to the cabin in the woods 30 years ago.” And then the person with dementia feels great. They can talk about that. And I thought it was a real good icebreaker to encourage people to still visit.

Hanh: 24:47
Yeah, it is. It is. And when we, like, when you, and I say, “Hey, let’s have a conversation.” What that means is that it’s two way we’re collaborating, like what we’re doing in this interview. When we say “Let’s talk to your loved one with dementia.”, often, it’s one way. Okay. And that’s okay. It’s one way, because they’re not verbally communicating, but it’s your disposition. The fact that you’re there reading their body motions and their eyes. Really it’s about being present. It’s about their temperament, how they’re acknowledging yours. That’s huge. You know what I mean? So, often I don’t believe it’s about words.

Michael: 25:25
I explained to somebody a couple of weeks ago, they said they’d stopped talking to their mother or father because they weren’t talking back. So, I said to them, “If you see a guy in the street with some headphones on, and he’s not talking, you assume is listening, cause he’s got headphones on, but he’s not talking, but he is listening.” I said, “So, just because your mom or dad are not talking doesn’t mean they’re not listening.”

Hanh: 25:51
No, you’re right.

Michael: 25:52
Even someone in a coma. You don’t know that they can’t hear you. And they went, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I should just go in and talk.” I said, “Yeah, you don’t know, they’re not listening.”

Hanh: 26:02
I think our society sees communicating conversing as two way. That’s the case, but not for ones with dementia. And I had to learn that too. My mom doesn’t talk much anymore, maybe like 10%. I gotta tell you whatever part of the loved one that’s still available. I’d say embrace it before it’s all gone. Does that make sense? Yeah. At least now you might have a few words. You might have some eye acknowledgement and maybe a smile, but here’s the thing, we have our mouth and our mind, and we’re still thinking let’s go, let’s start some really cool storytelling, make some crazy stories. And I think sometimes that’s what we do too. And I think my mom gets it. And she actually said to some of my sisters, like you guys are all crazy. I don’t know where you come up with these stories. And we just thought that was so hilarious that my mom is telling us, like, “Where do you guys get these stories? I don’t remember that.”

Michael: 26:59
And I always say the litmus test for the listening is for somebody who’s not talking, you put on some music that, they’ve always loved and they may smile. And there’s your proof. They’re listening. They’re just losing a lot of their language or the ability to do that part, but it doesn’t mean you’ve lost the other part, the listening part.

Hanh: 27:18
And do you notice that as a person maybe, loses one sense, but then another sense becomes stronger?

Michael: 27:25
Yeah. Yeah,

Hanh: 27:27
It offsets each other.

Michael: 27:28
Yeah. Yes. Yeah The emotions still work, and you have to learn to live with that over the years. If you remind them of someone that they didn’t like years ago, there’s not much you can do about that. Cause you, just, the sight of you will make them think, “Oh, you look like that boss, I had that fired me 20 years ago or something.” And because they’re not rationalizing, that you’re different. They’re just, reacting emotionally to what they see.

Hanh: 27:55
Yeah. I think there is definitely more need to learn how to communicate, understand, and care in emotional ways with folks with dementia. Although the other components are very important. I get that, because we all need affordable housing and we all need technology and qualified caregivers and so forth, but that emotional need, there’s definitely more education. I got to tell you, you could have someone that’s skilled, but don’t have the heart to really care and relate. You know what I’m saying? So, you can train somebody, which is fine. Everybody needs to be certified to make sure that, you know what you’re doing, but without a heart. I don’t know what’s going to work.

Michael: 28:40
Yeah. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. You’ve got to somehow get to the center of that person and then work out who they are and find that bond, and then it will work. But we, were to used to for the rest of our lives, we go around our lives, connecting with people that we, and maybe we didn’t connect with the other one, not our sort of person. But with, so we, people approach dementia, and if it’s not easy, they think, “I don’t know what to do here.” And that’s back to that friends avoiding visiting and on the conversation anymore because they now find it, it’s really just different. It’s not difficult. It’s just different.

Hanh: 29:18
It’s different. It’s different. And then you just have to learn and accept that often, it might be one way communication, verbal. And that’s okay. Yeah. That’s okay. So now, what do you think let’s say in the future, do you think there’ll be more people like you? Who try to have an understanding of the experiences of the families before trying to match their loved one with the right senior care home?

Michael: 29:40
I think so. I think particularly a younger generation will come through and see that it was a bit too streamlined and there were generic terms and homes were being built that the architect said, “Look, this is even better than the competitor’s home down the road.” And no, one’s actually thinking about the person in the middle. So, I think more and more people will make their voices heard, and talk about different ways of providing the service that may be hits the emotional buttons rather, and trying to impress the families when they’re choosing the home. Yeah. I think that there’s definitely going to be a shift that way. It might be a bit of a pulling, pulling away from what the big companies thought they were going to do. But I think that the market is definitely ripe for some innovators to come along and do it in a different way.

Hanh: 30:33
Yep. I agree. I see more of that. So, I’m optimistic. How and when did you find that senior living senior care was your calling?

Michael: 30:42
I guess. I got into it back in 2010 and I was little bit to start with because you, I had this perception of senior care. It was all about caring and, and I thought it would be all very fluffy and lovely. And so many parts of it were, just not what I expected. Just simple stuff like in the staff rooms, they filled them up with donuts and pizza, and I thought “But, we’re health care, even offices are putting a bowl of fruit and other stuff.” So, that there were a lot of cultural things that I was surprised at. And I guess after I’d done two years and found my own voice, really, because it’s quite a steep learning curve when you learn about dementia and all these other things. But once, I’d really got a good handle on all of that. Then I started to explore other avenues. So, I set up a Google alerts and then my inbox gets filled up with interesting stories from around the world. If there’s something interesting going on in New Zealand to do with dementia, I’d like to know about it. So, it’s giving me more of a global pitch. What research is going on in the US and in Australia and in the Far East, and so on. And so, it became a very interesting topic. And then from there I developed a way of communicating with families far more effectively. So, I’ve become the go-to person that I get complete strangers phoning me up saying, “I wonder if you can just point me in the right direction. I live in a different part of the UK, but I’ve been told I should talk to you because I don’t really understand what’s going on.”

Hanh: 32:19
Very nice.

Michael: 32:20
So, yeah, in a way you’re acting as a sort of mediator to make sense of the whole thing for them. And as I say, a mind, my mindset goes all the way down to, and if they absolutely refuse to have help, it’s their rights. And just sometimes not often, but sometimes you’ll get somebody that’s stopping. Who are we to say? “Sorry, but you’ve got to go into in this direction.” If they want to stay at home and they absolutely refuse to move, and they probably, lived through World War Two, do they not have that choice?

Hanh: 32:52
I think ultimately your loved one is the one that’s going to make a decision and along the way of family members can navigate with them, but ultimately, it has to be what is best for your loved one? Yeah.

Michael: 33:04
Do you know what? I think one of the biggest issues is that I don’t think families talk to each other early enough in life. So, “I have power of attorney. My daughter has it. When the time comes, she can use it and I trust her to make the right decisions.” But too often, I meet families where they don’t know what to do. They’ve never had a conversation, and there is no power of attorney, so they can’t even do it legally. And you just think this has all been left. Uh, maybe family should have a grownup conversation when the parent is perhaps no older than 70.

Hanh: 33:42
Yeah. No, that’s very true. I think somehow the word decline is very frowned upon. And we don’t want to think in those terms that, hey, whether it’s physical or mental, that we’re declining and that we’re going to be needing help because I think society views as you age, the word retirement is much more glamorous than decline. So, the society and culture has been, pushing out this retirement. Let me tell you, part of that retirement include, 85 plus where your health and cognition is perhaps on the decline. So, we live in this society where we focus on glamor and that certainly dementia and decline is not part of that.

Michael: 34:22
We don’t want to talk about funerals either, do we? It’s all part of the same thing. But everyone’s going to have one, one day and I just feel people should, the parents should bring the topic up. My daughter went crazy on, I said, “Oh, here’s a power of attorney I’ve had done for you.” And she, she freaked. She said, “What’s wrong with you? Are you ill?” “No, I’m not. And that’s why I’ve done on that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with me. And that’s the time to have these things done.” “Oh, okay.” But she immediately panicked. “Why was I doing this?” So, people just don’t want to think about these things.

Hanh: 34:56
Well, I tell you, it’s been great. It’s just been a great opportunity to meet you and to have this conversation. Do you have anything else that you would like to share?

Michael: 35:04
I think anyone who finds themselves in that situation where they’re worried about a parent, I would suggest, so many of us have been, had to face some realities. You and I both. And I think they should just speak to as many people as possible and not feel that this is happening just to them and they’re alone. There’s often you can get a lot of good advice from other families who say, “Yeah, we went through this.” Whether it’s family infighting, disagreeing what will happen. If you ask around the office or your social group, you’ll find people who’ve dealt with that.

Hanh: 35:42
Thank you. Thank you for that.

Michael: 35:43
Thank you for having me as a guest. Bye-bye.

Hanh: 35:46
Bye-bye.

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Episode 104

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