Gratitude

For my bulletin board this month I have decided to show the health benefits of being thankful and showing gratitude.  I have not finished it yet, since April came up too quickly, but I thought I would share my thoughts of what it will look like.  The residents, for the most part are pretty good at showing gratitude, but winter is rough on a lot of people (with the minimal daylight, cloudy, cold days) and elderly people are not any different.  Some of our residents have been in a funk since the middle of winter and especially since the flu quarantine that left over 50 people isolated in their apartments for over a week; they are mentally bored, easily depressed or bummed out, and quite irritable.  The activities I have picked recently have brightened their day, even if they were mad at me for waking them up, or for being too bossy and dragging them to the activity room.  I had a flower arranging project with bright pink, white, and yellow carnations, making Easter duck treatbags for their great grand kids, and Easter egg dying.  By the end of each of these projects, they were HAPPY.  So I thought I would start off the spring by “Tricking” their brain into thinking they are happy.  I say tricking because at first they MIGHT be showing or giving gratitude falsely or sarcastically (because we all know that elderly people are never sarcastic!) But after they start giving gratitude and thanks their attitude will start to change and in the long run “tricking” their brain will turn into true graciousness.  It’s like my mom told me repeatedly while I was in a pretty miserable place (both mentally and physically due to my last position and being so far away from family): She told me “Fake it until you make it.” in regards to my happiness.  Now, I am telling my residents to do the same thing.

Benefits-of-Gratitude5
I copied this diagram, but changed the colors and made the lettering larger so that my residents could see it.

I will pick a few topics on the chart to focus on for the bulletin board that relates to elderly people, mainly between the ages of 80-100 years old.  One of my favorite ones is improved health; I am very excited to show this one to my residents. I found an article that shows, through research (because I am a fan of having scientific backup, this one is based on psychology) that before you go into any type of surgery, having an optimistic attitude greatly improves your chances of having better health outcomes.  Another one that I will focus on is Counting your Blessings.  Our society, as a whole, focuses on the negative of everything–just watch your local or national news.  Once again, my mom told me, “It’s the glass half full theory”, you make the conscious decision to focus on the negative versus the positive (yes, I have been told that a time or two before).  Elderly people are not any different, a lot of residents talk about:

  • how their health is failing (at 98 years old)
    • Continuously I tell them that they are 98 years old, most people do not live that long, and the ones that do, could not have this conversation with me while on the Nustep in the gym. (A Nustep is a sitting down version of the ellipitical, both arms and legs move)
  • how they can not paint like they used to (because their thumbs don’t work or their hands are too shaky) and won’t paint because of it
    • I tell them, maybe you can’t hold the paintbrush like you used to or make smooth brush strokes with acrylic paint, but you could do pointillism perfectly (I show them pictures from Seurat or Van Gogh with the short, almost erratic brush strokes–perfect for shaky hands or arthritic hands that can not move in a smooth matter) or to do watercolor that is fluid and watery (duh) and it doesn’t require as much precision.
  • how they can not drive anymore (because they can not see as well as they used to)
    • I got this one a lot while we were looking for a bus driver at work and I was the bus driver. I just tell them, no biggie, who wants to drive in the slippery snow anyways. If I could, I would have somebody pick me up in a warm bus and drive me to where I want to go in a heart beat.  I always told them that I would be willing to change positions with them any day!
  • how they can not run or hike like they did in their mid 20s (at 80 plus years old)
    • Hey, guys, I can not run like I did in my early 20’s either.  It’s ok, at least you can still walk, yes, you might have a cane, but you are able to walk outside on uneven ground for a good 3 miles at your age.  Who cares how long it takes you, you can still enjoy what you loved to do in your 20’s–be outside and enjoy the fresh air!

Once they get over what they can no longer do and focus on what they can still do, they are much happier and enjoy what they are still able to do.

Below are ways that I will tell my residents to start cultivating gratitude:

  • Maintain a gratitude journal. Emmons’ research showed that people who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercise more regularly, report fewer physical symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and maintain greater optimism about the future.
  • Create a list of benefits in your life and ask yourself, “To what extent do I take these for granted?” Some people need such concrete visual reminders to maintain mindfulness of their gratitude, explains Emmons.
  • Talk to yourself in a creative, optimistic, and appreciate manner, suggests Sam Quick, PhD, of the University of Kentucky. This could entail simply reflecting on things for which you’re grateful or, if you’re facing a challenging situation, seeing how it can ultimately be beneficial. For instance, having to cope with particularly difficult people in your job or neighborhood can improve your patience and understanding.
  • Reframe a situation by looking at it with a different, more positive attitude, offers Quick. He provides this example: Rather than seeing his 6-year-old daughter as cranky, irritable, and troublesome, a father might reach the conclusion that the youngster is tired and needs rest.

Information provided by WebMD.

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