Canaries in the Mine

I caught a bit of Wednesday’s Diane Rehm show, where author Garret Keizer spoke about the effects of all of the noise in our environment. A caller asked about certain children with disabilities who have more trouble processing when there is a lot of environmental noise.

Keizer wisely responded that we recognize the struggles of these children, but that they are merely “canaries in the mine”, warning us that our so-called “unaffected” children likely are having similar (though less-apparent) problems as well.

This comment brought me immediately to our own “canaries” in the nursing home: people who live with dementia. Instead of seeing their distress as “behavior problems”, we need to recognize that they are extraordinarily sensitive to an environment that is potentially harmful to all of us.

In the traditional nursing home, this is more than environmental noise (though that is an important problem). It is also due to what’s missing: relationship, autonomy, meaningful engagement, physical comfort, love. How much do our elders without dementia–indeed, how much do all of us–suffer from this deprivation?

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2 Responses to Canaries in the Mine

  1. dalamory says:

    I agree very much with what you say Allen; in fact as I get older I enjoy quietness more than ever. From being very young babies to adults, we all need time to process what is happening in our lives and to make sense of what is going on around us.

    • apeden10 says:

      Absolutely. Many studies show that older people do more than simply process information a bit more slowly — they also process it differently, and often with a greater richness of perspective and nuance. We need space to allow such wisdom to surface.
      People with dementia need even more space, but it’s amazing what one can hear as a result of enabling that quiet reflection.

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