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Home, Where The Heart Is.

The impact of our environment on our sense of well-being must never be underestimated.

About seven years ago we started a small group home for people living with forgetfulness in Paarl. The third Elder to move in was Oom Michael (oom is an Afrikaans term of respect for an older man). Oom Michael was living in “frail care” – he lived in bed, had stopped communicating verbally for a long time and needed assistance with all his activities of daily living.

The Care staff brought Oom Michael across to Huis Ina Rens in a wheelchair. He was very thin – the jacket he wore was hanging limply over his shoulders. As it was just lunchtime, the Caregiver parked his wheelchair at the kitchen table where his place was set.

We all welcomed Oom Michael and introduced him to the other two Residents at the table. No one had heard Oom Michael say a word for years. He looked up at the two ladies, put out his hands to hold theirs and said “Kom ons bid” (let us pray). In a soft, gentle voice he said “seën ons Vader voor die ete, laat ons U nimmer vergete” (bless us Father with this meal, may we never forget You).

This was not a miracle – even though it felt like one. A kitchen table, a meal served with a decent place setting and a deep part of the mind kicks into action. Just that, simple.

An environment can af rm our personhood or detract from it. A hospital, or clinical environment will tell us that we are sick and that others must do for and unto us.

Oom Michael’s life improved radically. He became the rooster amongst the hens, loved telling jokes, and helped around the house. The way in which he improved felt like a miracle indeed.

People living with forgetfulness need to be in an environment that supports, affirms, reassures, an environment that enhances autonomy, connectedness, security, meaning, and joy. The withdrawal is often not a result of the disease but caused by the dis-ease of cold clinical environments and people who only sees a “patient”, not a person.

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