Volunteers are as effective as “antidepressants”…

Today my wife sent me an article entitled “For the Very Old, a Dose of ‘Slow Medicine” by Abigal Zuger, M.D.  (found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/26/health/views/26books.html)

The article reviews “My Mother, Your Mother: embracing slow medicine, the compassionate approach to caring for your aging loved ones,” by Dennis McCullough, M.D.  Dennis McCullough is a geriatrician at Dartmouth Medical School. I have not read the book so I will reserve my comments about the book for a later time.  I have “one-click” at Amazon.com so the book is on it’s way to me.

However, in Zuger’s review,  she quotes McCullough:

“The high-blood-pressure pills that are life-saving at 75 may cause problems at 95, and paid companionship or a roster of visitors may prove to be antidepressants at least as effective as any drug.

A loud “Amen” escaped from my lips when I read this.  For years now, I have observed on numerous occasions and have listened to many stories relayed by our volunteers as to the impact of the visits both on the nursing home resident and the volunteer, and finally I have my own experiences to share. Many times throughout the course of developing and pushing this outreach forward, I have battled with depression, and repeatedly those visits have pulled me up and out of the “blues.” Likewise, I remember several occasions when the frail elder I was visiting commented along the lines of , “It’s feels good to know someone is even thinking about us.”

Most memorable was the old woman who, sitting in a wheelchair, holding a paper cup with pills lying at the bottom of it, waiting to be swallowed, made eye contact with me, held up her cup for me to see and said, “This is what they think I need. What you just did for me is what I need.”

We need friendships more than pills. There is no substitute for relationship, for sharing smiles and tears,  for sharing conversation and silence, and for sharing gentle touch. Even the perception that “…someone cares about me,” is a powerful antidote to depression. Now of course, I am not advocating abandoning the use of antidepressants, and certainly there are times when they are appropriate and needed, however; how many nursing home residents, that is frail older adults living in nursing homes are given what “…they think we need…” as a poor substitute for what they really need.

Volunteers trained to be companions can fill this gap. For the past 20 years, I’ve learned, and now have developed a conduit to provide nursing homes with skilled companions who, not for money, but for reasons of compassion and love of the elderly become a source of dignity and hope.

So Dr. McCullough, I’ll be anxious to read your book, but in the meantime, a hearty “Amen” to deferring to companions over pills.



Fulfilling the promise…

walk with me...

At some point in our lives we are likely to face dependency. We can hide our heads in the sand and pretend that “…it will never happen to me.” But after 20 years of observations, I’m certain that the odds are not in your favor, and it may happen suddenly and sooner than you think.  Of course,  entrepreneurs intuitively recognize an opportunity. Initiating a word search for anti-aging products produces millions of opportunities for you to buy the latest and “…most effective…” means to delaying the aging process.

Ultimately the cosmetics, plastic surgery, and the myriads of creams and potions lose their efficacy and what emerges from behind all of the camouflage is a person who needs the helping hand of a younger person, a weaker person who needs the strength of a younger person.

Running away from reality; covering our eyes and ears pretending not to see or hear their predicament, we abandon older people to a frightening existence. “Who will help me feed me today? Who will help me walk? Who will help me bathe? Is there anyone here to help me?”

Funding for nursing homes is shrinking and will continue to shrink. This  will mean further staff reductions, and less care. As a result, I believe it is imperative to appeal to people of all faiths to  volunteer in nursing homes. Good people like you know the value of relationships. Volunteers, like you, can help to fill that gap, not for money, but to fulfill the promises in the sacred texts of your faith.

“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”

(Deuteronomy 5:16 NRSV)

May is “Older Americans Month.”  Mother’s Day is the first day of “National Nursing Home Week.”  All across the United States there are thousands of nursing homes housing more than 1. 5 million people. Visit the nursing home near you sometime this month. Take flowers, candy, greetings cards, etc. To the staff say “thank you” for their hard work and to the people that live there tell them that you have not forgotten them.

Afterward, contact us and share what happened. I know from experience that when people show this kind of “honor” they come away with incredible and unexpected stories,  that usually begin with “You are not going to believe what happened!”

2nd day of volunteer training in progres

2nd day of volunteer training in progress #volunteer #aging #elderly

Welcome Danielle to Desert Ministries! #

Welcome Danielle to Desert Ministries! #volunteer

What’s in a Name?

As you can might guess, I am asked from time to time, “So what’s with the name ‘desert’?”  Well, I guess if we lived in the southwest it would be obvious, but here in Nebraska it doesn’t seem to be so obvious.  Yet, over the years this word has taken on a variety of meanings for me and I would like to share a few of them with you.

To begin, back in 1992 when I was first considering this outreach, I was reading the newspaper and in particular the sports section. There was an article concerning Lyle Alzado, the NFL football player.  Lyle played for the Denver Broncos, the Cleveland Browns, and finally the Los Angeles Raiders. He was a great defensive lineman and he had brain cancer.

The newspaper reporter asked Lyle, “So what’s it like for you now?” Lyle responded this way, “I have a lot of great people around me, nurses, doctors, family, and friends, but there are moments when I realize that at some point they cannot go with me all the way. In those moments, I feel very alone, like in a desert.”

The word “desert” jumped off the page at me. And I found myself saying I would like to be the drink of water to people like Lyle facing the end of their life. And so, with that little bit of information, I named this outreach Desert Ministries. But over the past 19 years that word “desert” has taken on other meanings for me as well.

Around the year 300 A.D. thousands of Christians moved into the desert. These people became known as the “desert fathers” most of whom, by the way, were women. It is suggested by some that when Christianity became mainstreamed, that is the official state religion, there were those who feared for the purity of the faith, and therefore decided to separate themselves into the desert to maintain the authenticity and the integrity of their faith. The “desert” then becomes a place to purify oneself; to purify one’s motives.

Finally, the theologian W. Paul Jones wrote an article entitled: “Aging and Desert Spirituality.” In this article, he suggests that we don’t really want the elderly around us because it reminds us of our own “finitude.” So as the elderly stand on the brink of this “third age” this “old age” this desert, we push them in, so that we can get on with the rest of our lives. But it is not enough that we get rid of them, we even try to hide the desert.

For the old man or old woman, the desert forces them to face their imposed “worthlessness,” “their loss of identity,” “who am I now?” “What do I do now?” We have taught a whole generation that it is the “Pepsi Generation” that has a life worth living. For many, this loss of identity becomes the springboard for suicide. Until the economic downturn, persons over 65 held first place in our society for attempted and successful suicides. Women for attempted and men for successful.

W. Paul Jones goes on to talk about the “desert” as a place of rebirth, rediscovery, and a place where we learn how to live in “grace” as we lose our ability to “do.” For everything we collect to shield ourselves from the aging process, it still strips us until we leave this world as we came in, “naked.”

So what does all this mean to me? It means that the desert is a place of opportunity for us.  It is a place to check our motives and our faith. Rather than push our elders into it, we can enter the desert with them and  walk with them, and learn from their experiences.  We too, can reflect with them on “What does all this mean?” and “Who am I now?” Finally, we can with them, be reborn, truly reborn to a life of “grace.”  The name of our organization…desert Ministries.

Great week for Valentines, all almost de

Great week for Valentines, all almost delivered, still need some help, swing by pick up a bundle or two and make someones day! Yours! #c4kh

Thousands of Valentines delivered, thous

Thousands of Valentines delivered, thousands to go! Got to get these out this week. http://ow.ly/3WIjN and click on #c4kh for directions.

Desert Ministries

Desert Ministries Website

Add this

Bookmark and Share

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 6 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 1,004 hits

Blog Topics


%d bloggers like this: