We owe it to our residents to make it happen!

By Leslie Quintanar

Anyone who knows me is familiar with my penchant for shoes. I specifically love high heels. I have more than my husband thinks I should own. I typically wear them all the time; therefore, they are very much a part of who I am as a person. I also like to have my toenails polished, even in the dead of winter. One of the great advantages of living in California is that I can often wear open- or peep-toe shoes all year round, so that further adds to my motivation to keep my toes polished.

I Am Not Alone

Over the years I have found that my heels and brightly hued toes have been a great conversation starter with most of the senior ladies. They will see me coming and ask to see what sort of shoes I’m wearing. One of my favorite ladies, who had a fondness for painted toes, would always compare colors with me. I would listen as the ladies would reminisce about the great shoes they would wear when they were younger and how much they loved dressing up.

The Change

I’ve seen some of these same ladies who moved into senior communities and traveled through the various levels of care change in appearance in a startling way. A woman may start out perfectly coiffed, with everything matching right down to the accessories. Then she declines, moves into AL at some point, and her appearance changes. Caregivers are now selecting her outfits and she may not know her preferences. She may not be able to do her hair as successfully as she used to, so she looks a little disheveled on the days when she hasn’t been to the beauty shop. She may have edema and be prone to falls; therefore, she cannot wear her favorite shoes. Finally, the caregivers may not have the time to assist with makeup, so she isn’t seen wearing her signature lipstick any longer.

Finally, this same resident may need memory care. She can no longer wear many of her beautiful clothes because she’s gained weight from decreased mobility and they’ve been replaced with all-purpose sweats or other easy to negotiate pieces. She no longer tolerates going to the salon; thus, her hair is often combed straight back in a distinctly unflattering manner. All of this, combined with a decline in overall function and cognition, results in a woman who looks but a former shell of herself.

We Should Not Think This Is Normal

As sad as this may sound, if you reflect a few minutes I’m sure you can all think of someone in one of your communities who has suffered through this progressive loss of identity. But what I’d like to pass along in response to this sad tale is this: we should not think this is normal. If I end up in a Memory Care someday and I cannot wear lipstick, or have my hair look somewhat decent or even wear something that has some semblance of style . . . I’ll be really mad. Each of us should ask ourselves, our staff, and our families “How would you like to be taken care of when you are in this situation?” Are Chuck Taylors (a nod to Steve Moran), painted toenails, or fiery red hair non-negotiable to who they are as a person?

Make It Happen

Care plan it! Train your staff! And then ruthlessly police its implementation!

Many of us laud our fabulous clinical care, as well we should, but we cannot forget that wellness is about much more than clinical efficiency. It involves much more than ensuring a person’s meds are delivered on time (even though they should be!). How well are we doing at reaching the soul, the very warp and woof of a person? Knowing their spiritual practices, the things that bring them joy and the things that are important to whom they are as a person is what truly makes us effective as care providers. And that includes even seemingly small things like their preference of lipstick or shirt color.

Shoes and toenails may not be important to you. Maybe it’s a treasured necklace, a special spiritual practice, or even a particular tradition that you celebrate without fail. Whatever it may be, I challenge you to think about that one thing that is non-negotiable to you and then translate that into how we care for our residents. They too have those non-negotiable things that may not change with the onset of dementia or impaired mobility.

For me, it will be pink toes and pretty shoes – even if they are orthopedic!

What about you?