A seat at the table


By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., Executive Director, Colony Retirement Homes

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” 

Gertrude Stein


There is a parable about four people touching and describing an elephant from four different angles.  One person is touching the tusk and concludes the animal is hard and spear like. The person touching the tail concludes the animal is long and rope-like, like a snake. The person touching the elephant’s side thinks the animal is a wall. The person touching its ear describes the animal as a fan. Each person is right, but each person has incomplete information. The point of the parable is that sometimes you need to approach a problem from multiple perspectives to get a full picture.

The same is true of elder care. Multidisciplinary meetings help to bring all pertinent information to the table when caring for elders. Family members, nurses, occupational therapists, psychologists, and caseworkers are often at these meetings. I have known about several case conferences where my resident’s care was being discussed and when I asked to attend, I have been dismissed. Some people do not realize how much we can offer to the conversation – they simply see property managers as mindless lightbulb changers.

Most of us are not trying to be nosy. We have enough to do and we don’t want to be over involved. We may not be an obvious part of the team but eldercare agencies should ask the elder if they want us there. Often, we are the people who see the elder every day and very often, the elder trusts us.  

We are the eyes on the ground, we are often the first to notice behavioral changes due to a medication change, we call the ambulance when they fall, and we see so much more.

  • We see a couple living in an apartment with one twin size bed and a couch in the living room.
  • We notice when a family has no food in their fridge.
  • We see someone whose recycling includes several empty bottles of whiskey every week.
  • We observe that some family members consistently come to visit only after the first of the month when social security checks arrive.
  • We smell pot and cigarette smoke on the elders and on their visitors.
  • We see frequent “visitors” coming for half an hour each night and sometimes several nights per week.
  • We hear children yell at their elders, and we hear elders who yell back.
  • We see people with no furniture, even years after living in the apartment.
  • We see bruises after visits.
  • We see elders with family far away who rave about their sons and daughters, only to have them visit once a year for 15 minutes before they speed out of the parking lot.
  • We see people who swear they can’t pay their rent but who can afford a fancy car.
  • We hear from neighbors when couples regularly fight at loud volumes.
  • We notice behavior that is unusual for different elders, and we ask when they last ate or why they are going out in a cab three times in one day.

Of course, none of this information paints a complete picture. But paired with different medical conditions and social concerns, these observations could help create a better safety net for our elders around poverty, abuse, neglect, addiction, and fraud. Landlords may not be health care workers, but the best way forward for all elders is to acknowledge they are important members of the team. We come at the issues from a different angle, but we help provide a complete picture.

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or mdelorey@colonyretirement.com and www.colonyretirementhomes.com.