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Lions Roar : May 2017
OLD AGE, AS BETTE DAVIS used to say, ain’t for sissies. Ask any baby boomer or their aging parents: making it to a ripe old age often means battling an accumulation of woeful chronic diseases, including dementia. Dealing with elderly patients suffering from a variety of ailments is a chal- lenge for health professionals, who often lack a standard- ized approach for caring for seniors with a multitude of maladies. Laurie Mallery, a gerontologist and practicing Buddhist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, decided to change that. Nova Scotia is home to one of the oldest populations in Canada and was fertile ground for Mallery and her colleague Paige Moorhouse to forge a new way to help older, vulnerable patients. They developed a framework for identify- ing the level of a patient’s “frailty”—the degree to which a combination of medical and cognitive factors impacts the patient’s health and ability to func- tion—and a team-oriented approach for responding to each patient’s needs. This has improved patients’ experience and cut the cost of care. Hospitals in other Canadian provinces are adopting their method, which they call Palliative and Therapeutic Harmo- nization (PATH). It begins with facing the blunt truths of dementia that elderly patients, their families, and even doc- tors often shy away from: that dementia’s decline is irrevocable and that a frail, older patient may be near the end of their life. These are truths a Buddhist physi- cian is used to facing. “Pain and sadness are an unavoidable part of life,” says Mallery. “We can pre- tend those feelings are not there and try to push them away. Or, we can acknowl- edge the sadness and pain and what comes from it.” When people face these realities, she says, positive things happen: health care professionals “can connect to other emo- tions, such as compassion, tenderness, and caring.” Families and care providers are better able to make the right deci- sions for their loved one. Most impor- tantly, older patients get treatment that’s right for someone who must measure their moments on earth in terms of qual- ity, not quantity. ♦ BODHISATTVAS Hard Truths Mean Better Care Her Buddhist training helped gerontologist DR. LAURIE MALLERY develop a better way to treat the infirmities of old age. COURTESYOFLAURIEMALLERY Tell us about a bodhisattva you know at