Being Present with One Another: Honoring Elderly Veterans
In the beginning, I was cautioned that most elderly veterans would be too debilitated, distressed, or lack the focus and cognitive ability to participate in a group program using CMBM techniques. It has been my experience, however, that CMBM groups are very effective in addressing the primary issues that elderly group members present with, including physical pain, grief, and sensory and cognitive limitations. I asked past participates what they remembered about the group. Each spoke of how they witnessed others in the group improve. This seemed just as important as their personal progress. The CMBM group teaches new skills while offering a sanctuary for healing, reflection, and being present with one another. One group member, with advanced COPD on oxygen and in a wheelchair, was initially anxious during breathing exercises. He spoke about how focusing on his breathing triggered his fear of dying from lack of oxygen. Once he realized this, he was able to breathe while concentrating on his breath and not his tension. He even found that his oxygen SATS reading increased when he focused on breathing calmly! He would also do his own energizing variation of shaking and dancing in his wheelchair. Another group member with significant cognitive impairment as well as PTSD was a former medic with the Marines in Vietnam. He would basically shepherd the group members into the room and was very watchful especially if any group member was experiencing distress. In one session he described his lifelong mission to care for others, and the group members thanked him for this, told him he made them feel safe, and encouraged him to participate. He noticeably relaxed and in the following sessions voiced how much he enjoyed the group. Cognitively challenged group members may not be able to explain or describe what they have learned, yet they behaviorally and somatically exhibit a learning response. Participation in this group is a form of validation therapy, in that beliefs, perceptions, and opinions are not challenged, but rather accepted and even honored. I would emphasize the benefits of this experiential group, not only for the group members, but also for the facilitator and staff who participate. CMBM groups are a positive addition to any units or programs. Joe retired last week after 33 years with the VA. Our warmest congratulations, Joe!
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