Wednesday, April 9, 2014
“Age is nothing but a number”, according to new research that suggests you're only as old as you let yourself feel. Such a profound thought, I wonder. We will approach our retirement years at some point in life, but never think or plan about it. Who cares, I hear many say. We will cross the bridge when we will come by it.
I get a reality check, on every Sunday morning, as I walk past the vast gates of a retirement village & elder care rest home. I work there as a volunteer & my prime duties are reading the morning news, playing fun activities & taking the elderly to the church. Besides these, my main job is to also help the residents to cope & adjust to life in a long term care facility which can be a very daunting affair. After all, you are confined to a regulated life with nurses & care takers calling shots for you.
My favourite moments are times that I spend visiting each elderly in their small room, which resembles quite a pigeon hole. The room spills with photographs of their loved ones, some fond memories of their younger radiant days. You are overwhelmed by a strange sense of a full life lived for 80 years bundled into a handful of photographs on a small window sill.
“I was quite a looker in my time," she said as I stood there looking at a vibrant beauty in a black & white image. Mimi, age 84 is a wiser soul always smiling with her eyes. I nod at her in agreement. She goes on telling me the story behind the photo. “I had just turned 22, and my mum thought it would be nice to get me a portrait done to ensure some charming young suitors come my way. Back in those days, when we were young; they taught us how to dream, but they didn't teach us what to dream. I feel my life is a distant dream now, but I have no regrets at all”. I could sense her voice quiver, & hug her warmly. You have taught me an important lesson Mimi, I will dare to dream & follow it too.
While Mimi remains my inspiration, I could not help but sympathise with Margaret, age 94, who is unhappy living an institutional life & still misses her sprawling estate in Tauranga, which once belonged to her & her late husband. She moved in to the rest home, because she had no one nearby to take care of her & needed special medical care.
Or rather even Peter, age 87, suffering from severe case of dementia, forgetting everything, He gets lost in the long corridors looking for his own room & need someone to help him find his way back.
Most of the residents forget me & the fact that they have met in the past, since I visit them just once in a week. With advance age, the spectre of dementia or stroke looms large. At 80, the marks of old age are all too visible. One’s reactions are a little slower, people’s names more frequently elude one, and one’s energies seems to be diminishing, but even so, one may often feel full of energy and life and not at all “old.” In order to mitigate this, I come up with a plan. I wear a clown’s smile mask, every time I pay a visit. And guess what, it worked. Gradually these wise souls started responding to the mask & their eyes would light every time they see me come.
So you see friends, it is very important for us to understand what makes older people happy. We can help them by providing extraordinary moments in their life, as they realize, that these small moments count for more. It could be anything from a kiss to warm hug or just spending quality time in doing plain chit-chat. That is all they ask.
I thought that I should share with you some of these happy moments (in random order) so you can pick and choose your favourite and make the elderly around you happy:
1. Remember their' birthdays and important anniversaries. These dates are a great opportunity for you to make them happy and feel special. Give them handmade cards, buy gifts. The memories you create for them will stay in their hearts and make them feel you still love and care for them in their old age.
2. Pick up a bundle of fragrant fresh flowers. The smell of fresh flowers might remind them of springtime in the country or a blast of spruce might tug at memories of childhood activities long gone.
3. Brush their hair or give them a back massage. Something about a warm hand that is wanting to be held can make a huge difference on a rough day.
4. Bring in a stack of world travel postcards and dialogue about sightseeing or look through old photographs, newspapers, or magazines. Visual stimuli can be a wonderful activity for someone who is suffering from dementia, especially if they are in a more advanced stage. Sometimes being able to see something beautiful can transform a difficult day.
5. Feed the birds together or water the plants. To incorporate exercise into a loved one’s routine, it may be difficult with a standard workout program. Instead, try using daily activities to get loved ones moving.
Be best buddies with these wise souls & believe me you will never ever feel lonely again in life.
Signing off with an interesting quote:
“There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside of time. Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless.”
Thanks for reading!
- Zee Shah