How to Care for Our Citizens in Old Age
Issues Seniors Face
As a therapist, I work with people of all ages. I enjoy working with children, but I also enjoy working with senior citizens. Seniors have a lot to share; a lot of experiences that they can relay to others. I grew up living with my grandmother and I enjoyed things that she had to say. She was full of wisdom, stories of the past, and love. I still remember her advice to me when I left for college. She said, "Never take a mixed drink from someone you don't know". Now that was good advice.
It is sad though to see how many seniors are disregarded. When I talk with older adults in my office, I see them dealing with depression, anxiety, loss of family, and loss of freedom, and frustration over health issues and loss of abilities. They deal with pain issues, multiple medical issues, and death of family members and friends. Those around them don't seem to understand what they are going through and often just find them irritating.
I also work with patients in nursing homes. Males and females alike deal with dementia, Alzheimers, and significant medical concerns like Parkinson's Disease and stroke. Family members may or may not be visiting, and if not there is significant loneliness. They can be confused, frustrated, angry, depressed, and socially isolated.
Real Cases (names changed)
Ms. Carol is an 82 year old precious lady who resides in a nursing home. She has dementia and her short term memory is horrible. She can't remember what she ate just minutes after finishing her meal, can not tell you the correct date, and continuously thought it was her birthday though told repeatedly we were having a Christmas party. Her long term memory has some intact features which is common with dementia. Ms. Carol is the only living member of her family so she has no one to visit her so the staff of the nursing home and residents have become closest to her but they change often. Ms. Carol needs to know she is still loved, still thought about, and still matters. One day she was getting her hair done at the facility hair salon and it looked so nice we put some make up on her and gave her a mirror. She looked at herself and exclaimed, "I'm beautiful". She wanted to go somewhere and there was singing going on in the activity room so we took her and she began to sing and dance. The next week I showed her a video because she never remembers things she does, and she couldn't believe it was her. She started to cry and again said she was beautiful. Ms. Carol matters.
John is a 72 year old man who had a stroke. He has a few other health issues and due to the health concerns he can not live alone. He has two adult children but they don't visit and do not call. In fact, when anyone attempts to call either of them they hang up. He is living in a nursing home. He is dealing with depression, loss of freedom, lack of understanding as to why his children have abandoned him, confusion about where his own property is, limited ability physically, and isolating himself. When I first met him he confined himself to his room, didn't attend any activities, and didn't interact with others. He often tells staff, "I wanna go home". I learned that John played the harmonica in the past and he had one with him. I asked him to play and he did. We then began to use this as a way of talking about something he enjoyed. Two nurses then took him out of the residence to a restaurant and he enjoyed that. I then began to encourage him to go to activities that included music and he did. Finally at Christmas he took his harmonica and played at the Christmas party. He was excited to do so. He has been out of his room more, interacting with others, and just recently said, "I wanna go home but I can't". John needs attention, encouragement to interact with others, and to feel that he is important. John matters.
Judy is a 75 year old lady who still resides at home, but had to place her husband in a nursing home about a year and a half ago due to progressing Alzheimers. He had been getting more and more aggressive and it was difficult for her to care for him at home. Prior to his Alzheimers, he was very controlling and difficult, and had caused her family to distance themselves from her. She started seeing me because she was dealing with depression and anxiety as well as continued isolation even though she should have been freer to do as she wanted. Because of years of being controlled as well as guilt for having placed him in the home, she felt the need to sit by the phone and wait for her husband to call her with any need he might have. She visited almost daily and took things to him. She also did not understand why he began to accuse her of things like stealing all his money, having affairs, and other things. As we worked together, she began to understand that she couldn't fight his Alzheimers disease and this was what was taking over the positive parts of his personality. She also began to see that she was not under the "rock" that he had symbolically placed on her, so she was free to go where she wanted and had the right to leave the phone. She learned that the staff of the nursing home were there to help her with him. She began to rebuild her relationship with her daughter and grandchildren and it wasn't long before she had a visitation and call schedule for him and had taken control. Her depression and anxiety went away. Judy needed to learn to be OK with the new phase of life. She needed permission to do what she wanted and create a life that made her happy. She needed her family back in her life. Judy matters.
What Can We Do For Our Seniors?
It is up to us to take care of our aging friends and family members.This may take some time, energy, and maybe finances, and requires a commitment, but it may just be the most educational, fulfilling thing we can do.
Here are some things we can do:
1. Take time to listen to seniors when they talk. They have stories they want to tell and these stories have meaning for them. Some seniors may repeat themselves or forget things at times, but be patient. Don't be in such a hurry. You may actually learn something.
2. Offer to help a senior who lives alone or with an elderly spouse. There are many things they are not able to do for themselves anymore and this comes as a frustration for them. This not only provides help in certain areas of need, but also friendship and companionship.
3. Enlist a senior's help with things they are able to do. If you are a part of a church or service organization, ask seniors to help with activities such as Vacation Bible School, outreaches, sewing projects, reading to children, or so many other things that are possible and that will keep them feeling useful.
4. Teach your children to respect their elders. There is a little girl in our church that I respect so much. For the last few years for her birthday, she has chosen to have a party at a nursing home and instead of getting gifts for herself, she has asked for people to bring things that the residents of the home would enjoy. Bags were made up and given out to the residents with such items as hand cream, brushes, small nicknacks, socks, and other things they could use. During the party, various people played instruments, sang, and entertained the residents in a group room. Now this young lady has it together.
5. Visit a nursing home and volunteer to help with activities or ask if you can visit with residents that have no one who comes to see them. My children have had so much fun going to one and helping decorate cookies, painting bird houses, doing trivia, and just talking to the residents. The residents love to have them around.
6. Please don't disown your elderly parents or relatives. Work through problems. Remember that you may not have a second chance.
Children Showing How It's Done
Seniors are our link to the past and a special part of our present. If we are not careful, we will miss what they have to share. When we take time to listen, help, share, and love, we give back to our seniors and utimately keep them from the pits of anxiety, depression, and despair.
© 2012 TripleAMom