Avoiding Alzheimer's with Group & Social Communication
We hear so much about Alzheimer’s these days. A very active elderly person loses his memory one fine day. Naturally, this leads to a lot of tension at home. But more than that, it is terrible to see the individual suffer so much. I remember my friend, a trained dancer, invited her Dance Guru (teacher) to a program where her small students were going to dance. Oh, how she wanted her Guru to feel proud of her! But that was not to be. He came very late. But this apart, he failed to recognize her and was blank all through the program. What could be the reason? Was it the result of a very stressful life? The medical world will know better. But somewhere my father was successful in avoiding such an end despite the fact that he was widower, and that way alone.
A positive man
My father bid goodbye to the world between the night of 5th and 6th Nov. 2013. He was a very positive man, highly contented with whatever life gave him. So much so, that on 7th October (exactly a month prior to his death) my father eagerly participated in the birthday celebrations organized separately for him by friend group circle and brother’s family.
As his darling daughter, there are innumerable lessons I learned just by watching him. Not a surprise that in death too my father taught me a very valuable lesson, mainly—stay connected with society and group circle if you wish to remain sane till the end. In today’s hard and fast life when every other elderly person is succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease, this is unarguably a lesson of a lifetime. Not to forget that my father too was struggling with failing memory ever since his fall from the stairs in 1997. This way, it is truly creditable that despite the head injury, my father did not become yet another victim of the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease-and that his thinking abilities continued to be good till the end.
Due to dad’s service majorly in the northern region of India, my parents decided to settle down in Delhi after retirement. But what an irony! My mother only spent 4 years in her dream flat. She died in June 1989 due Brain Cancer. My father was a little over 60 at that time. Both my brother and I were married by then and had families of our own. Even if my mother suffered for just 5 months, the nature of the illness was such that it left all of us all thoroughly exhausted. So much so, that my father landed with pneumonia soon after mom’s death. I was there till he recovered after which I took leave along with children to join my husband in Mumbai. My brother too had to join back his organization in Rajasthan almost immediately.
Picking up the threads as a widower
As a woman now in mid-50, I realize today how difficult it must have been for my father to face the world after wife’s death. One moment, you are a family man and the next moment you are alone- a poor widower! But not the one to complain, my father slowly picked up the threads of life to go on the life’s journey alone. And here, his honorary job (taken up after retirement) under late parliamentarian Shri Madhu Dandavate proved a blessing in disguise. For when Shri Dandavate was put in charge of the Planning Commission, my father automatically became his Principal Secretary.
My father: standing extreme right
Benefits of Group Communication
- Group communication gives an individual a sense of belonging and importance
- Constant group activities make an individual rise above his/her misery
- From feeling sorry for oneself, the individual becomes aware of others’ problems
- Group Communication gives way to diversion which is good
- In the same way, an individual gets a platform to speak to like minded people
- Long time leaders learn to listen to others as also improve their views
- Group plans give an individual reasons to carry on in life
- An individual has this nice feeling that he is a strength and not a burden to the society
- Success in group projects helps individuals gain/regain confidence
- Group Communication acts as an excellent stress buster
- Feedback in the form of appreciation/ acknowledgement from group members boosts confidence
- Group activities help an individual get rid of bitterness
- A good group contributes to spreading healthy vibes into the society via family, friends & acquaintances
This explains why my father never nursed bitterness in life. And when he died he had accomplished all responsibilities and even more.
Interestingly, my father was a part of several groups at one time-
Post-retirement Office Group
He enjoyed being a part of Shri Madhu Dandavate’s hotchpotch group that had in it young, middle-aged and old individuals like him. Unlike me, my father had an innate ability to interact with anyone who had something to say. And so he was ever willing to learn. And it is this factor that kept him sane till the end. Under the stewardship of the former minister, the group gave shape to many important projects. He also got the chance to work with late Shrimati Pramila Dandavate. In 1987, when a 16 year old pretty girl Roop Kanwar was burnt to death on her husband's pyre in Rajasthan, the entire country was aghast. During one such discussion, my father said in anguish," But marrying off daughter is so important!" Shrimati Pramila Dandavate replied " In that case, why not put the same pressure on boys too? In today's times, girls should study and be encouraged to work and take care of themselves." The reply came from a woman who had a son but no daughter!
Sharing lunch was yet another feature he enjoyed. And so when he returned home each evening by Delhi’s chartered bus, he was a happy man. Not a surprise that even after Shri Dandavate’s death in 2005, my father remained in touch with the group through phone calls once a while.
Society's Puja Group
My father became a part of this group when together with mom he shifted into the housing society. Thus, every Ganesh or Vinayak Chaturthi, he like other residents would gather at the temple adjoining the colony for a group recital of Atharvashirsha. This would go on for about 2 hours followed by distribution of Prasad and exchange of news & greetings. Men & women would then disperse with the feeling "God is in heaven. All is well with the world." Recently when I went to Delhi, I made it a point to attend the group recital. The members were very happy to see me and showed me the wooden stool on which my father would sit.
Central Government Pensioners Association
My father was part of Central Government Pensioners Association- SCRAP ( if I remember correctly). This way, he had so much to look forward to regarding increase in pension. And indeed, his childlike delight was so infectious! I remember, how he regularly communicated with the Group.
Residential Complex Retired Men’s Group
Truly a wonderful group ! Each morning retired men in Anandvan Residential Housing Complex would gather for talks at 10.30 am. And so, it was the job of the security guard to arrange plastic chairs under the warm sun (in winters) or in the shade (in summers). My father joined this group after Shri Madhu Dandavate’s death in 2005, which was yet again a terrible blow for him. A 20 year old association had come to an end. My heartbroken father saw the office close down right before his eyes. Around the same time my father also saw his elder brother and younger sister pass away. With so much grief and pain as well as many memories in his heart, my father one fine day stepped out to join this group.
I remember being angry with him for this. As this meant not ringing up between 10.30 am and 1.30 pm on any day. “Why can’t you just retire and sit peacefully at home?”At such times my father would simply laugh and hang up. Today, I realize how unjustified and unreasonable I was in my demands. Living in a family or society doesn't mean that you have to lose your identity completely! Even otherwise, he was causing no harm to the society. Also, his activities kept him out of undue interference in my brother’s family who by now had joined him in Delhi. He was happy with the breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner served to him at his normal time. Besides, the Housing Complex Retired Men’ Group was no ordinary cluster. All of the 10-12 men had held senior positions in the past.One of them was a sculptor of national repute. And so they all had a lot to say as well as contribute in country affairs. Which they did seriously every day!
Besides they also believed in enjoying their retired life. This is how my father saw the blockbuster movie “Dirty Picture” with his new found group. This apart, the group also went on a picnic each year. Interestingly, while I am always very nervous during Shraddhapaksha (fortnight when we pay obeisance to dead), these gallant men always went for picnic around this time! During a talk with dad, I also came to know that one of the group members was an excellent cook. And so once a year he would invite them all for a lavish lunch.
As is the general practice among the Hindus, the entire group came home to pay obeisance to my father on the 13th day of his death. The smiling photograph of my father pleased them all. Each member then remembered and spoke a few words about my father.
“He was a happy man!”
“He never liked Bal Thackeray’s hostility towards non-maharashtrians in Mumbai” said yet another.
“Yes, he felt that it greatly embarrassed the Maharashtrians staying outside Maharashtra.”
For a while I almost thought that my father had stepped out of the photograph to partake actively in the discussion!
In my recent visit to Delhi, I saw the group having a meeting just like always. I waved at them and they waived back at me.
Morning Walk Group
My father was an early riser and would regularly go for morning walks at 4.30 or 5 am. At such times he would meet other morning walkers too. They would wave at one another or simply smile. Yes, if ever there was a long gap, they would stop by to ask why. It was a different kind of group and yet it was a group nonetheless for they all shared a common goal! Further, there was feedback in the form of smiles and hand waving. As is the human tendency, they all kept track of who walked fast and who was slow which resulted in a good healthy competition- typical of any group. Little wonder that my father was free from blood pressure, diabetes and heart ailment till the last moment when his BP shot up to 240 and he suffered a cardiac arrest.
My father's morning walk came to a halt a year or two before his death as he found his movement severely affected by arthritis. But not the one to give up, dad took to taking a stroll in the colony itself. He now used a walking stick gifted to him by his group.This way, my father was always the first person to greet the newspaper boy when he arrived on the bicycle!
Benefits of Social Communication
Interestingly, my father enjoyed social communication immensely. When I say this, I don't mean the Facebook or Twitter. For, he was not internet friendly. But the reason for mentioning this is that often bereaved people out of hurt and bitterness sever all ties with the society. Fortunately, my father was never bitten by this bug. Even otherwise, he had attained such a stature in life where nobody could think of being nasty to him.
Strengths of social communication (as regards senior citizens):
- Social Communication takes place on a larger platform
- In social communication, members of diverse groups come together for a while
- It is somewhat formal in nature which prevents individuals from becoming careless & sloppy
- This apart, manners & etiquette too help check degeneration
- Further, social communication gives an individual a reason to dress up
- Social communication helps an individual retain his/her identity and not fade away like someone's father/mother/brother/sister
- Social Communication such as weddings, get-together, large picnics, etc. act as stress busters
- Social communication in the form of writing, etc. increases knowledge & vocabulary
- New information is received & circulated
- New acquaintances are made
- Social communication sometimes results in good job finding, marriage fixing in family, new business deal, information about school, college, new courses, etc.
- New friendship is born which is again good
This explains how my father learnt to be happy even in grief.
Attending social weddings as a widower
My father made it a point to attend weddings on his side as well as my mother’s. He also earned a lot of goodwill in the process. I remember vividly how my father enjoyed every moment of my daughter’s wedding. As a grandfather of the bride, everybody came up to him and he was happy acknowledging their greetings. As he was not diabetic, he enjoyed the food also.
Interestingly, It was my father who introduced me to Reader’s Digest, Illustrated Weekly of India and several such good magazines. Khushwant Singh was his favourite editor. In fact, his loud guffaws over Khushwant Singh’s writings, still ring in my ears! Sadly, many of these magazines folded around the same time that my mother died. In all certainty it was a double blow for my father. And yet very determinedly, my father began writing again both in English and Marathi. And when his articles appeared in the editorial column, he felt immensely happy. With the same zest, he also wrote feed backs for articles and stories in Marathi newspapers and magazines. And so even though he did not belong to the internet era, he made quite a few pen–friends. Slowly we saw his confidence return.
Returning love and goodness to society
My father's social communication extended to the needy as well. This meant donating to an NGO, helping the domestic maid financially when the roof over her head was under threat. His famous lines being," In life you are responsible for those who work for you. And so, you should help them whenever required."
Sadly, around 2011 that my father began to experience tiredness while reading and writing. That’s when he started watching TV while at home. He would watch Rangoli - old Hindi film songs on national network, Doordarshan. He would avidly watch cricket matches. I never saw him angry when India lost a match. His famous words being,"it happens!"
But mostly he watched Marathi Sahyadri. When I asked him once the reason for this, he disclosed that he felt guilty for staying outside Maharashtra in spite of being a Maharashtrian! Thus, in his last days my father tried to make this up by watching Marathi channels. Whatever! He kept himself occupied by watching news, serials, health related programs and fun games on TV. And when sometimes I was there, he would call me to show some interesting happening on TV. Feedback was in the form of discussion about the programs amongst friends and us.
Listening to radio
Radio always held a special place at home. Even if not a great singer himself, it was my father who introduced me to songs on Vividh Bharati at the age of 3 or 4. Songs such as - Dhoondo dhoondo re sajna.. as also tasveer teri dil mein.. helped me realize the sweetness in Lata Mangeshkar's voice, Similarly, my father also introduced me to Mohammed Rafi's soft, silky voice and Asha Bhonsle's lilting voice -Abhi na jao chod kar...
Even with the advent of TV, my father never gave up listening to radio. His day began with the famous signature tune of Vividh Bharati followed by news and then songs. Interestingly, it was my father who gave me the first news that all the songs of Veer Zara were based on the compositions of late Shri Madan Mohan. And to think that he had by then touched 80! Naturally, my father had no time for depression.
And so I am proud of my father for leaving behind healthy tips for Alzheimer- free life. I am sure that apart from me many others too will benefit greatly from this.
Adieu, my dear father! May you always rest in peace!
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