Recently, my colleague and I visited a Trust run old age home where they house underprivileged or may be not so privileged elderly women. In a large dormitory with beds adjacent to each other with an ample space to move around and highly ventilated well-kept with utmost cleanliness it is far fancier to be called as a charitable place.
The first look may entice you with the fancy structure and facilities, however, the second look can be really heart wrenching. Each one curled up in their bed, there was a cold shivering silence in the dormitory. Sad faces facing one another but no interactions. My colleague Swetha hurried to a bed where a lady welcomed her with a sad, saggy face.
The manager of the facility referred her as Lakshmamma (name changed) and surprisingly she is 90 years old. Without talking anything much Lakshmamma held Swetha by hand and seated close to her on the bed, the first thing she did was stretching her hands out to pick up a framed photo which must be ages old, in black and white, almost faded and hardly faces were recognizable, that was her husband and herself when they got married 73 years back. Handing out that photo she was curiously looking at Swetha for her reactions, somewhere she saw Lakshmamma was trying to hide her tears, she swallowed her heaviness and started talking about herself and her husband. Swetha told me, how desperate Lakshmamma was for interactions and to speak out her stories which may means nothing to us but for her certainly it is.
May be her great grand-children and grand-children has a lot to hear from their great grand mom who made it to a century. Unfortunately there was nothing of a thing called visitor to Lakshmamma and it was very evident in her desperation to speak and communicate.
According to many social gerontology studies across the world, social isolation of the seniors has been associated with cognitive decline, decline in health, depression, increased rates of infection and ultimately even mortality. Communicating and visiting with the elders in our lives, be it a close relative or a neighbour can help ward off these detrimental effects.
Periodic visits with your senior loved ones is not only rewarding, but it leads to a myriad of benefits.Spending quality time with the infirm elderly has huge benefits for their health, primarily keeping elders physically young and emotionally happy.
I can share my personal experience as a social gerontologist that many of people in residential senior care have no visitors 365 days of the year. It saddens me immensely …. particularly dementia patients, receive no visitors. I remember asking the son of a dementia patient, ‘Why you are not visiting your mother?’ The straight answer was shocking to me. “What is the point in visiting her, she cannot recognise me.” I retorted, ‘But you don’t have dementia”.
For me, one of the most disturbing and growing trend I see in Indian ageing is the loneliness. When it comes to spend quality time with our elders, we have thousands excuses of time constraints. When you answer to your conscious: ‘Do I want to be abandoned in my later years? Is this what my elders deserve? Is this how I want to live out my old age? We must promote inclusion, and reach out to senior Indians. When I talk to my inmates in our care facility, I many who crave for a simple touch, a hug, or a soothing hand on their shoulder. We must extend our hearts and our hands in love and respect.
Despite the prevailing myth that caregiving ends with placement in a care facility, family members ideally continue their caregiving obligations after institutionalization through active involvement. But the reality is just the opposite. I recollect my friend Ms. Flipse an RD from the United States telling me how she visited her dad when he was admitted in a care facility. It sounds strange, she visited her dad in the early morning hours when daily routine chores are performed. She said, the first thing she checked was if his tooth brush was wet, which indicated her that her father was brushed for the day.
Yes, it sounds immensely crazy but when you leave your loved in a professionally run care setting and not at your home it is important to get into the details of care in order to ensure your beloved parent is not hoodwinked of the right care. It is not only to make sure your parents are cheerful but also to ensure that they are extended the qualitative care.
Some people just don’t visit because they want to avoid awkward moments. Others make brief, stiff visits. It’s important to find ways to overcome the reluctance because visits from family and friends give older adults the connection and support they need. Learn more about how to keep our senior loved ones feeling young and happy through these six benefits:
The most important reason to visit loved ones is the chance to check up on their happiness and health, and make sure that nothing untoward is happening since the last time you saw them. If they suffer from chronic illness, how are they coping? Do they need extra help with care, chores, finances or medications? Do they just need a little encouragement to ensure healthy eating and physical activities?
If your loved one lives alone and if they are having trouble caring for themselves a visit can clue you in to any signs of self-neglect—whether the issue is declining cognition, health or mobility. Find out the people who visit them as well as the finances. If they have home care assistance or live in a care facility, a visit is the perfect time to make sure their living situation is keeping them happy and healthy. Learn the signs of common health problems before hand as well as markers of abuse, so that you can detect any problems early.
Make sure each visits also serve as a time to reminisce about past happy get-togethers with family. Albums, conversation, home videos, music and photos can prompt nostalgia. These ‘memory prompts’ can be beneficial to those with dementia and memory loss. Try to avoid bringing up painful memories. But if they want to talk about something in their past, let them reminisce. Talking through it may help them put things in perspective or come to terms with what happened.
There is no standard “right” length of time for a visit with your older adult. It will depend on many factors like your relationship, their health condition and their energy level that day. During the visit, pay attention to signs that they’re getting tired or agitated. For some people, especially those with dementia, shorter visits may work better. Others may enjoy longer visits where you have more time to enjoy activities together. In general, it’s more meaningful and easier to handle visits from one or two people at a time. A dozen people visiting at once can be overwhelming for anyone.
Effective and respectful communication is essential for any visit. Address and treat your older adult and other residents as adults, not children. Even if they’ve lost physical or mental abilities, they still deserve respect. Hearing loss is very common among the seniors, so make sure they can hear you. Also, keep your faces at about the same level. Besides from being polite, many people rely on facial expressions or lip reading to understand the conversation. Overall, do your best to keep the conversation positive, and avoid arguing or upsetting them. This is especially important when visiting seniors with dementia. It’s also a good practice to make it clear that you’re glad to be there.
As mentioned in the beginning, many elders no longer get the benefit of human touch. Show affection with hugs, holding hands or stroking their arm or back. Again it depends on person to person and your closeness which determines the physical intimacy. Pay close attention to their face and body language as you respectfully touch them to make sure they continue to be comfortable. Older adults can be sensitive and fragile, so err on the side of being extra gentle until you know what suits them.
You need to admire those care workers, nurses and doctors there, because they selflessly gave their time and put in the extra mile to ensure that the elderly are living comfortably there. They had to change their diapers and endure many unpleasant situations. Being in elderly healthcare sector is most challenging and difficult and we must thank them for their selfless service.
A Few More Tips for Staying Connected to Loved Ones When you live in a different city or country, it’s impossible to swing an in-person visit, no matter how much we might want to check on our loved ones and spend some time with them. There are other ways that we can, and should, remind our senior loved ones that we’re thinking of them, like through:
· Cards · Emails · Letters · Photos · Phone · Skype
No matter where we live, we can simply pick up the phone, too — a simple phone call can do so much to bring in happiness. Long distance caregiving is a regular affair as many children live far away cities or even abroad. Also, thanks to modern technology, video chat programs like FaceTime and Skype can bridge the miles and enable us to see our loved ones face to face.
So, there’s no excuse to not visit a senior loved one, in person or virtually, and the benefits are enormous. Visiting loved ones makes them happy, makes you happy, and is key to hold them in happy mood. Let them know you are there, even though they may not remember or know who you are. Everyone needs to feel loved; it the universal language.