Adventures in Eldercare February 2018
While on a recent Caribbean vacation with my wife, we experienced a compelling moment I want to share. We were seated at the lunch buffet a few days into our week long stay at a resort. Anyone who has enjoyed an all-inclusive holiday would know the large open-air restaurants with thatched roofs, the atmosphere is buzzing and people are coming and going constantly.
We were startled by a loud commotion behind us and turned to see a young woman with two young children furiously screaming and swatting her hands in the air. “It’s a bird. It’s a #$@%^ bird”, as a bird flew close to her as she was walking. I thought for a moment she was going to throw a chair at it. To her credit she apologized for swearing as she hurried off with her children.
A moment later an older man, about 80, sitting to our right, a quiet man I had seen earlier that day at the pool turned to me. He meekly said. “It’s just a bird”. I said “Yes. It’s just a bird”, he lifted his hand with a piece of bread in it and gestured to the side of his table, “I was feeding it.” And he looked so sad, like he had done something terribly wrong. He and his wife were visibly shaken by the events. I at once began telling him how nice it was and that it was ok, that the bird was beautiful. A couple of times over the rest of the week I would see him and I’d say, “It’s just a bird!” and he would smile.
When I returned home I was checking in on a few of our more mobile Eldercare clients and asked them what it was like for them to be out in the community. The common theme in the replies was they felt like they were navigating in a foreign country where they did not speak the language and they did not understand the strange new customs and expectations. The world is changing so rapidly and it can be very intimidating to an older senior.
This makes so much sense and explains why ageing seniors tend to begin to limit their external interactions and restrict their life to the areas they can be comfortable in, usually their own home environment. If they are driving they note how fast and aggressive everyone is driving around them. If they are shopping in a grocery store they are pushed to the side as younger people hurry past them.
This contraction in a seniors’ world can lead to loneliness and depression, especially in the winter months. A recent BBC documentary highlighted the epidemic of loneliness in Great Britain that is affecting the lives of millions of seniors, that same trend is occurring in Canada. In GB the government has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to develop strategies and enact legislation to counter this. Our country would do well to work along the same lines. Making communities ‘Senior-Friendly’ and educating the general public on how to interact in a dignified and respectful way towards our oldest citizens.
And to just add one small footnote, as I sit here firmly in middle age I can see the two sides of the coin clearly. Young people today, (doesn’t that have a tone to it!), no seriously, young people today would do well to slow down a bit, stop with the idea that their appointment or their schedule is the most important thing in the world and take notice that other people are around them living their lives as well. This ties into the mindfulness that I spoke about last month. Be aware, breathe and be kind to others. Today people feel just a little too comfortable, making a scene and no one dares say anything, just a decade ago some one would be apt to tell the bird lady to calm down and stop disturbing everyone. But today we just kind of avert our eyes and stay silent. That is a new and different world for the senior to navigate.
Dr. Bruce Veltri is the founder of Victoria Eldercare, a non-medical Home Care company serving Norfolk and Western Haldimand Counties. Please visit victoriaeldercare.com or our Facebook page for more information. Call 519-429-2644 for immediate assistance.