Posted in Elder Abuse, Scamming the Elderly

A Letter to a Scammer

Scams Against the Elderly are Going Unchecked in Our Suburbs

  • Too hard to prove!
  • Too sleazy to catch!
  • Leaving victims too embarrassed & too ashamed to report it!

***************************

Dear ‘Tom’ the Tree Man (or whoever you are this week),

Firstly, thank you for kindly offering your Tree-felling services at the home of an elderly client of mine, Mrs Maria Popalotova, approximately six months ago.

Lovely Maria is a proud but humble, 89-year old Bulgarian-born lady who, although substantially vision-impaired, still lives alone in her large family home, stews her own fruit (from her very own garden) and as the neighbours can testify – sings soprano in FULL voice whilst doing the housework chores. Although suffering a smidge of arthritis and prone to the odd fall (understandable when you’re officially legally blind), she is still mostly independent and in damn good nick for an old girl.

Somehow, Tom, I suspect you may already have known some of this at the time?

In fact, Maria remarked to me not long after meeting you, that it was uncanny when you turned up on her doorstep one day, out of the blue, like you did. Straight after that huge storm we had; the one where horrific winds caused such massive destruction in her area.

Oh, what a godsend you were, Tom!

How else could Maria ever have realised the danger she was in with that large eucalyptus tree in her backyard leaning so perilously close to her bedroom window? 

And, as you so earnestly advised her, it would only take one more big wind like the week before – and it could literally DESTROY HER ENTIRE HOUSE, didn’t you say, Tom?  Crikey, Tom… you told Maria that THIS would happen:

Really, THIS?

And, therefore, it was imperative for Maria’s own safety, as you told her at the time, that the tree be removed IMMEDIATELY.

Oh, and what luck it was, Tom… that Maria had all that cash hidden away on the ledge above the kitchen stove, in her little secret teapot, the pretty white one with the pansies on it. Coincidentally, the precise amount you required to start the job, Tom – exactly $2000. What luck!

And a BARGAIN, you said, considering how the now terrified Maria’s life could literally be at stake if the teetering tree wasn’t removed by Friday. Why, it was pittance, really.

As you said, Tom, it would be foolish (and very “un-Australian”) NOT to pay you! And so she paid you willingly, Tom, because you were just so caring and concerned for her wellbeing.

Which is why Maria understood completely when you ever-so-politely insisted, that you have the cash up front to buy materials NOW.

IT WAS BECAUSE YOU CARED, TOM!

To be honest, finding people that actually do ‘care’ as much as you do, Tom, is pretty thin on the ground these days. Especially after hearing all these dreadful stories about elderly people being scammed by all sorts of dodgy tradesmen and fake utility servicemen. 

Innocent elders who are conned out of money that they’ve saved up during their working lives; nest-eggs for retirement enabling them to enjoy their golden years; or just money set aside for increased medical costs due to the inevitable health issues associated with ageing.

And then there’s the appalling fraudsters, the lowest of the low, who just randomly turn up at people’s doors, unscrupulously offering so-called urgent maintenance of phone, gas or power lines.

Because nobody DARES mess with a potentially broken one of these. 

As a scare tactic – IT’S PERFECT!  

Then there’s the scoundrels posing as contractors who scope out neighbourhoods, watching for lonely and vulnerable older adults who, desperate for company, are more than happy to believe the “nice man” at their front door. 

And that these ‘necessary’ property repairs, such as broken roof tiles, brickwork, cracked concrete paths, driveways or garden maintenance – are absolutely genuine.

Come to think of it, Tom, a bit like the work you offered to do for Maria, wasn’t it?

It’s actually quite sad (and scary) to think that innocent senior citizens living alone are such easy targets to these con artists, merely because they TRUST people. 

Such a nasty world out there, Tom, when you think about it… to know that someone could sink that low?

Nothing dodgy about this van.
No! Not a thing…

And I’m sure it wasn’t your fault you were delayed, Tom. 

As Maria said, you probably had a lot of other work in the area that needed doing, too. In fact, it was only a few weeks back when she said she thought you would return any day now. That you and your little unmarked yellow van would pull into her driveway with all the special equipment needed to get that pesky tree down before it did any major damage.

SHE STUCK BY YOU, TOM!

Even when the contact details on your most professional-looking business card came back with ‘number not in service’…. she still had faith that you’d honour your word. Maria actually worried about you, Tom, and she hoped that nothing bad had happened to you.

Isn’t that sweet?

Funny thing about the big allegedly ‘dangerous’ gumtree, and perhaps you were looking at it from the wrong angle, Tom? But a man from the council came to check it out the other day and confirmed that the it could never have been a threat to Maria’s home. Even if it did fall over – it just wasn’t big enough!

Strange, huh?

Sadly, Tom, in the last month or so, I have noticed a change in dear Maria. She is so much quieter than she used to be; she seems fearful and she’s lost a lot of her confidence and now relys on outside help with her daily routine more than she ever used to.

It’s painful to watch her become this way, Tom – almost as if she has given up on, well… PEOPLE?

Definitely hard to believe she’s the same bubbly lady who once sang (with gusto!) in the shower, bottled her own nectarines and enjoyed social bus trip outings with the local Golden-Agers club. 

Instead she prefers to just stay at home alone.  And just sit. 

Her family now worry because Maria has become so frail and unwell that she can clearly no longer cope by herself. 

Just… heart-breaking.

Anyway, wherever you are, Tom… thanks so much again for all you’ve done.  I heard only last Friday, that Maria’s home had been sold and she has since been re-located into an aged-care facility situated miles away from the life and the people she once knew and loved.

So in the meantime, one question… sorry, Tom. I know you’re such a busy and important man and all…

Would you mind if some devious sleaze-ball did this to YOUR dear old Mum?!?!

We are NOT amused.

Yours in disgust, 

(On behalf of beautiful, broken Maria)

Cheers, Dollie


Posted in Aged Care, Respect

The Wooden Bowl

Just a nice story about Compassion & Respect (and wayward peas!)

“I guarantee you will remember this tale of The Wooden Bowl, a week from now, a month from now, a year from now. It goes like this:

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. Every night, the family ate together at the table.

Unfortunately, the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped his glass, he always spilled milk on the tablecloth. The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess.

“We must do something about my father,” said the son. ‘I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.”

The husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather would eat alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner at the big table. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl. If the dropped the bowl, it would clatter with a loud noise, but at least it would not break.

This went on for some time. When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food. The four-year-old watched it all in silence. 

One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, “What are you making?”

Just as sweetly, the boy responded, “Oh, I am making a little wooden bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.” The four-year-old smiled and went back to work. 

The words so struck the parents that they were speechless. They looked at each other, and felt a cold sensation wash over them. Though no words were spoken, both knew they had acted poorly and needed to take action. 

That evening the husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

<Author Unknown>

A big ol’ BOWL

“On a positive note, I’ve learned that, no matter what happens, how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles four things:  a rainy day, the elderly, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life’.

I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.

I’ve learned that you shouldnt go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back sometimes.

I’ve learned that if you pursue happiness, it will elude you.  But if you focus on your family, your friends, the needs of others, your work and doing the very best you can – happiness will find you.

I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decisions.

I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I dont have to be one.

I’ve learned that every day, you should reach out and touch someone.  People love that human touch; holding hands, a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.

I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.”

Pesky, trouble-making peas…

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers,
Dollie


Posted in Aged Care, Working with Elderly

Lovely Lips for Lois

Love amongst the Lipsticks?

I witnessed the most perfect display of selfless and unconditional love today.  An unexpected, yet beautifully-presented scene that just randomly played out before me – in rotten old Target, of all places.

And while I’m pleased that I happened upon such a thought-provoking little interlude, I’m also doubly chuffed that I managed to snap a very nice photo of it as well. Working in the aged-care industry, I’ve long since realised the value of capturing the special moments as they come along – no matter how inconsequential they might seem at the time.

A picture is worth a thousand words, don’t they say?  

I hope you’ll find this heart-warming piccy, which I’ve saved ’til the end of my story (hee hee because I can), worthy of being talked about.

In the meantime, a picture of some cheeky looking Galahs to tide you over:

Who’s a pretty boy then?

Let me set the scene:

Firstly, and you may not know this, but shopping centres during the week days, transform into what can only be described as the perfect pensioners paradise!

Yes, indeedy. For while the rest of us are off being dutifully occupied at work or school (or ‘other’), teams of opportunistic Retirees get to roam freely in herd-like fashion throughout the malls.  Albeit a silver-haired, slowwww moving herd – but a herd all the same.

Hey, they’ve got the time – why shouldn’t they make a day of it?

Chatting leisurely with other like-minded Golden-Agers, casually pushing trolleys or towing low-maintenance free-wheeled trolley devices… they get their errands run unhindered, unflustered and un-rushed. Enjoying the shopping experience safely at their own pace and without judgement or pressure from any of us raucous unruly lot, thank you very much.

Not to mention packing out cafes and teashops to the brim when it’s half-time and they’re primed for the proverbial nice hot cuppa.  (Cream cake too, if blood sugar meds allow it).

Fear not though, for by the time we self-appointed important peeps all barrel into the shops and the supermarkets to hunt and gather for the family din-dins, these older folk are long gone.  Back at home, unpacked and un-shoed…they’ve completed their quests and are now poised in recliners awaiting the next thrilling instalment of Family Feud.

Yet, here I found myself today, thanks to a late cancellation, breaking all of society’s sacred unwritten rules… I decided to make an impromptu visit to my local shopping centre.

And as I stood in the Toiletries aisle languishing in such mid-morn freedom, deliberating on whether to go the strawbs or the vanilla flavoured lip balm (it’s a tough life), I could hear a softly-spoken male voice at the cosmetics section behind me.  Upon changing my angle, I saw it was an older gent with white hair standing alongside what was evidently his matching elderly wife in a wheelchair. 

With stiff stooped shoulders and her wasted hands lay motionless in her lap, she clearly had serious health problems (I speculated she may’ve had a stroke or maybe MS, but hard to really know).  However, that wasn’t an issue for this pair who, oblivious to me and my life-threatening lip balm dilemma, were focused on choosing lipsticks.

And even more fortunately for her, I thought – her husband was doing it spectacularly!

“Honey Beige, Melting Melon, Glazed Caramel… what the heck?  Some of these colours, Lois… sounds more like food to me.  That reminds me, we’ll do the groceries after this”.

Lovely-sounding-hubby was now donning his reading specs in order to decipher the ridiculously teeny tiny writing found on most lippys.  A man on a mission and with no shop assistant in sight, he clearly felt at ease in what was typically a woman’s domain.  Regardless of her health state, his wife was still a lady and therefore there was no reason in the world why she shouldn’t maintain the beauty regimes that allowed her to feel feminine and ‘normal’.   

“Pink Opal… Berry Beauty… Flushed Fuchsia.  But they’re ALL pink!  There’s just such a lot to pick from, Lois.  And I was thinking ‘pink’ was just PINK!”

In my head I had to agree…. STUPID SAME-COLOURED LIPSTICKS!

Pink, Pink – YOU STINK!

“Nude Mauve!”

“Erotic Blush!”

“Ravishing Rose!”

“Good gracious me, darling… a bit naughty-sounding some of them, might be a bit much?”

I laughed out loud at this comment, nearly blowing my cover but managed to change position while edging closer to the action.

“Here, let’s try this one, Lois.  Forever Precious it’s called… that’s definitely you my darling.  And it’s such a pretty pink.”

As Lois sat motionless, in her purely supervisory capacity, her adoring spouse crouched down before her to apply yet another shade of pink to the back of his wife’s lifeless hand.  They’d obviously been at it for a while because they seemed to have the routine down pat.  He would mark her skin for testing, pause to stand back and admire, then discuss yes? Or no? (with himself) before a gentle wipe with the tissue in preparation for the next one. 

So, yes by now I was melting on the inside – it was just gorgeous to watch!

“This Smokey Pearl one here… that’ll match your new pink blouse, Lois. The one we bought for Bryce’s graduation.  But let’s get the Charming Coral one as well.  Just in case, yes?”

Apparently, Lois could speak but it must’ve been only just, as he had to lean his ear right into her face to hear her.

“Ha ha yes!  ‘Charming’ – just like me!  Ha ha ha… good one, darling”

Brilliant! Lois was being silly too!

“Here’s one…Spiced Coffee.  Oh, for goodness sake, Lois!  How about we have a think about it all and go get some ‘spiced coffee’ of our own at that nice café over there; they might have some ‘glazed caramel’ we can chew on too.  What fun!”

As they wheeled off out of the shop, I couldn’t see Lois’s face, but I felt sure she would be smiling and thoroughly enjoying herself.  Having such a kind and genuinely loving man by her side, helping her choose lipsticks no less.

WHAT MAN DOES THAT?!

And how he spoke to her…. the way he interacted with her!  Such patience and grace, the undeniable care and commitment he showed for his dear disabled wife; it was truly truly admirable. 

In fact, I had no doubt that Lois, in her sad wheely-bound existence, thanks to this sweet and devoted man – got to smile every single day of her life .

Now, as promised——- the photo to end all photos!  

ENJOY.

A Thousand Words.

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers, Dollie
Posted in Aged Care, Working with Elderly

The Lighter Side of Working in Aged Care

“It’s all fun and games… until someone loses their bladder!”

I’ve noticed lately that a lot of jobs advertised in the Aged-Care sector are now listing ‘sense of humour’ as one of the more desirable personal characteristics required from potential applicants.

Right up there alongside the usual skill-set buzzwords: compassion, empathy… yadda yadda… time-management, communication, etc etc etc it seems that a lot of Care providers are now recognising the merit to be gained in employing Support Workers who are capable of seeing the lighter side of their roles.

Not that we ‘funny-bunnies’ don’t consider our work with older adults as meaningful or important. Ahhh no, quite the opposite.  In fact, more is the case where those who CAN have a laugh (and don’t feel they have to take everything so seriously all the time), end up with far greater job satisfaction as a consequence of receiving such fabulous positive feedback from their much-amused clients!  

Because there’s little doubt how beneficial humour can be when meeting an elderly client – especially for that harrowing first time.  Not meaning you need to perform party tricks or stand on your head and act the clown. More just in understanding your client; seizing those unexpected instances as they occur and utilising them to develop a good happy, healthy relationship.

You know… tell them the silly story about your wheelbarrow at home with the dicky wheel or how your new kitten got into your knitting bag and found itself tangled in a ball of red yarn under the sofa – and then let them share similar humorous anecdotes with you.

We all know that there’s nothing like a good ol’ laugh to improve overall wellbeing, to strengthen friendships or just to promote a jolly good mood.

Laughing and Leaking
– both easier to do the older we get

So, as a care-worker in your client’s home, merely being observant and discovering what interests your client has, understanding what makes them tick… can make it a heck of a lot easier for you to change tactics if required, and direct your game plan accordingly.

As a coping strategy, too, an intuitive carer should also understand the benefits of how a funny story, or a witty one-liner can be tactfully used to distract an ageing adult who is clearly agitated that you have arrived at their home in the first place. They’ve decided in advance that they won’t like you and therefore will be totally resistant to your charms. No matter what!

“I DON’T NEED YOUR HELP, GIRLIE!”

In my experience, discretely changing the subject, injecting a fresh but genuine perspective into the conversation can diffuse most potential challenging behaviour before it gets a chance to gather momentum.

Just by sharing a refreshingly waggish viewpoint in a senior’s often mundane existence can be enough to crack even the hardest of old nuts (yes, a lukewarm smile still counts).  Achieve this and you’ll gain trust and win them over before they’ve had a chance to realise how much they actually DO like you after all.

The awkwardness of nudity at shower time is always a good test of a carer’s inter-personal communication skills. But be brave, just chat away and show how you thoroughly enjoy the company of your new NAKED client, ever so much!

In fact, I’m often surprised, how even the most insignificant occurrence or absurdity, can turn a stilted situation into a side-splitting laugh feast in an instant!

Take my new client from yesterday morning: a frail and reluctant 91-year old Gladys Liverspot. Obviously already annoyed and feeling quite indignant that “my-regular-girl-Angie” was not available to help her shower – she’d been informed by the office that she was stuck with me instead.

Oh, I’d attempted to initialise conversation for sure. I was bubbly… yet professional. I showed genuine interest in the brand new kitchen cupboards she’d just had installed. Plus, I’d admired the heck out of her grandson’s never-ending pile of wedding photos.

But as we progressed through her showering routine I got nothing back from Gladys.  Instead, she seemed damned determined to remain cool and aloof.

That is, until it came time to wash her ‘lady bits’ and, as I do, I asked Gladys if she wanted help with that.

“Oh, you mean my Fanny-by-Gaslight!” 

Well, that was it!  Such a random unexpected thing to hear a little old lady say – I cracked up big time.

And blow me down… Gladys clearly LOVED me for it!  In fact, she joined in too!

Seemingly, my hysterical response to her quirky turn of phrase was just the reaction Gladys needed to accept me into her world.  It showed her that I understood her; that I was on her wave-length. I was someone who could appreciate her inanely dated comment and therefore I was worthy to be part of her day.

Before I left (and still giggling like schoolgirls), I was rewarded with a nice cuppa and the ginger crunch slice that Gladys usually reserved for her special visitors.

So there! Take that, “My-regular-girl-Angie”...!!!

Sometimes I laugh so hard
– the tears run down my leg !!!

Ironically too, there are days where laughing at yourself can be all that keeps you sane.  Nothing like putting your foot in it with a slip of the ol’ verbal faux-pas; those unintentional moments when you haven’t thunk before you’ve opened your gob. 

Here’s a couple of my finest:

Offering left-arm amputee Sheila Greensleeves to help wipe down her bench top… “Can I give you a hand with that?”

Or saying “Gee that IS a big one!” …  the exact same moment Terry Wang drops his tweeds at shower time (I was actually referring to the giant mutant cactus plant towering outside his bathroom window, truly I was)

And just out of habit, to my new and totally bald-headed client, Jim Wiggington… Are we washing your hair today, Sir?”

As soon as I pop these humdingers out – I kick myself.  But at the same time, it shows I’m only human and, as unbelievable as it may seem, I make mistakes too.  Thankfully, all my clients (thus far) have forgiven me whenever I’ve let slip and more often than not, we end up having a bit of a cackle about it as well.

It’s all in the way you handle the situation and anyway, they know it was not intended.  I’m just happy that my dear clients can relax enough and feel at ease around me to have a laugh in the first place.

“Oh Dollie, you are a ONE”, they say.

And I guess I am.

Reciprocally, I love those unexpected humorous one-offs that my clients can spring on me, too!

Incidental quips they throw in along the way like an off-the-wall remark that takes you by surprise and makes you realise that being old, doesn’t necessarily mean you are any less witty than the rest of the wacky world.

And you are most certainly not laughing AT your clients; you are laughing either with them or it’s just the situation at the time when something comical has occurred.

Like the time I was applying skin lotion to the legs of a very fragile and diminutive, Mr Eddie Shuffleboard.

Sitting patiently on the edge of his bed one morning, I squatted in front of Eddie, fiddling about with the pair of most unyielding compression stockings versus his clammy freshly-moisturised skin (the bloody things never want to play nice).  After several minutes battling away, huffing and puffing all the way, I finally managed to wrench the stockings into position on Eddie’s legs.

VICTORY SHALL BE MINE !!

From the sheer exhaustion of it all, I then went to plonk myself on the bed beside him. As I landed on what had to be the world’s most ultra-springiest single mattress, like a stunt gone wrong out of Cirque du Soleil… up poor old Eddie went BOINGGGG!  Catapulted straight into the air he ended up falling squarely onto my knee in a position similar to a toddler sitting on his mother’s lap.

Then, without missing a beat, Eddie announces with the cheekiest smile on his face:

We really have to stop meeting like this, Dollie!” 

Surely one of the most hilarious (and perfectly timed) moments I’ve experienced on the job and after chuckling our way through the rest of the shift, it was locked in that Eddie and I were to be bestest of buddies from then on.

So, don’t feel guilty about enjoying the funny side of your client’s antics or worry that you’re being disrespectful or insensitive to their needs…OH MY GOD, YOU DON’T CARRRRRE!

Because of course you do.

Will we laugh about it later?

And don’t forget, encouraging laughter during a tense or delicate moment can actually offer relief to a fraught pensioner who may find solace in seeing you appear so calm and unflappable.

Embarrassing little interludes too, can have the edge sliced off them with a nifty bit of light relief.

Like the time I went to assist the delightful 94-year old Reggie Windbottom out of his armchair, just as he let rip an extremely loud FART that startled us both and made his trusty Border Collie leap up onto the couch.

“Outside, Wally!” Reg and I both bellowed at the same time. (If in doubt, blame the dog).

Oh my, how we laughed!

But most of all, and because it reminds me a lot of my own grandfather and the funny stories he used to tell us growing up… I love it how some of my elderly gents (hardly ever the ladies it seems) have a wide-ranging repertoire of good old-fashioned punchlines that they love to rattle off whenever you visit.

For example, here’s a couple of pearlers from 92-year old Dermot O’Farrell, one of my favourite yarn-spinners.  Of course, his Irish accent makes them that much funnier – even better when he has his teeth in!

Did you hear about Bruce who lost his whole left side? He’s all RIGHT now.

What do you call a fly with no wings? A walk.

What time did Bob go to the dentist? Tooth hurt-y.

A mushroom walks into a bar and orders a drink. The bartender tells him to get out.  The mushroom says, “But why… I’m a fun-guy?!”

A blind man walks into a bar….and a table… and a chair… and a door… and and and…

To conclude folks, laughter may not be the best (and only) medicine your elderly client has to take, but if you can lift spirits by slipping a bit of jocularity into their day, it’s a grand way to start.

As the irrepressible Dermot so eloquently likes to put it: “If you can’t have a good laugh at yourself – then you’re just a miserable old sod!”

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers,
Dollie
Posted in Aged Care, cooking, Working with Elderly

When Old Dogs, Learn New Cooking Tricks

Pommy-granitt! What’s THAT when it’s at home?

I’ve been having some interesting discussions with my clients lately and it’s all about one of my fave topics – FOOD.

In particular, are the seniors who’ve realised it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the presence of all the bizarre, oddly-shaped fruit & veg on trend and fearlessly on display at the supermarkets nowadays.  

With elbows leaned furtively on shopping carts they drift nonchalantly down the aisles, the majority with little idea what these new species are, what they DO… or how to even peel one. Suffice to say, there’s little chance they’ll be cooking with one of them any time soon!  

Off the top of my head there’s kale, pomegranates, avocados (the smashing of) and the phenomena known as “keen-wah” just to name a few that appear to be causing angst among my sceptical over 80’s mob. 

Pomegranate earrings?
– wardrobe essential

Advised by their GPs or concerned family members (and splashed all over the lifestyle mags)… that these peculiar so-called ‘Superfoods’ are packed full of disease-fighting goodies. And that by consuming these natural beauties, elders decrease the probability of developing chronic illness, rehabilitate faster if they do, and subsequently, increase their chances of living forever.  

WIN-WIN-WIN!

Which got me thinking that not only is it technology that an older adult is pressured to adopt and understand in today’s frantically progressive world.

It’s also about what we EAT.

Having grown up in arguably more frugal times (where food wasn’t permitted to be the obsession that it is now), it’s understandable why the mature-ager might find some of the latest meal trends confusing and intimidating. People are living for longer that’s true, but it’s a scientific fact that age-related health issues such as diabetes, stroke or heart disease (conditions that would have once knocked you off in your 60’s) are now being managed more efficiently, purely by what we stick in our mouths.

Unfortunately along the way… food over-sensitivity, allergies and intolerances have also become commonplace and it’s been a huge learning curve for many ‘old-school’ folk to not only embrace the modern ideals toward the food they eat, but to accept that their own health may be in jeopardy if they don’t.

Noticeable, are the strange codes added to the selections on the menus of our favourite restaurants. Shown as GF, LF or V for example, these nifty symbols offer the diner-outer all sorts of solutions to their dietary dilemmas. Although they may baffle some who are afraid to ask and feel it’s easier just to stick their heads in their Vine-RipenedTomato, Roast Bell Pepper & Basil soup than have to ‘get with the times’ and figure it all out.  

No such thing as a Nut Allergy when we were kids. Oh, except when I first met my Douggie at the school dance – he was nutty alright!”

How can being a Vegetarian be good for you? Eating too many greens… GIVES ME THE SQUIRTS!”

Special Dietary Requirement? That’s me making sure I have a wine with dinner!”

Not sure about this ‘organic food’ thing… in my day, it was just called FOOD”

Gluten-free, you say. So, I have to eat less glutes?!?!”

Not to mention all the latest cookbooks encouraging us to replace the tried-and-true ingredients of our classic recipes with slinkier, nutrient-laden alternatives. Gone are the days where a lump of meat (“whatever’s on special, dear”) is bunged into the oven in a layer of lard with a wheelbarrow-load of salt tipped over it to enhance flavour! 

Instead, poor old Mum, has had to haul herself out of her lifelong culinary comfort zone to produce such delights as a zucchini & feta fritter, organic eggplant fries and get her head around long lanky limbs of broccolini… steamed for 23 seconds (no-more, no less) for her son’s pretty, but pedantic Vegan yoga-instructor fiancee.

The Art of Murdering BROCCOLI

No longer can she happily enjoy the spitting of lamb chops as they fry unmercilessly on the stove top as she did in ye olden days either. Ah no!  They must be eased gently under the grill and then delicately dabbed at repeatedly with a roll of triple-ply paper towels to ensure every last dot of oil has been safely extracted.

OH GOD, DON’T MAKE ME FAT!

She then has to skill-up on the magic of the ‘shop and chop’ – buying, and then dicing great sprigfuls of fresh herbs, fancy-schmancy spices and hearty wholesome marinades (no additives, PLEASE!) in the quest to present modern adaptations of traditional feasts to her fussy grown-up family.  

Which can be bloody hard work when Mama has a dicky knee, arthritic hands and poor eyesight!

But, as a carer on the go, I do find it exciting and hugely inspiring when some of my tentative, yet inquisitively brave clients at least give it a go. Seizing this new ‘foodie’ adventure by it’s entrails and taking an active interest in managing their own health with all the exotic, albeit daunting-looking food choices they can now make.  

And even more impressively – is the trendy cooking techniques they’ve learnt to whip it all together!

One of my clients, for example, 90 year old Bert Walloven is a lovely chap who nearly fell to bits living on just boiled eggs, fish paste & water-crackers, after his wife died last year. However, he pulled himself up by his apron strings and found new vigour in teaching himself how to bake Banana Loaf in a super posh bread-maker appliance he found at the back of ‘the wife’s’ pantry. 

Every Tuesday afternoon when I visit Bert now, he insists I make time before I leave, for a compulsory taste test of a slice of his latest creation. Ahh yes, any excuse for a cuppa and a chat! None of your plain boring stodge either – last week it was Pumpkin Bread with honey oat and cranberry chunks. 

Delish!

Bake it up, Bert!

Interesting to note, I find the biggest motivator for my elders to climb aboard the Superfood train and include more fresh raw ingredients in their diet, is the possibility that it lessens the chances of them developing Alzheimer’s disease.  Whether that’s true or only slightly true-ish… (and it can’t hurt) it seems many seniors, terrified of losing brain function, will go to great lengths to prevent this from happening and do whatever it takes to maintain the health of their minds.

Indeed, it turns out that you CAN teach a dog of more advanced years new tricks! It merely depends on whether the old Golden Retriever in question is willing (and open-minded enough), to give the tricks a go.

We all feel nervous when it comes to trying new things – of course we do! A fear of failure, feeling unsafe and exposed, or the big one… looking dumb in front of others. And with this traditionalist Boomer generation, it’s understandable why they’d stubbornly opt to stay with the mindset that they’ve already made it through the obstacles of life; they’ve come through ‘the War’ living on sausage meat and sawdust.  They’ve acquired all the learning needed for survival so “there’s nothing more I need to know, thank you very much!”  

A perspective that sadly means the ability to grow (and thrive) by learning new tricks and empowering themselves with new lifestyle choices which might just allow them to not only live longer but live BETTER, gets lost in the despair and gloominess of  ‘being old’.  

Instead slumped into recliners, watching life pass them by with a rug over their knees, and beans on toast or a mug of something for dinner yet again, is as tricky as some can cope with.

Now, shut the damn gate when you leave, Missy!

Which, thankfully, is NOT the case for Bert and his Breadmaster 2000!  Lovely Bert informs me his latest project is a wholemeal caramel, apple & quinoa Pecan Loaf. And “just for fun”, it’s also going to involve (winkity, wink)… A RUM SWIRL.

Oh yes, roll on next Tuesday!

Arrrrh, ’tis true, me Hearties

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers,
Dollie
Posted in Aged Care, health issues, Working with Elderly

The Hard, Dry & Flaky Facts of Ageing Skin

It seems the SKIN… that I’m IN… is terribly, terribly… THIN!”

Ever wondered why you never see a loofah brush, exfoliating mitt, nor any other type of abrasive body-scrubbing device in an elderly person’s bathroom? That’s not counting the mandatory piece of dried-up pumice stone once used to file corns and callouses from busy hard-working purposeful feet of a lifetime ago.

Well, there’s good reason for it apparently.  Summed up perfectly by 89 year old Lizzy Waterduck as I chatted to her during her shower last week:  

“At my age? Crikey, I’d end up skinned alive like a Chinese dog if I used one of those now!”

Understandably, for most of the older adults I visit in their homes, their skin is a fairly pertinent issue.  They know only too well that if something new or unusual appears on their outer – there’s a darn good chance that something more threatening may be happening on their inner.

Physiological changes such as connective tissue breakdown, the lessening of elastin and collagen production, a limited ability to retain moisture, plus an increasingly slower metabolism in general – all contribute to the breakdown of our skin’s integrity as we age.  

And as a consequence of this dermal deterioration, we then get to watch in despair as the inevitable creases, folds and ridges creep leisurely onto our skin’s surface to create that familiar ‘old person’ look…

Come on, sing it with me now:  WRINKLES!

Throw in the exhaustion of the juicy subcutaneous fat layer beneath, too, means the natural oils which once protected us from damage and gave skin it’s firm, voluptuous appearance – are depleted.  Leaving elders with a moisture-less, thinned barrier that’s vulnerable to anything untoward.

Oh yes, defences by this stage, are most definitely down!  

Understandably, with skin that’s as delicate and translucent as Lizzy Waterduck’s, the last thing she’d ever consider doing as part of her shower routine, even if she might have done regularly in her decadent middle-aged years… is to slough off yet another (possibly the last) layer from her precious epidermal.

Of course, other contributing factors such as lifestyle, genetics and diet can also throw a pensioner’s skin balance out of whack.  Interestingly, one of the major roles of our outer dermis is to maintain the body’s natural thermostat.  Which explains why so many seniors seem to spend most of their days grumbling how cold they are, even in the height of a summer heatwave.

“Brrrr… shut the dam door, girlie!”

Progressing into our ‘twilight’ years, means we might also get to grow the odd unsightly skin tags, unflattering strangely-shaped moles and, prevalent on the backs of hands, balding heads, ears, arm, noses and necks… are the browny-coloured ‘liver’ or sun spots we immediately associate with ‘being old’. 

These annoying tell-tale blemishes are a result of spending entire lives being hat-less and factor-less for long periods exposed to the outside elements.  And declaring “but we didn’t know any better”, does nothing to fix the skin damage already caused.  

Sadly, it doesn’t matter how much sunscreen grandad coats himself in now, it’s a case of too-little too-late for these old timers.

Ahhh good times…
Good skin-destroying times!

And there are other less than delightful skin conditions we become more predisposed to as we age.   Dermatitis, eczema and pruritis are afflictions which are all identifiable with dry, ageing skin and will continue to drive itchy, older folk to reach for the tried-and-true camomile lotion by the gallon.

But flaky, scaly skin is a bad thing when you’re an older peep because when skin has become so dry that it’s now irritated and cracking open, there is opportunity galore for serious infection to enter and thrive it’s head off.

With immunity already compromised in sick or frail seniors or those suffering with pre-existing health complaints, the skin, whose job as the built-in protection layer stopping the big bad germ-laden world from entering our bodies and making us unwell, becomes weakened and unable to hold ground when it’s really needed most.

A seemingly small injury to a mature-ager’s cutaneal areas (even the slightest scratch), if not treated appropriately, can easily lead to serious complications and a much longer recovery time leaving an elder either in hospital… or in a very, very bad mood!

Indeed, depending on the state of it – our skin can quite literally mean the difference between life and death!  

More significantly for an anxious pensioner, it can also mean the difference between remaining at home or being despatched to live in an aged-care facility… ie: the dreaded nursing home.

Fresh flaps – most important!

I get to observe a lot of elderly skin when I visit my clients at this stage of their lives. Assisting them to shower and maintain regular hygiene habits is integral to self-esteem, dignity and indicative to the rest of the world (ie: suspicious adult children) that they’re still capable of living independently.

And although not medically trained, an experienced carer can become quite astute in recognising symptoms of potential health issues, merely by observing the condition or noting even slight changes in a naked senior’s skin – especially at shower time.

Bruises, for example, can be discovered during Personal Care shifts and might be the result of a fall, walking into the coffee table – or possibly from something more sinister? A quick mention here regarding Elder Abuse and that ALL suspicions of such should be reported immediately and without hesitation.

Haematoma (bruising) can look dreadful on pale older skin and thanks to sluggish metabolisms, may take months to totally heal and fade. Not helped by certain medications used to control inflammatory conditions so common in old age (stiff joints, arthritis, COPD, diabetes etc) which, as a pesky side-effect, can leave seniors exceptionally prone to bruising.  

Such as one of my clients, 79 year old Hilary Greentree who relies on steroidal drugs to control symptoms of her advancing emphysema.  These powerful meds offer a fabulous quality of life and are literally life-saving for someone like Hilary.  

More importantly (she informs me), they allow her to be top of her game on the golf course!  

BUT… it was discovered recently, that Hilary’s skin had in fact become so thinned and susceptible to even the slightest touch that something as flimsy as the seam on her new golf slacks is enough to cause extensive black and blue marks down both her shins.  

I mean, did you EVER?

Bruises on your SHIN
And you won’t want to GRIN

For obvious reasons, assisting a senior to wash their outer body involves common sense, a good bit of empathy and patience… plus a WHOLE LOTTA care and attention.  Jagged fingernails or solid objects such as jewellery, rings etc can inflict catastrophic damage to paper-thin skin – and often with very minimal force applied.

Cringe-worthy is the story about a carer once who, worrying about getting to her next job on time, ripped an enormous gash in her client’s calf while attempting to yank up his support hose (commonly used to control circulation probs in the lower limbs). In her haste, she hadn’t realised the tag on the garment had accidentally embedded itself into the poor old gent’s skin which then sliced deeply all the way up his leg as she pulled.

Ohhhh, THE HUMANITY!

Which explains why some of my more delicate ladies fear using a standard flannel or wash cloth that the rest of us ruffians take for granted.  Instead, they prefer to wash with a tiny square of baby muslin or light-weight sponge, both of which seem so floaty and flimsy – you wonder if it’s worth bothering! 

There’s certainly no RUBBING or SCRUBBING involved.  Just a lot of gentle circles and tender dabbing to ensure their sensitive aged skin is left suitably cleansed, and more importantly – unbroken.

Thankfully, it turns out that the older you get, the less cleansing your skin actually requires.  With retirement marking an inevitable slump in physical activity, there are now far less occasions to get a big ‘sweat-up’ like we once might have.  Common thought now is that it’s more than adequate for a senior to instead shower every other day (or less), thereby allowing natural oils in the skin a chance to replenish and build resistance against all the nasties.

“And so I can get my GLOW on!” 

As one of my lovelies, Gladys Gigglestick, proudly preaches.

Funnily enough, Gladys swears by sweet almond oil as her choice of showertime lather – and NEVER soap. 

“Because soap is just too harsh and leaves me dry, rashy and itchier than an old man’s tweed vest”. 

Which is fair enough when you’re 95 and you’ve been in this bathing game long enough to know!  Admittedly, the almond oil (which smells devinely like Christmas pudding) does leave Gladys’ skin noticeably well-nourished and ever so moisty.  

Although, when she holds my arm stepping out of the shower, I have to make sure I plant my feet firmly to keep us both steady… blimmen ‘eck, she’s as shiny and slippery as an eel!

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers,
Dollie



Posted in Aged Care, Working with Elderly

Cranky Old Man

What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you’re looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food .. . … . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . .’I do wish you’d try!’

Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not . . . … lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
Is that what you’re thinking?. .Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse .you’re not looking at me.

I’ll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he’ll meet.

A groom soon at Twenty . . . ..my heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.

At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me . . to see I don’t mourn.
At Fifty, once more, .. …Babies play ’round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future … . . . . I shudder with dread.

For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . And the love that I’ve known.
I’m now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It’s jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigour, depart.
There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
And I’m loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
Not a cranky old man .
Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. …. . ME

(Originally ‘Crabbit Old Woman’ by Phyllis McCormack (1966); adapted by Dave Griffith)

Reflections…

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers,
Dollie

Posted in Aged Care, Working with Elderly

Elderly Constipation – the In’s & Outs

“And it’s a Pain in the Butt!”

Being constipated STINKS.

Certainly, nobody likes talking about constipation out loud, let alone having to endure the often excruciating pain associated from suffering with it.  In fact truth be told, and much like being constipated… I’m finding it hard work bearing-down to squeeeeeze out my thoughts and write about it.

Let’s face it, as distasteful (and smelly) as the subject of constipation is… and as much as we might poo-poo it, the fact remains that as human beings sooner or later, we all have to ‘go’. 

The problem is of course when you CAN’T go.

Waiting…. waiting…

And although we are each so physiologically different (and what’s normal for one isn’t necessarily normal for another) most doctors generally consider that five days or more of NOT being able to evacuate your bowels, means you pretty much to some degree, have become constipated.

Unsurprising to me, is how merely mentioning the word constipation in the presence of many of my elderly clients, can result instantly in a frowny screwed-up-nose face or clenched teeth.  Which is a worry because if there’s one thing bunged-up people of advanced age don’t need – is MORE clenching!

Sadly, and unfair as it may be however (and for a whole toilet-load of reasons), it is becoming typical that chronic constipation is more prevalent the older we get.

Oh, the joy!

10 Poopy reasons why Seniors are prone to Constipation:

  • Some medications (eg: pain meds) have constipation as a pesky side-effect
  • An ageing colon, as per the rest of an elderly peep’s body, may just not be as peppy as it once was
  • Dehydration from diuretics can cause people to wee more, resulting in an increase in fluid-loss causing stools to solidify
  • Retirement for some elders can mean a more sedentary lifestyle (ie: slow down your life = slow down your bowels)
  • Dietary changes (eg: during travel) or a loss of appetite mean a lack of proper nutrition involving ample quantities of fruit n veg.  You can never have too much fibre, Fibre, FIBRE!
  • Drinking less fluids allows for more chance of the dreaded Dehydration
  • Frequent digestive tract issues or the development of diseases can mean the likelihood of constipation is also increased
  • Various medical conditions associated with ageing are symptomatically linked to constipation – eg: MS, Diabetes, Parkinson’s
  • Being sick and/or bedridden for long periods encourages a lower metabolism rate.  You can’t remove it – if you don’t move it!
  • Depression, anxiety, stress, lack of sleep can all contribute to a sluggish bowel due to upset bodily functions and a hormonal balance that’s thrown everything out of whack
  • Blockage in or around the bowel/colon regions can physically prevent the elimination process from occurring…  an indication that something medically sinister may be afoot (a-bottom?) 
OUT, damn plop?

Mind you, it’s not just poo-less pensioners who battle with the anguish of infrequent faecal evacuation.  Most of us at some stage in our lives, have been ‘privy’ to the gassy, smelly delights associated with constipation.  And we know only too well, how much it can disrupt our quality of life by zapping our energy levels and leaving us feeling uncomfortable, bloated and… well, just SHIT really.

Sadly, it’s the older generation who seem to get struck more frequently with ongoing bouts of chronic constipation – and often it’s a symptom (or a stinky side-effect) of an underlying age-related health condition.

CONSTIPATION STORY TIME!

I’ll never forget the time I arrived at the home of one of my loveliest clients for the very first time.  A charming and gentle lady, Annie Turdsworth was the most-kindly person you could ever wish to meet (her Cream Cheese & Banana Nut loaf is pretty fabulous too).

Mmmm creamy, bananery, nutty goodness

On this particular day, I found her pouring over a pile of paperwork at her kitchen bench. 

It turns out, Annie has put up with a lifetime of suffering from various ongoing gastrointestinal complaints and long story short, since the day she turned 65, has been diagnosed with the crappiest lot of bowel disorders imaginable.  Ranging from IBS to diverticulitis and now most recently at age 87, they have decided she may have colon cancer.

And being that the specialist needed to know what her bowels were dishing out, Annie was instructed to keep a Poo diary of every time she ‘went’ to the toilet; how her stool looked, its colour, texture and shape etc. 

Oh lordy, you can imagine… the demure and deeply private Mrs Turdsworth was appalled!

Luckily, her doctor had a copy of the Bristol Stool Form scale (BSF) to wave in front of her and put her mortified mind at ease.

As a simple user-friendly picture rating system, the BSF enables people like Annie (who would rather DIE than discuss their bathroom habits) to utilise the handy-dandy illustrations to match up the appearance against their own stools.

So rather than having to say horrific words like “runny” or “hard pebbles”,  Annie could instead work discretely off her BSF guide and record the corresponding number of the day into her diary (once she got over the terror of looking inside the bowl, that is!)

I’m actually flattered that Annie feels brave enough to confide in me about something as personal as bowel movements (or lack thereof)…although it took a while for her to gain confidence.

“I think today Dollie, I’m more of a 2 than a 3” 

Now when I visit, we fill in her ‘log’ book together, along with the food she’s consumed in the last 24 hours all nice and neatly, for the doctor to peruse later.  Annie then pops the diary into an empty chocolate box, twists a large rubber band around it and then tucks the whole sordid package away out of sight in a drawer beside her bed. 

If we can’t see it, then does it actually exist?

What kind of STOOL am I?

At the other end of the Constipational spectrum, I should definitely make mention of another of my cherished clients, Maggie Cementballs.  Not only does the brazen 94 year old Maggie NOT require a picture chart to categorise her faecal formations, but because she is deaf (and refuses to wear her “posh” hearing aids in case she loses one) – we get to discuss it LOUDLY. 

“JUST SO YOU KNOW, DOLLIE… I HAVEN’T BEEN TO THE TOILET SINCE 1973!”

And we have a good laugh.

All kidding aside though, it would be fair to say dear old Mags suffers with what must surely be some the most crippling waste elimination woes in the entire universe.

Throw in a blossoming set of haemorrhoids, ongoing colon surgery and a couple of rectal prolapses – there’s not much poor Maggie hasn’t experienced when it comes to digestive complications and the torturous impacted-ness her bowel insists on putting her through. 

And she is more than happy to give me the full detailed account on her constipation problem-o-the-week.  I recall last week’s pooping particulars went something like this (note: this is in SHOUT format)- – –

WELL, I DON’T LET IT GO ON AND ON, OR I END UP IN AGONY – ONE CAN ONLY PUSH FOR SO LONG!  

AND FOR ONCE, THE PROBLEM IS NOT WITH THE ACTUAL GOING… IT’S THE FINISHING OFF BIT THAT’S ALL TOO HARD AT THE MOMENT.

…BUT I HAVE TO GET IT OUT, DOLLIE!  

I CAN’T WALK ROUND WITH THE THING HALF HANGING OUT OF ME, CAN I?” 

“CRIKEY NO, MAGGIE, YOU JUST CAN’T!”  I bellow back, with my super-concerned face on.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that I or anyone else can do for the long-suffering Maggie.  Due to her advanced years, doctors have advised that further surgery just isn’t viable ie: it would most likely kill her.

And therefore, all they can do is pump her full of pills, top up her pain-killers and assist her to manage the condition at home as best she can. Not much fun when you’re a frail old girl in your nineties and much like every other poor soul having a crappy time in the bathroom – all she ever really wants from life is a happy ending. Literally.

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers,
Dollie

Posted in Aged Care, Working with Elderly

10 Tips for Meeting an Older Adult at their Home for the First Time

An Aged-Care Worker’s Guide

Knocking on the front door of a newly-assigned elderly person’s home for that very first time is always an anxious few seconds, but understandably even more nerve-racking if you are a newbie to this ‘caregiver’ caper.

In fact, I recall many years ago the day of my first shift ever… standing at the top of the steps, staring at a stranger’s doorbell (of someone I would shortly be helping undress for their shower) and wondering if it was not too late to turn and run for the hills!

  • What if they don’t like me?
  • What if I run out of time?
  • WHAT IF I DO IT WRONG?!?!
Ding, DONG!
Anyone home?

I remember, too, thinking how I hadn’t really been forewarned on the reality of what to expect when arriving at a sceptical senior’s house for our first meeting.  I knew that I needed to be confident and professional in order to gain trust, but it turned out to be instinct I relied on to provide my client with a warm friendly vibe, that put them at ease.  I wanted them to know that not only was I was good at my job, but that I was a genuinely kind, empathetic person – and that I CARED too.

Luckily for me, my first client was the most adorably grateful, yet desperately frail gent who didn’t give a toot that I was a learner.  He was just so relieved to have me there.  

Which I guess at the end of the day is what it’s actually all about… THEM.

And NOT me.

So, I thought it might be helpful to list some essential, yet often over-looked pointers, to ensure the initial meet ‘n’ greet with your new client is as successful as it can possibly be. That brief, but impressionable moment where you get to reveal your amazing self and to plant the seed for a future mutually beneficial and respectful working relationship.  

Beware the twitching curtains…

1.   SMILE!

Appearing at your client’s door with the cheeriest, beaming-est face you can muster, will often be enough to knock the wind out of a potentially grumpy or resentful elder’s sails.  

Include a hearty ‘smile’ in your voice as well, which should nip any bad temper in the bud before they’ve had a chance to remember what they were cross about in the first place! 

Trust me, it works a treat – and what have you got to lose?  

2.   Use formal address – ALWAYS

Make a promise to yourself as an accomplished carer, to always use your client’s official title – especially for that initial intro:

“Hello, Mrs Picklehead, how are you today?

 Older generations were bought up believing that this is the ultimate sign of respect – and it’s never to be messed with. If you are unsure of their marital status (you will come across the odd hard-nut spinster out there who’s never married and who will soon let you know if you dare to assume she’s a Missus) –  in this case, it’s best to opt for the full name approach:

“Good morning… Marjorie Jackhammer, is it?”

And as daunting as it may seem, you should always attempt to pronounce your client’s surname, regardless of how tricky it might look on paper.  That’s including the culturally curly ones that contain just about every letter in the alphabet – including all five vowels TWICE.

I will never forget standing outside Mrs Gina Kantezkantopituolos’s door in a cold sweat at the thought of insulting her by ballsing up her name and having her hate me forever.  She actually confided in me later that she’d appreciated me having a try (as feeble as it was) because others never even bothered.  For that reason, she’d eventually become known as ‘Mrs K’ for the obvious reason.

“For efficiency’s sake”, she’d say.

Ultimately, ‘Gina’ and I got on so famously she insisted I call her by her first name anyway.  Phew…problem solved.

And who are you, Dear?

3.   Introduce yourself  

You’ll discover as you become more experienced and worldly, that some of your more dependant or unwell clients may have a whole army of carers, case workers, nurses, health professionals, specialists and home support people coming and going on any given day of the week – and sometimes ALL AT ONCE. 

So to avoid confusion or client embarrassment it is vital that you clearly state your name, rank and serial number when you meet for the first time.  That is before you launch into your work.  

Also, say where you are from and what you intend to do to them!  

There is nothing worse than arriving with your bucket and mop to do a Home Care cleaning duty only to discover your client has since stripped off down to her petticoat in anticipation of having her wound dressing changed by whom she thought was the District Nurse instead.  

Not that that’s ever happened to me. 

No! Not at all, she said.

4. Confirm that your client UNDERSTANDS you

This is not as silly as it sounds.  And an accomplished careworker can determine a lot about someone who appears to be hard of hearing or can’t comprehend what is happening (and has no idea what you are babbling on about.)  

You’ve got several logical explanations:

  • your client suffers from deafness (the rational and most common one)
  • your client is from a non-English background
  • your client is sick
  • your client is cranky and in a very, very, very bad mood (is it too late to run away?)

The answer for all of these situations is to slow your speech down, maintain eye contact and modify your voice and tone accordingly. You can find out later on (when you are friends) what the real story is. 

Use hand actions if you need to and don’t be afraid to YELL.  I can spend entire days bellowing at elderly clients who have hearing issues only to get home at the end of the day and continue the trend with my family… aren’t they lucky!

HELLO? WHAT?

5.   Compliment your Client

One of the best bits of never-fail advice I can offer all budding carers (or anyone trying to make someone else like you) is that you need to find something about your new client to compliment them on.  

Something. Annnything.

It could be that their hair or make-up looks nice, you just love the colour of their shirt, they’re wearing a pretty-coloured lipstick or they’ve had a haircut and are looking exceptionally spruced-up.  

Or… if you’re really struggling to find something nice to say about your client, then admire the lovely photo of their grandchildren, the enormous cermaic vase in the loungeroom, the beautifully manicured lawn or the fabulous blooms on the camelia bush.

Whatever, doesn’t matter.  

Older adults feel proud and pleased with themselves when they are told they have something that others might appreciate or find attractive.  It has huge impact and lets them know their contributions are still valued and more importantly – that they are people, too!  

And it’s a superb way to break the ice and show that you at least seem interested in them. Who knows, you might even CARE for goodness sake!

Wow, look at the pink on YOU!

6.   Acknowledge your Client’s Spouse

As an observant caregiver, it’s important to be aware that your new client may live with a husband, wife (or other family member such as a partner, son, daughter, niece etc). These onlookers can offer valuable insight on the person whom you may be about to help shower or spend time with in, say, a Respite capacity while their regular family caregiver has some time away from the house.

It is in your best interests, therefore, to butter-up these people and get them ‘on side’. They have a whole plethora of useful information about their parent, grandparent or great-aunty Doris that will make your job significantly smoother if you take heed of it; information that you won’t find on the Care Plan or in the medical notes.

For example:

When you take Uncle Reg on his walk to the library… he loves going via the paddock so he can say hello to the horses.  He needs to stick to this routine or he will get quite upset and then we will ALL pay later tonight!

Mum only likes using the pink towels… never the green ones as they were (deceased) Dad’s towels and she will get upset if you try and use them during her shower.

Little stuff like that, but it’s important stuff. And it’s stuff that will help you develop a good healthy rapport and eventually, a trusting relationship with your client AND with their live-in family.

7.   Acknowledge Pets

Seniors literally GLOW when you show interest in their animals and I can guarantee you, without hesitation… they will instantly adore any visiting carer who does this.  

I’ve broken down many a barrier by patting the mangiest of dogs, admired weepy-eyed cats and even whistled at the odd tatty budgie in its cage. 

Fake it til you make it, don’t they say? It’s definitely worth it in the end, so do whatever it takes to gain your elder’s approval.

Rub the tummy of flea-bitten ‘Ol Yella and say something silly to the cat – you’ll win over the faith of your brand new judgemental client… and you can disinfect yourself in the car later!

But why hasn’t Freckles moved in over an hour?

8.   LISTEN to your Client

Every aged-careworker knows that communication is what it’s all about. 
Speaking yes, but possibly more importantly:  LISTENING.

So when you’ve rattled off your initial intro, make sure you take the time to hear what your new client has to say in response.  And if their speech is slow or they are struggling to get words out (for whatever reason) DON’T be tempted to talk over them or pre-empt their sentences. Show patience and be respectful in what they are telling you.  Be open-minded and NEVER make judgement. 

Sounds a bit like the Ten Commandments really…Thou shalt not pass judgement on thine old lady client! 

Let’s face it; most of this is common sense.  

Isn’t it?

9.   ASSESS

An astute and qualified carer can evaluate a lot about a new aged client in that initial meeting at the door. Body language, the way they talk, their hearing and vision, their coordination and mobility – all can reveal potential physical health problems, mental conditions or emotional issues. 

And all are clues that are handy for you to be aware of even before you’ve entered their home.

Take note of bloodshot or droopy eyes, the condition of their skin, breathlessness, disorientation or confusion, complaints of pain and weakness can all mean something is not right and as their carer you will need to investigate further.  If only to pass it on by reporting your observations to a supervisor for follow-up which may then lead to further assessment or review.

Unfortunately, not only can you hear and see signs, but you can smell them too.

Take note of cigarette smoke, gas, alcohol, rotting food odours (ick) or stinky human excrement smells (double ick) … these are just a few indications of the way your beloved senior lives and that there may or may not be serious health problems afoot.

Been on the gin, Mr Slusher?

10.  You’re In!

Well done! Superb job!

You’ve passed the probing and interrogation stage and your shiny new elder has allowed you to enter their world.

It’s now up to you to maintain your exemplary high standard of caring and strong positive work ethic. Enjoy getting to know your new elderly client, but remain vigilant and remember there are professional boundaries. And don’t be tempted to cut corners – because it will most definitely bite you on the bum later.

Work hard, and always have pride in being able to provide a service to people who need your help if they intend on staying in their own homes. And who on the most part, are actually very pleased to see you.

Happy Caring!

Cheers, Dollie
Posted in Aged Care, Working with Elderly

To Bidet, or Not to Bidet?

That, is the Toileting Question!

I came across this advertisement while perusing a magazine on a plane recently. It caught my eye for two reasons:

1.   I’d only just written an article about the ‘Worst Xmas Gifts Ever’, and…

2.   Why was this cheery, yet smug-looking woman in beige slacks STANDING ON A TOILET???

The Best Xmas Gift Ever!!

“Usually for Christmas, my children buy me towels or pillows or once even a
basket for the cat. Last year, after a wonderful lunch in the park with my family,
we came home and I found that for a Christmas gift my son had organised
the replacement of my old toilet seat with an electronic Bidet toilet seat. 
I had seen them advertised on TV and thought what a great idea.”
After two weeks of having my new Bidet, I wondered how I had ever survived
previously without it.
All I have to do is sit down on my nice warm seat and go to the loo. Once I am
finished I simply press a button and I get a warm water rush and a stream
of warm air dry.
Now almost a year later, it has changed my life. I have saved a fortune 
in toilet paper and, I see going to the toilet as a time of luxury. 
It is the best Christmas gift I have ever received!”
– Sylvia Ross –

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Upon reading the ad, I discover that the extremely chuffed ‘Sylvia’, is actually the proud owner (and driver) of a shiny new Bidet-style toilet seat attachment, secretly installed by her son as a surprise for Christmas.

Indeed, not an advert for your traditional (and kinda terrifying) stand-alone bidet, ahh no. 

Instead, Sylvia introduces us to the wondrous Electronic Bidet Toilet Seat. A magical two-in-one appliance that means upon completing her regular toileting ablutions, Sylvia gets to be luxuriously “warm water washed” and “air-dried”. 

And without having to budge – ahhh BLISS!

I later showed the mag clipping to my own mother just out of interest. Similar in vintage to Sylvia, it was interesting to hear Mum’s views on the whole BIDET topic. From the perspective of someone who, much like most of us who find those ‘odd-shaped water fountain thingies’ totally intimidating, she admitted that if she had to use a bidet – she really wouldn’t know where to start.

“It’s more of an upper-class European thing, isn’t it… or is it something the prostitutes in Amsterdam use?”

“My friend from bowls has a bidet – but she washes her Chihuahua in it.”

“I’d be scared it might explode… crikey, I could end up being given some sort of a nasty enema!”

What a bidet is NOT for!

All silliness aside, I did start thinking that perhaps Sylvia was ON to something (literally haha). And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed there were massive advantages to be had by a sensitive senior considering enhancing their current loo to include a shiny new automatic built-in bidet. 

Interestingly, (but a bit odd too, I thought) I discovered after a bit of research, that the word Bidet comes from the French meaning ‘small horse’.

Oh, so you strap yourself on and ride it like a pony?”

Yep, thanks Mum.

And that apparently, it was the Japanese who first invented the modern integrated ‘toilet-bidet’ as a nifty space-saving device. Without need of a plumber, it is supposedly simple to install and something an older adult (or obliging family member) could manage without too much fuss.  

Merely replacing the current tatty old dunny seat with a fabulous whizz-bang electric one. Easy peasy… botty-squeezy! 

Being suitably impressed by this snazzy new bathroom gadget (and without sounding like I have shares in the company), I have since started singing the praises of these electronic bidet toilet seats (EBTS) to some of my elderly clients. 

Especially for those suffering from never-ending incontinence or constipation episodes; or pesky mobility issues due to frail, weakened bones and stiff arthritic joints. I reckon it would be hard not to appreciate the enormous potential health benefits an all-in-one EBTS might provide.   Not to mention for those in their twilight years being more financially set to ‘splash out’ (ahem) and spoil themselves on a nice bit of luxury during their retirement.

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8 Ripper reasons to get an Electronic Bidet Toilet Seat (EBTS) for your elderly parent:

1.   They can do their ‘business’, then clean-up, dry-up all in one hit… in one SIT? 

2.   The EBTS means seniors stay safe.  Not having to go ‘up down’ twice from a toilet to a separate bidet means less chance of a skate on slippery tiles.

3.   Personal hygiene is improved and more effective due to not having to awkwardly reach around to wipe. Tender, sore and ‘ouchy’ bottoms can stay cleaner – and heal faster.

4.   No hands required. Mission complete – without having to touch your bits!

5.   Issues such as constipation can be eased (or ‘eased out’) by caressing streams of warm water – in all the right places.

6.   Seniors can feel ‘shower fresh’ using an EBTS without having to fully strip off and endure the physical ordeal of an actual shower.

7.   The EBTS assists elders to depend less on their caregivers – which means preserving self-confidence (and their dignity).

8.   The warm-air dryer of the EBTS means older adults with ‘greenie’ tendencies can feel most satisfied that they’re saving “shit-loads” on toilet paper – HOORAY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT!

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To summarise: Wouldn’t it be nice to offer the beloved in your life a tiny bit of toileting opulence in their golden years? 

(Not to mention a toasty warm bum in winter).

It’s time to let dear old Mum know just how much you appreciate her and that because she is so special (much like Smug Sylvia) she absolutely deserves to have… THE BEST BIDET-TOILET SEAT IN THE HOUSE!

At least he’s using it correctly…. WOOF?

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers, Dollie