“Oh yes, Dollie…I still drive my car. Been driving for over 40 years it must be. Can’t imagine what it will be like when I have to give it up though. It really worries me in fact, so I’m not thinking about it ’til I have to. I mean… what do other old people do when they need to get around?”
“They take the bus or get family members to drive them. Or a taxi, maybe? A lot of pensioners are eligible to get a discounted rate – half-price I think… so that’s a bonus. Or we could find out if your council provides an Assisted Transport service… you know, to take you to the shops, appointments and stuff?”
“Oh heavens, I hope it doesn’t come to that, Dollie. Having to rely on others all the time and being a real nuisance to everyone – I couldn’t stand it!”
“Well, you could get one of those nifty motorised scooters? You see people racing along on the footpaths on them all the time. Get one with an orange flag sticking up on the back – I could definitely see you on one of those, Rhonda!”
“Actually, I’ve already got a scooter. A bright red one! But I’ve only used it the once. I took it out for a practice run to the big shopping centre… but it was such a dreadful experience. And now I’m just SCARED of it!”
“Scared why, Rhonda? What happened at the shops?”
“Well, I drove it front-first into an elevator, not really thinking. It was such a busy day and the lift filled up behind me with all these people and their great big shopping bags. Then a young mum got in with her twins in an enormous double pram…. and I found I couldn’t get out! I WAS STUCK IN THE LIFT!”
“Oh no! Didn’t it have a reverse button on it?”
“Oh, Dollie it was awful! The stupid thing wouldn’t go backwards! Instead I had everyone in there, all talking at once, trying to help… giving me suggestions. Ridiculous! In the end THEY all had to get out – to let ME out… including the poor lady with the huge pram and her babies who by then were bawling.”
“And here’s silly old me trying to do a three-point turn in that tiny space… only for that to become a TEN-point turn because I wasn’t steering the damn thing right. Kept bumping into the doors and beeping the HORN – instead of the BRAKE! Last resort, the blokes (who were all laughing their heads off) grabbed a corner each and literally lifted the scooter out… WITH ME ON IT!”
“Oh, I could’ve died with the embarrassment, Dollie. I don’t care if I have to take the bus everyday of my life… I’m not going near that hideous contraption EVER AGAIN!”
***Conversation with the fabulously feisty, albeit red-faced… Rhonda ‘Racer’ Rushwell (88)
“Oh, thank goodness it’s you, Dollie. Well, what a day I’m having!
Would you believe it? It’s been like a train station here today. Heaven knows what the neighbours must be thinking!
First I had a nice man, Derek, from the council come and do my Home Help. Must’ve been 9 o’clock when he arrived because he was here quite early. I usually have Sharon come at 10 o’clock… but I think she’s away on holiday?
So instead Derek came, but he was lovely.
And he did a really good job… which I was worried about because it’s never the same as when a woman cleans, you know?
Anyway, so while Derek was here, I had my physiotherapy man, Gary arrive. He could see Derek with the vacuum cleaner, hoovering away, making a racket.
So Gary left, said he’d come back later. Which is fine ‘cos I’m not going anywhere with this useless leg!
And then just as Gary was going, blooming heck, my son in law, Tony turns up to check the tap in the bathroom. Stupid things been dripping it’s head off and my hands aren’t strong enough to twist it, so I can’t turn it off properly.
So I had Tony in the bathroom, Derek beavering away, Gary doing wheelies in the driveway…. then blow me down, silly old Jim from the Bird Society pops by!
He likes to go through the minutes of our Meetings before he prints the newsletter each month. To be honest, I think he just likes the company but that’s OK because he’s a nice enough chap and he doesn’t stay long.
He smells like lavender…. which is an odd flavour for a man, don’t you think, Dollie?
Then I laughed because just as I was waving that lot off, I had Gary the Physio come back – as well as Ron from over the back fence came to chop my hedges back at the same blooming time! Talk about bedlam in the front garden… and it wasn’t even lunchtime!
Thank goodness Tony was here to sort them out with reversing their cars down the drive… and making sure Jim didn’t hit the fence. He’s got terrible eyesight, Jim, he’s already hit it once before… silly old duffer. I’m amazed they let him still drive!
So, while I had all this going on… I could see nosey-parker Shirley from across the road peering out of her windows. Easy to spot ‘cos the curtains were twitching away…
Oh, she was LOOKING alright!
Then Gladys from next door came outside… pretending to check her letterbox for what must’ve been the umpteenth time, haha she thinks I don’t know what she’s really up to. Having a good long sticky-beak she was…eyes nearly POPPING!
I can see how they’d be wondering though; their heads would be spinning. Blooming heck, I’ve never had so many men at my house at the one time ! And all in one hit… ha ha MOST UNSAVOURY!
Felt like I was in one of those SEX windows in that street over in Amsterdam. You know, in the red light district there where it’s all legal. Where the ladies stand round waiting to lure in the men… WITH THEIR BITS OUT!
Even my son in law Tony had a good laugh after they’d finally all gone. “Geez Rosie, I’m starting to wonder what you’ve got going on here… EXACTLY WHAT COLOUR IS THE LIGHT ON YOUR FRONT PORCH AGAIN?”
***Mrs Rosanne D. Pimms, aged 88 – Jam & Pickling specialist, Budgerigar enthusiast, Neighbourhood Watch president (recently suspended…)
So, anyway… it was entertainment night at the Senior Citizens’ centre.
After the community sing-along led by Alice at the piano, it was time for the visiting star of the show – Claude the Hypnotist! Claude explained that he was going to put the whole audience into a trance.
“Yes, each and every one of you… and all at the same time!” said showman Claude.
As the lights dimmed, the excited chatter dropped to silence as Claude carefully withdrew from beneath his waistcoat, a beautiful antique gold pocket watch and chain.
“I want you to keep your eyes on this watch” said Claude, holding the watch high for all to see. “This is a very special and valuable watch which has been in my family for six generations,” Claude announced proudly.
Slowly, he began to swing the watch gently back and forth while, quietly chanting:
“You must watch the watch —
Watch the watch —
Watch the watch—”
The elderly audience became mesmerised as the watch swayed back and forth, sparkling as it reflected light from the watch’s gleaming surfaces. A hundred and fifty pairs of aged eyes intently followed the movements of the gentle, methodically swaying watch…
There was no doubt – the crowd were actually hypnotised. Even the staff could not look away!
But then, suddenly, the chain broke!!! Horror of all horrors, the golden watch fell and rolled off the stage where it hit the ground and burst apart on impact. Shattered pieces of intricate mechanism and smashed glass crystals tinkled across the hard floor.
“SHIT !!!” …cried Claude in dismay at the sight of his bewitching timepiece in smithereens before him.
It took them three days to properly clean the Senior Citizen’s Centre.
It has to be said that one of the more pleasurable perks of caring for older adults in their own homes is the wonderful foody treats I am often introduced to. Thankfully, not at every house I go to – but definitely more often than the top button of my work pants cares to admit!
What! Are you calling me FAT?
Seriously though, there’s nothing like sitting down at the end of a long, arduous shift with a grateful client who insists on sharing a cuppa, a nice chat about life… AND A WHOPPING GREAT SLAB OF THEIR FRESHLY BAKED SPONGE CAKE!
Because if there’s one thing these dear ageing ladies know – it’s how to COOK.
Let’s face it, and yes clearly I’m generalising BIG time… but they have after all, spent a lifetime literally feeding people. Preparing grand family feasts for an eternity of Christmases, birthdays and engagement parties; churning out countless baked goodies for school fetes, charity fundraisers, church picnics and sports club bashes or just whenever the cause called for it. Nobody told them they had to – that’s just the way it was being a woman, wife and mother back in the day.
And so that’s what they did.
Which is why, when I get offered a special something from my beloved client’s cake tin, I know it’s gonna be good! Then, after I’ve marvelled at how delicious it is and how clever they are, there is a very good chance I’ll then be entrusted with the RECIPE for this tried-and-true family favourite to have as my very own.
Also, as another angle (and brilliant as a conversation starter), I might ask my client for their views on the best way to bake a leg of lamb without it shrivelling up to nothing, or hints on how to stop spaghetti pasta from clumping together in the pot (me, every damn time). Then… if you’re sincere and show that you truly rooly respect these culinary Dames and their nifty cooking tricks, you’ll find a proud as punch client who’d share just about anything with you.
Take note, that if you’re offered the secret recipe for a traditional masterpiece dish – you’ve struck GOLD! Sometimes too, they may even write them out by hand for you – all from memory of course.
By this caring and sharing stage, you can rest assured that you’ve earned your client’s confidence completely (which is HUGE) and pretty much means that your worthiness as their carer is a done deal. And if that’s not job satisfaction, I don’t know what is?
In fact over the years, and seeing that we are such a multi-cultural bunch… I feel like I’ve travelled the globe thanks to some of the sacred scrummy recipes I’ve been endeared with.
Some tasty examples:
Mrs Petrie’s Vanilla Bean Custard – made with REAL custard and REAL bean “none of this packet rubbish!”
Mrs Maradona’s Mama Mia Meatballs with traditional spicy Napoli Sauce… passed-down-from-6-generations of Mamas!
Mrs Tippy’s Never-fail Date Scones… and they never do, not even when I make em!
Mrs Bun’s original Choc Chip Cookies…secret ingredient: butter, Butter, BUTTER!
Mrs Formosa’s Pumpkin & Chickpea ‘Curry-in-a-Hurry’... because guess where you’ll be running afterwards!
Mrs DiDonato’s famously rich Osso Bucco… for compliments AND heartburn, guaranteed!
Trouble is, these wondrous apron-clad matriarchs eventually become worn-out elderly ladies and sadly, the art of cooking regresses into HARD WORK. Which was the predicament that my 88 year old client, Mrs Madeleine Chadwick found herself in recently.
For it is written, that Madeline Chadwick can make a CHEESECAKE better than anyone else in the cheesecake universe. Her family know it, the neighbours know it, the bowls club know it and now, happily, I can testify to it too. Melt in your mouth TO DIE FOR kind of cheesecake. And every fortnight when her extended family all gather for a meal at her table, Maddie gets to wheel out her latest dessert creation and have them all coo with delight at another splendid pud from good ol’ reliable Nan-Nan.
Problem is, and unbeknownst to her loving fam, Maddie can cope with long stints in the kitchen, no longer. Yes, they know Mum has health issues: swollen fluid-retentive ankles, a recently diagnosed heart condition, perilously high blood pressure, osteoarthritis galore and now irreversible glaucoma has consumed her eyesight to a stage where surgery is not an option. Maddie, however, has opted to keep hidden the true extent of her deterioration in order to preserve the precious mealtime ritual she holds so dear.
So, rather than make a fuss and risk disrupting an important family custom… Maddie confided in me that she has instead resorted to cheating! Thanks to a session with the girls at her ‘Stitch n Bitch’ knitting group, Maddie was able to swap her usual legendary but painfully long-winded cheesecake recipe for another which her friend Wilma discovered on the ‘interweb’.
So! Where once the production of her signature dish meant hours of beavering away for an entire morning, as well as depleting her energy stocks for the rest of the week – it now only took Maddie four minutes!
“Plus extra fiddling-about time, of course”, Maddie confessed to me.
And so the show can go on! Her family are none the wiser; in fact she tells me they all squeal how they just LOVE the new extra creaminess and texture. And please, Mum…can I have some more?
“Oh, I’m just trying a few different flavours”, says Maddie with a cheeky glint in her eye, when they make inquiries.
And not a dot of cheese to be seen! Wilma from the knitting club promised Maddie that no one would ever notice – because the yoghurt imparts a sneaky cheese flavour once it had been zapped on high in the microwave. Good ol’ Wilma – she was right!
It doesn’t sound like a big deal in the grand scale of things, but I’m so pleased to see, even if it may not be forever… how happy and proud Maddie Chadwick is knowing she gets to continue the precious cheesecake tradition for a little longer with her adoring family.
And I myself, will be able to confirm how easy-peasy it is too, after I attempt one for my lot tonight (Fingers crossed… and toes…and arms… and …)
“Make sure you use full-fat yoghurt though, Dollie. And using Anzac biscuits is a nice touch for the base. Melt some butter into them once they’re crushed up – that’ll stop your bottom from going all dry and falling apart.”
Oh, indeedy yes… the last thing any of us need is a dried-up, crumbly bottom.
Here’s a lovely story that just randomly popped into my Inbox today. I thought it just too hard to resist so I’m sharing it on here because it’s so gosh darn sweet. PLUS it includes a piccy of a very lick-able ice-cream WIN-WIN!
Hopefully it makes you smile, offers a bit of perspective and then gets you thinking about priorities you might like to re-evaluate within your own life.
And that maybe life’s too short for all the silly stuff?
At the very least, it will leave you wishing you looked as fabulous in a hat, as this beautiful lady.
A 92-year-old, petite, well-poised and proud lady, fully dressed each morning by eight o’clock, with her hair fashionably coifed and makeup perfectly applied, even though she was legally blind, moved to a nursing home today. Her husband of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary.
After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window.
“Oh, I love it,” she stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy.
“Mrs Jones, you haven’t seen the room …. just wait.”
“That doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged, it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do.
Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.”
She went on to explain, “Old age is like a bank account, you withdraw from what you’ve put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories.
Thank you for your part in filling my Memory bank. I am still depositing.”
Then smiling the whole time, she asked me to remember the five simple rules to being happy:
Free your heart from hatred.
Free your mind from worries.
And you know she’s right. Reminds me of a great saying I heard once: Being HAPPY is not a pursuit – it’s an obligation.
If it’s good enough for Ghandi, then maybe we should be touching Grandma’s feet, too?
I’m pretty sure it was legendary peace activist Mahatma Ghandi, possibly during one of his enormous political passive-resistance ‘sit-ins’, who declared that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.
Smug in the knowledge that his beloved India already boasted a solid track record in the unconditional caring of it’s ageing population, he would have been totally confident bandying about such bold and impassioned statements.
In a country where taking care of one’s elderly parents in order to preserve sacred family values is not only tradition, it’s actually considered fundamental to society as a whole.
In fact, so great is the esteem and reverence bestowed upon India’s elders, that youngsters are expected to literally bow down and touch the feet of their treasured grandparents as the ultimate display of respect and adoration.
The Chinese too, stay loving and loyal to their older family members by keeping them close, trusting in their vast spiritual wisdom and believing that great fortune will follow them and their household, because they are doing so.
Greeks and Italians also maintain endeared customs where elders demand intense respect from their offspring – including blessings that are sought from, and then held in the highest of regard. With several generations of one family all co-habiting, co-parenting and frequently co-feasting on magnificent cultural banquets under one, usually fairly large, co-roof!
All the time sharing and caring galore for beloved Nonnie and Poppa – it’s just the way it is; the way it always has been. And not once are the words ‘Nursing Home’ or ‘Aged-Care facility’ considered… nor even dared be mentioned.
You look after your own and it’s a beautiful thing.
Becoming OLD and ‘being elderly’ as an Australian however, has up ’til recent times, been a whole different kettle of fish!
Not that we don’t care about the older adults in our lives (admittedly though, there’d be little chance of any feet-touching action)… and it’s not that we don’t WANT to look after dear old Mum & Dad when they can no longer manage on their own.
But with our frantic materialistic lifestyles, we fair dinkum Aussies barely have time to look after the kids, let alone take on care and responsibility of ‘The Olds’ as well. Having to sometimes move away from our home-towns to go where the money is (the hole for a new swimming pool won’t dig itself, you know) we abandon our ageing parents as we strive for bigger and better.
The once close-knit family dynamic is left in tatters and sadly, as our children grow up with little or no interaction with their grandparents (no, Skype doesn’t really count)… it means even less understanding of the issues older people face existing in today’s frenzied modern world.
BUT, thanks to an outstanding healthcare system and an unprecedented change (albeit, gradual) in attitudes toward ageing in general, there is a revolutionary new emphasis on embracing one’s Golden Years. Older generations can now look forward to a potentially long, joyful and productive retirement with due diligence placed on seniors having rights, dignity and an invigorating abundance of empowerment HOORAY!
Yet, should we worry that our youth think it acceptable to treat mature adults in a dismissive and disparaging way?
That our seniors, because they are retired from the workforce and are all (supposedly) sitting about idle and ‘being frail’, clearly can’t have creditable opinions and therefore have little to contribute to society anymore?
Well, today… as I stood waiting in the checkout queue of a large Electrical, IT & Furniture store (can we say Harvey Norman out loud?) I discovered all might not be as hopeless as we once might have presumed.
Amid the din and techno-bustle, I watched as a man of advanced years with abundant white hair and rosy cheeks, walked tentatively into the shop… only to come to an abrupt halt. I knew immediately what would most surely be going through this nervous bloke’s mind.
“Crikey… where do I start?”
To be honest it was pretty similar to what I’d thought myself when I’d charged in earlier. Being one of these enormous retail outlets it’s always daunting until you get your bearings, as well we know.
Thankfully when I’d arrived, I was greeted immediately by an efficient middle-aged-ish customer services lady labelled ‘Brenda’, who duly pointed me in the required direction thereby saving me from a lot of time-wastery and roaming about.
Brenda, however, was noticeably absent in coming to the aid of this gentleman.
Still hovering in her official capacity at the entrance, directing customers, dispatching them off to the relevant departments… I watched as she quite literally favoured others coming in, over helping him.
And STILL he stood there…
Was she blind? How could she not see him? Surely, she wasn’t outright ignoring this lovely misplaced chap on purpose? For goodness sake… it was like he was The Invisible Man!
OK, so being that I work in Aged-Care and am used to attending to the whims of my clients on a daily basis, you might argue that perhaps I’m just overly-sensitive to this type of carry-on.
Call it what you like, NEGLECT IS STILL NEGLECT!
And regardless of age, it was just wrong that anybody should be treated in such a blatantly disrespectful manner. Such a calm unassuming man… on behalf of all the rotten Brendas out there, I felt utterly pissed off ashamed.
By this stage, too, the poor guy was really getting jostled about. Customers were pushing past him with their large parcels and important busy lives. Finally, as I contemplated the ridiculous logistics of leap-frogging over the counter to go help this now visibly shaken senior, low and behold…a zippy young shop assistant guy appeared.
I braced myself, dreading what awfulness might come from this young whipper-snapper’s mouth. Would there be yet more disinterest, some degrading comments… in an equally demeaning and patronising tone?
Or perhaps a reprimand for causing congestion on the shop floor? Indeed, if Big Bad Brenda had trained him – he was doomed!
Blow me down, ‘Arden’ (as per name badge), turned out to be the loveliest, most patient and caring lad you could ever have wished for! Upon touching the old boy gently on his arm so as not to give him a fright, Arden tactfully drew him away from the main thoroughfare and into the safety of the near-empty kitchen appliance aisle.
Looking him right in the eyes and talking directly to him, Arden was giving this most relieved pensioner his fabulously full attention! And after asking how ‘Sir’ was, suggested that he might like to sit down?
Oh, it was just wonderful to see – I could have cried!
And as I watched them chatting away together and joking about last weekend’s woeful football results… I felt my faith in humanity (and young peeps everywhere) had been restored.
Hooray for you, Arden! Maybe there’s hope for us all yet.
Indeed, if Mr Ghandi had been watching on from behind the row of chrome toasters and absurdly-priced food mixers, I reckon without question, he would have been most peacefully and passively… chuffed to bits!
One of my fondest childhood memories is of our grandparents seeing us off, waving goodbye from their front porch. Smiling contentedly, and without fail at each and every departure time, they’d take up position watching and waving at the top of the steps.
Whether it be the big Sunday family lunch gathering or just a random quick visit to drop off groceries or pick up a bag of lemons from grandad’s garden – it didn’t matter the reason for the visit or how long we were there. Waving us off was just one of those heart-felt routines that our grandparents dutifully undertook when it came time to seal the deal and bid us farewell.
Of course, that’s after the obligatory round of goodbye kisses, hugs and hair ruffling that seemed to go on forever, before we finally got to bundle ourselves into the car for the ride home.
And I remember too, if we turned around at any stage during our exit, as mum or dad manoeuvred the car down the driveway, that they would still be stood there, happily waving and watching for our return waves through the back window.
Then, as we began slowly to pull away out of view, they’d both sing out in perfect unison:
“Bye, bye….LOVE YOU!”
I sometimes wondered, after we had gone, how long they might have remained standing there! Waving away… clinging on to happy times in a now empty front garden.
Lovely too, was that even after the granddads were gone, both my grandmothers continued the waving tradition alone, never missing a beat. As if this treasured practice was integral to keeping the family unit bound and sacred forever.
I was too young to realise then, but it was indeed likely that this cherished ritual be the final thrust in my grandparent’s campaign to squeeze out as much valuable ‘together’ time as they possibly could.
I wish now, in hindsight, that I had waved back a lot, lot harder.
But, as it delightfully turns out, my grandparents were not the only ‘wavers’ I would ever have the pleasure of!
Thanks to my recent adventures in Aged-Care where I work with older adults in their own homes… I have been fortunate to encounter clients on my travels who also conduct a similar performance when it’s time to say goodbye.
In fact, possibly as a ploy to prolong my visit, some of my clients even go so far as to walk me right out to my car! I guess old habits die hard and chatting all the way, we discuss the cat’s weepy eye, admire the Azaleas and analyse the weather as we go.
Unfortunately, for some of my less sprightly clients who have forgotten that their mobility is not as reliable as it once was, I then have to turn round and walk (or wheel) them back inside again! The thought of driving off and leaving a wobbly pensioner on the footpath clinging to their letterbox just doesn’t bear thinking about! So, I don’t mind in the slightest having to spend a bit more time escorting them back to their front doors again.
Besides, it’s a nice little moment that I know will bring a significant amount of joy to someone else’s day. And to be honest, I consider it a compliment that it feels so comfortable for them to think me wave-worthy in the first place.
“Off we go… let’s get you back inside again, Mr Gadabout!”
Why only today, one of my regular ladies, Florence, whom I’ve worked with for a couple of years now, makes it her business to accompany me out onto her front verandah where she likes to wait, waving goodbye as I hop into my car.
Having observed Flo become increasingly more and more absent-minded (her symptoms recently diagnosed ‘most likely’ as Dementia), to her it’s the most natural thing in the world to see me off. The same as she would a visit from any close friend or family member – except that I am neither.
“I’ll see you off, dear. And then I’ll put Walt’s dinner on”.
In my rear-view mirror I see the the nonchalant Florence surveying the rosebushes for mottled leaves as she continues her well-rehearsed wave, leaning on the rail for support and so she stays in my sights. Then, just as I reach the end of her drive and I do my return wave back, she looks up at that last second when I’ve straightened up and am about to disappear from her view.
Then, a final flourish with her wrist finishes it all off!
And it’s funny… as I pause for a brief moment to watch her go back inside to peel the spuds for her husband Walter (who actually died 12 years ago), I’m struck with nostalgic thoughts of warm childhood family times and the ghosts of ‘wavers’ past.
So unexpected are the feelings in fact, that I find I have to stop myself from the involuntary urge to call out a big cheery “Bye-bye….LOVE YOU!”
Every time I visit 82-year old Ruth Cuddlepot I read this poem.
She has it up on a wall in her kitchen near the toaster, just above the bench. I know it by heart now because it’s so hard to miss and I stand there every Wednesday reading it (at least three times over) – while I’m waiting for her crumpets to pop!
It’s a short, but popular verse and most experienced carers have encountered it on their travels in and around the Aged-Care industry. To be honest, I always end up feel annoyed after I’ve read it because as far as describing the hopelessness and grim reality of Alzheimer’s disease – it’s pretty spot on.
It is also completely SAD.
So, the story goes that back in her day, Ruth Cuddlepot forged for herself (and prospered for many years in) an outstanding career as a Headmistress in some posh private school for boys – at the time the only woman on record to obtain such a role. She never married, didn’t have children and had no real family to speak of. Therefore, a very well-to-do Ruth had mountains of cash and high-performing investments squared nicely away for that one ‘rainy day’ when she just might need it.
That drab, dreary, drizzly day came a few years back when Ruth received the official crushing diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. Being the no-nonsense insightful person that she was however, Ruth decided immediately that she would face her destiny head-on and set herself up for the inevitable; for when she could no longer work or take care of herself.
Indeed, there would be NO nursing home for Principal Ruth Cuddlepot!
Without wallowing in self-pity and in typical Headmistress fashion, Ruth seized control to ensure her affairs were arranged down to the very teensiest detail. The health services, neurologists, an endless supply of support workers and the most fastidious fleet of solicitors were all put in place so Ruth could be completely looked after and cared for IN HER OWN HOME.
No matter what.
She knew her condition would deteriorate; that her memory would crumble, and she would eventually “lose my marbles completely!” Apparently, that’s how Ruth used to brazenly declare it, although I didn’t know her then and have relied on verbal reports from other carers to fill me in on all the background reading.
Needless to say, she was one very smart woman. Although, by the time I had the pleasure of caring for the well-respected Ruth Cuddlepot, she was no longer the organised and efficient educator I had been told she once was.
Ruth had, instead, evolved into ‘Ruthie’.
And thanks to the personality-morphing Alzheimer’s, Ruthie had become a frail, yet openly happy and affectionate elderly woman…. WHO LOVED TO HUG!
Even when her speech faltered, Ruthie could at least continue to communicate with a nice big welcoming embrace whenever I arrived for my shift. I looked forward to it in fact!
There she would be, perched in her favourite place on a big comfy chair in front of her enormous lounge room windows. The spot where she had the wonderful view of her ever-changing garden, the birds flying by to say hello… and where she could keep a watchful eye out for her next visitor whom she could throw her arms around and give a great big hearty squeeeeze to!
Really if it wasn’t so heart-breaking, it would be lovely.
Recently though, Ruthie had started calling me Wendy.
Which is fine by me, because you can imagine it happens a lot in this line of work (I’m also known as Debbie, Louise and Margie with some of my other cognitively-challenged clients). Let’s face it, remembering each of your carers’ name, rank and serial numbers is understandably not high on the priority list for some seniors.
Especially when they no longer know their OWN name!
I knew something had started to change in Ruthie when one day – the hugs stopped. And another cruel stage of the Alzheimer’s curse set in… Ruthie Cuddlepot started to become aggressive.
Without much warning her moods became erratic and it eventuated that Ruthie couldn’t STAND to be touched. Not even a handshake or a gentle pat on the shoulder. You just wouldn’t dare in case she would flare up and start screaming and punching the air (or anything else within proximity) in what appeared to be the ultimate frustration within Ruthie’s muddled-up mind.
This most heartless and indiscriminate Dementia had finally taken hold of her … it has been just awful to watch.
Finally, after accusations that Ruthie had started slapping and pushing her carers, we were told there was a serious incident last week where she had to be whisked away by ambulance and sedated in hospital.
Quite honestly, it became apparent to all, that they didn’t know WHAT to do with her!
After all Ruth’s organising, having purposely prepared herself and her future to remain forever being tended to in her own home by an army of paid care-working bees and service providers, it now seemed this was no longer a viable option.
I wonder now looking back, how Ruthie could have possibly planned for this final gloom-ridden phase of her illness?
Perhaps she’d anticipated that by this late phase: 1) she wouldn’t know where she was, and 2) she wouldn’t care? I hoped so for her sake.
The poem was right, and the best of Ruth had gone. And sadly yes, we had failed in standing beside her. Basically, it had become too unsafe to do so! Poor Ruthie had become a danger not only to herself, but to everyone else as well. And if a support worker is under any threat whilst looking after a client in in their home, then the people in charge needed to modify to an alternative arrangement.
I was informed only today that the once proud and brilliant Ruth Cuddlepot had been relocated ‘indefinitely’ into a High Care nursing home facility.
Just like the poem had foretold she was now sad and sick and lost. Her beautiful forward-thinking mind now full-to-capacity on sensory-depriving medication to keep her comatose and manageable (for her own protection, we were told).
I have deliberated greatly about going to visit Ruthie but honestly, what would be the point? And as harsh and as self-serving as might sound – I don’t think I could bear it.
The worst part is finding out she doesn’t even have a window.
ACTIVE AGEING: Helping Older Adults, Help Themselves
Every day, our delightful neighbour Lettie-from-over-the-road, walks outside her front door, slowly down the steps and across the driveway to collect her newspaper from wherever it has landed on her front lawn. It’s usually in the same spot every morning, give or take, depending if the delivery boy gets his projectile right and doesn’t instead end up riding his bike into the bushes!
(Three years on, you’d think he’d have this sorted by now).
On her way back towards the house, with mission accomplished and with paper stuffed purposefully under the wing of her arm, Lettie then likes to pause and glance over the neighbourhood. She pretends to pick a bit of dead something off the Hydrangea bush at the bottom of her steps, then ambles cautiously back inside to (most likely) put her feet up from a job well done.
But it’s just painstaking to see!
Nearing 94-years old, living alone and with seriously swollen ankles from kidney disease, ‘a bit of the diabetes’ and being almost totally blind thanks to advanced macular degeneration, Lettie has slowed down significantly in the last couple of years.
We know this because we have quite literally witnessed the progressive decline in Lettie’s mobility thanks to our lounge room windows facing directly opposite hers.
Needless to say, you can pretty much set your clock to Lettie’s daily paper pick-up ritual. Unfolding before us almost like a big-screen movie, we get to watch all Lettie’s comings and goings – as she does ours. Which is actually kind of nice being that it offers a warm fuzzy familiar feeling to let you know all is right with the world.
But that doesn’t make it any easier to watch!
“Once I’ve had my weeties and taken all my tablets, it’s time to do the morning dash!”
Ummm, less of a DASH… more of an action replay stuck in serious slow-motion?! Thankfully, Lettie enjoys joking that it takes her sooooo long and that tomorrow morning she’s thinking about packing a picnic lunch and making a day of it.
“I’ve got all day – may’s well take a cream bun and enjoy myself at the half-way mark!”
Awkwardly steering her wheelie-walker to the top step, our hearts are in our mouths as her front wheels teeter close to the edge. Applying the brakes, just in the nick of time, Lettie then grapples her way down the steps in lunging fashion, by means of the metal railing installed by her family a few years back.
She then shuffles… barely lifting her puffy, slippered feet… across the driveway to the edge of the lawn where she then stops, statue-still with hands on hips, to peer at the grassy expanse before her.
Eventually, depending on the angle of the sun and the landing position of the newspaper on any given day, Lettie is usually able to perceive enough colour contrast to make approximate visual contact with her printed prize.
Ah yes! There’s actual science involved, don’t you know?
However… if the paper has made touch-down on the driveway instead of the lawn, poor legally-blind Lettie has NO CHANCE of finding it!
As I guilefully explain to my pre-teen son, the grey-ness of the concrete doesn’t make the off-white coloured newspaper ‘pop’ like the bright green-ness of the grass does.
Lettie then ambles her way across the lawn and upon reaching her quest, snap-bends in half to scoop up the cellophane-sealed roll in a one-motion move. Turning stiffly, she then pauses to gaze at the street around her (more to have a rest than to actually ‘look’ at anything), before tottering her way back onto the driveway, then slowwwwwwly on towards the front steps.
It can be a good 20 minutes by the time Lettie has hauled herself up the steps to the security of her wheelie-walker at the front door, during which time I have hung out a load of washing, ironed the school uniforms, yelled at the kids and fed the cat!
My enthralled son can stand watching this senior’s snail-paced performance NO LONGER.
“Geez! Can’t we just go pick it up for her, Mum?”
“Oh no, absolutely NOT, my child!”
Then, chuffed that I get to impart my Aged-Carer’s industry knowledge on somebody (anybody will do) I then proceed to explain that as long as Lettie is able to collect her newspaper for herself – then let her, WE MUST.
And that regardless of Lettie’s diminished eyesight and her age-related health issues, it was important for Lettie, if she wanted to remain living independently in her own house, that she be able to do boring household chores such as this…
… for herself.
I also knew, from conversations with her daughter Sue, that Lettie had very little other physical activity going on in her day. Sue, therefore, felt it crucial that her mother be encouraged to continue this one daily routine, this one small piece of exertion, in order to keep blood flowing, muscles moving, her mind stimulated and hopefully result in a much better quality of life for Lettie all round.
In the meantime, Lettie gets to exist alone at home feeling good about herself; to know she’s maintaining independence, her self-respect and the satisfaction that she still (mostly) have control over her own future.
And that’s a really super important thing when you’re an elderly person, as I explained to my son (who oddly, has always been quite fascinated with Lettie’s activities).
“But what does she want a paper for anyway… I thought she was BLIND????”
I remember at the time staring blankly at Junior aware that with this last line of inquiry, he had actually stated the ‘blindingly’ obvious. And as the wave of realisation washed over me… I thought it might be a good idea to give Sue a call for a bit of a chat.
“Nobody likes a smarty-pants, darling. Go let the cat out!”
Getting our Kids Skilled-Up in the Art of Conversation
It must be wonderful knowing that your teenage son or daughter is mature enough to hold an ACTUAL conversation with your adult friends. Seeing them chat away freely when introduced; radiating confidence galore when asked if they are enjoying their new high school, all the time maintaining solid eye contact and without a dot of embarrassment or discomfort.
Whilst you stand alongside, glowing with pride and marvelling at what clearly must be some pretty bloody fabulous parenting skills, thank you very much!
Today I came close to discovering that my 13-year old son did not possess such ability.
And as a mum who thought she’d had it all covered: good manners, gracious conduct, appropriate behaviour and the biggie ‘respect for others’… it came as a rude slap in the chops, as I watched Junior’s social skills crumble and turn totally to mush.
Our visit this morning was to a medical centre thanks to my son’s recent sporting injury (long story, don’t ask) for follow-up x-rays and to be given the all clear to have the annoying brace on his arm removed.
An ideal location to meet and engage in friendly banter with seniors, it’s common knowledge in aged-care circles, that a doctor’s waiting room is ‘top of the pops’ to test even the most experienced of gasbags!
It was as we sat bored waiting for our turn, when an older smartly-dressed man with walking stick and twinkly eyes, leaned over to my son and asked in a fairly loud tone (hearing issues, obviously), what had he done to himself?
I continued reading my mag, confident that Chatterbox Charlie (as he is known at home and at school), would be equally as open and responsive. The two of them would yak away in ‘blokey’ fashion and by the time we left they’d be best of buddies, possibly even a firm handshake farewell and promises to meet for tea and cake one day soon.
But alas, what was this?
Instead, no! Junior was beside himself! Turning sharply to look at me, his face strained in terror… he was actually pleading me with his eyes, as if to say, “Oh god, please Mum, SAVE ME!”
Mortified, with the realisation that my beloved was indeed a complete social flop after all, I attempted to verbally prompt him so he could explain to the nice inquiring man how he had sprained his arm in a game of football.
The old guy continued on, jokingly encouraging my son to join in.
“I thought you’re supposed to use your leg to kick the footy – not your arm!”
As Junior turned bright red, awkwardly squeaking out some sort of inaudible response (all the time staring down at the floor, clearly wishing the tiles would open up and pull him down into the deep, dark depths of the earth where no scary old dudes could ever find him)… it dawned on me that some people might actually find conversation with an elderly person intimidating.
Especially those they hadn’t met before. And I get that.
Growing up as a painfully shy teen, I remember myself, the feeling of horror when an adult would talk to me – especially one I didn’t know well. The worry of not knowing what to say, or sounding silly if I did say something, or being judged and thought an idiot. It was cause for real anxiety!
In lieu of that thought, I decided my son needed a lesson in the art of conversation, STAT!
Time for me to earn that Mother of the Year badge and get him properly prepped and trained up on some good old-fashioned Communication Skills 101.
Yes, I would be doing this for ME (and my shattered ego), but more significantly, I was doing it for my soppy, socially inept son. It was imperative that in today’s frantic and fiercely competitive world, that he be an efficient communicator; to gain the advantage over his peers by being able to competently talk and earn respect from the older people in his life.
To impress the pants off his teachers, his footy coach or even his own grandparents by engaging them in some light, but thoughtful bit of chit-chat for goodness sake!
And at the same time, emphasise to my son that it didn’t matter what age a person was. That all it took was a little friendliness and a good dollop of empathy to show kindness towards another human being – and to make them feel good. That many ageing adults spent days, sometimes weeks sitting alone in their homes, desperate for company and to feel part of society and in touch with others in their community.
Could he even imagine what that must be like?
So, while I laughed and chatted to my newest dear friend happily sitting alongside us; about the weather, his dreadful arthritis and the outrageous price of petrol, I felt Junior watching on taking it all in. I wasn’t completely daft though; I knew in reality my son’s interest would be only fleeting and that soon enough he’d zone out, switch on his iPod and go back to mindlessly picking at the tag on his arm brace.
But blow me down, before you could ask ‘Is there a doctor in the house?’ my amazing little man surprised us all as he turned to the lovely white-haired lady sitting on the other side of him.
Without missing a beat, smiling and looking her straight in the eye, in a big clear voice said, “Hello, are you having a nice day today?” To which her reply was “Why yes, thank you, dear… and how nice of you to ask!”
My faith restored, watching the two of them chatting comfortably, I nearly leapt out of my chair with the excitement of it all! My son was a fantastically social-skilled superstar after all!
Unfortunately, I don’t think the poor little guy will dare go anywhere in public with his lunatic mother again. Possibly my cheering and ‘high five-ing’ the nosy receptionist was a little over the top… THOUGHTS?