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.
Before we go scoffing and rolling our eyes too loudly when it comes to mustering the patience for showing an ageing parent how to “logger” themselves onto a recently erected PC, iPad or tablet device, consider this:
—–> Your mother taught you how to hold a spoon, wipe your bottom and count to ten.
Did she poke fun at you then?
Or, when a grandparent who is desperately trying to master the art of “this emailer caper” just so she can stay in touch with her grandkids (yes, your children)… because nobody writes letters anymore and rather than being left behind and feeling cut-off from her family, she is at least making the effort to come to grips with all this “technical gadgetry” even though it is completely foreign, slightly intimidating and it just feels so damned impersonal to her.
And isn’t it just gorgeous (we try not to patronise) when she announces how mod and trendy she must be when she FINALLY manages to “pop off an email” to her darling 10 year old grandson, Max. It’s only taken her most of a day but she persevered and got there in the end.
Although, whether or not little Maxi actually received the email is a different story!
“Umm, did I push SEND… “
“Or was that the SAVE button… “
“Is there a way of getting it to come back???”
And then now that she’s so proficient and computer savvy, she even remembers to sign off with “LOL from Grandma” just for effect… because that’s Lots of Love, naturally!
You have to admire her for being so plucky and at least giving it a go, don’t you?
“Oh, Maxi will be SO impressed to see how his grandmother knows “dot com stuff!”
More and more it seems I’m getting asked by some very frowny-faced clients when I arrive at their homes, if I could please have a look at their jammed-up, unresponsive computers or merely to explain what “that funny noise” means and how “it only started making it after that dreadful storm yesterday”.
“Do you think perhaps some water got into the wiring, Dollie?”
That the “inter-web must be broken” or “I think I’ve broken Google” after accidentally deleting all the desktop icons. Or asking if one needed to locate an ‘App’ i order to bring up the local bus timetable. Or wondering why “my internet is so slow and it won’t let me start typing anything in”… only to discover one poor soul had inadvertently opened over 30 windows and had 14 tool bars running!!
“Would it be easier if I hopped on to ‘The Twitter’ instead, Dollie?”
In my experience (and being that it would be totally inhumane and nasty), there is no merit gained from sniggering into the face of an earnest older person who is already feeling inadequate. They understand and accept that all this new whizz-bang technology is completely over their head and that of course they know how ridiculous they must look to us younger smarty-pant types.
Instead, I sit down, and LISTEN to what they are trying to achieve and if it sounds like something basic (such as the ever-popular ‘not being turned on at the wall’), then I tactfully suggest we try giving the switch a flick and see how that goes.
“Oh, it happens all the time, Mrs Terrabyte, no need to feel embarrassed. In fact, I sometimes do the same thing myself!”
And then we laugh. Until she reveals for the life of her she can’t remember what her wretched password is… and could she use mine instead?
So here’s a cute little poem I found “on the line” that suits the occasion and ends very nicely too.
Of course in real life, we would never wish to lose dear ol’ Grannie into the deep dark depths of the cyberspace abyss (or have her gobbled up by a worm) in a million years.
Who else is gonna tell us what cupboard she hides the ‘cookies’ in… tee hee!!
Really, it’s of little surprise that many of the older adults I visit in their homes, enjoy listening to their radios.
More specifically, those with deteriorating vision or being that they might be frail or unwell (with mobility often compromised), they can find themselves in their late ‘golden years’, no longer able to indulge in traditional media entertainment pleasures the rest of us hipsters take for granted.
Vices such as watching television, reading a good book or wallowing for half a day with toast & coffee over the Sunday paper is simply no longer an option.
Popping on the ‘wireless’ therefore makes perfect sense!
Not that they are missing much, surely? It seems telly these days is unrelenting with it’s bombardment of rubbish ‘reality’ shows targeted solely towards the younger more impressionable audience, thereby leaving bewildered seniors often unable to relate and feeling overwhelmed at such bad taste and a definite absence of depth.
Instead, having a nice string of yesteryear tunes crooning away on the radiogram in the front room, works beautifully to lift sullen moods and put some zing into a lonely or sometimes socially isolated pensioner’s day. Memories of happy, more sprightly-er times are jogged by meaningful classics, as well as offering the much needed ‘company’ my clients might now be lacking.
“Hearing Vera Lynn always reminds me of my Edith and the times we used to sit in the back of the truck on our way to the dance at the town hall. Drinking home-made cider we’d nicked from my dad’s basement… we felt sooo naughty”
“…but naughty in a good way, Dollie!”
Talkback radio too, is ideal for supporting a forlorn or neglected senior through long periods of solitude and that despairing, yet understandable need for human interaction. They get to stay fully up to speed with the latest news and current affairs of the nation (usually in the middle of the night when they can’t sleep) plus share opinions and views with people of the same ilk.
“And, it’s great fun arguing the next day with Mavis and Lettie about the previous night’s topic. Can really get the blood churning – because I’m always RIGHT of course!”
Similarly, for some of my older gents who adore (and can’t live without) their daily infusion of Sport. Sadly though, thanks to medical conditions and the sheer exhaustion of it all, many have had to give up attending actual LIVE football games or cricket matches.
To quote dear old 97-year old Bert with ‘a gammy leg and both me dicky knees’:
“The logistics alone would just about kill me, Dollie!”
Instead, he attaches himself to his little black transistor (circa 1972) via a pair of well-used nicotine-stained earplugs and lies back in his armchair to bellow at “that frigging umpire” until he nods off with the excitement of it all.
I have to say now (in a big loud voice), earplugs or headphones are a superbly handy device for a lot of the hearing-impaired people I come across. Needless to say, they’re also a godsend for a spouse (or a budgerigar) who otherwise gets stuck tolerating the din!
“Jeee-zuz, Ref…my wife’s gotten pregnant from less contact than that!”
However… as marvellous and New-Age as all that is, I have other dear clients whom I help in their home, who can’t manage their broadcast transmissions to save themselves!
And it doesn’t matter how ludicrously large the knobs on their radios are, or how basic the design or how seemingly straightforward the technology is to operate… THEY WILL STILL FIND A WAY TO STUFF UP THE SETTINGS!
Today for example, I arrived at 87-year old Bill Whistley’s home and as I walked up the path, I was hit with an adorable Guns & Roses melody ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ booming off the Richter scale and making the crockery in Bill’s glass cabinet rattle.
“Blimmen ‘eck, I’ve tried fiddling with it, Dollie… but since I started my new pills, I’ve lost the feeling in my hands a bit. Can’t seem to land it on anything except THAT goddam racket.”
And in all the fluster, poor ol’ Bill decided to deal with the ear-splitting screams of Axel Rose the only way he knew how – by shutting all the doors and stowing himself away in his spare room. It never occurred to him to just switch his radio off at the wall!
“Oh, thank Heavens you’ve ended the wickedness, Dollie!”
Yet Bill is not alone with this terror of the airwaves! I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve walked into my client’s homes (I give up knocking as there’s literally NO CHANCE they can hear me) to find a brilliant selection of Hard Rock or Heavy Metal booming from within.
Dollie to the rescue – check out some of these pearlers!
“My house is so quiet during the daytime… it’s just nice to have something break the silence. Mind you, be good if it were something I could whistle to”
(You mean you CAN’T whistle to Spiderbaits’ toe-tapping version of ‘Black Betty’?)
“Oh the damn thing has a mind of its own. I set it on a nice bit of Sinatra but the next day it’s somehow flicked itself over and I’m left with that lot screeching at me!”
(Alice Cooper, anyone?)
“Oh is it, Dollie? I hadn’t noticed… I thought I was listening to Roger Whittaker!”
(‘Eye of the Tiger’… good for what ails ya)
“My son will be here later, I thought I’d leave it for him to sort out. Didn’t want to meddle in case I broke something. Plus it means I get to see him more often”
(Led Zeppelin at brekky time for a ‘Whole Lotta Love’)
“To be honest, Dollie… I’m deaf as a post so ANY noise is good”
(Just static was ‘playing’ in this lovely lady’s living room – LOUDLY)
“What’s FM then? I thought it said ‘AM’ and ‘PM’. So I’ve been switching the dial once I’ve had my lunch, over to the ‘PM’ for the afternoon session. Wondered why the tunes suddenly got a bit rowdy!”
(Let’s just hope he doesn’t actually end up “Burning Down the House’)
“It’s been begging for a fight all morning… I’d turn the dam contraption off if I knew how!”
(Yes, ‘Sexual Healing’ – always good for a bit of rough’n’tumble)
“Bloody things been making that racket since I dropped it down the back of the bed/in the sink/onto the cat…”
(who DIDN’T get their kids to sleep with that lovely ‘Smoke on the Water’ lullaby?)
Let’s face it, as some smarty-pants from somewhere once said: “RADIO: It’s like TV, only the pictures are better”.
Which is all very well and good – but it doesn’t really explain why I seem to be forever having to adjust my clients’ knobs !!!
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 a rotten old Target store, 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 photo, which I’ve saved ’til the end of my story (can you bear the suspense?) – worthy of being talked about. Clue: it is.
In the meantime, a picture of some cheeky-looking Galahs to tide you over:
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 whatever, teams of opportunistic Retirees get to roam freely in herd-like fashion throughout the malls. Albeit often a silver-haired, slowwww moving herd – but a herd all the same.
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, un-flustered and un-pressured. Enjoying the shopping experience at their own pace and without judgement or frowning upon from any of us raucous unruly lot, thank you very much.
Not to mention packing out cafes and teashops to the brim when they’re primed and ready for the proverbial nice hot cuppa – and creamcake 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 supermarkets to hunt and gather for the family feast, these older folk are long gone. Back at home, unpacked and un-shoed…they’ve completed their quests and are now poised in recliners snoozing, or awaiting the early edition News update on the telly.
Yet, here I found myself, 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 my glorious mid-morn freedom, deliberating on whether to go the strawberry 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 (a stroke or maybe MS?). 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… sound 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!
“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, 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 have for morning tea. 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 lipstick 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 .
“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 people 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, fun 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.
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 possibly 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 (yawwwwwn).
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 parts’ 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 cup of tea and the ginger crunch slice that Gladys usually reserved for her extra special visitors.
So there, take that, “Regular-girl-Angie”...!!!
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 say them – I cringe. 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 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 older in years, doesn’t necessarily mean you are any less witty than the rest of us.
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 down on the carpet in front of Eddie, fiddling about with the pair of most unyielding compression stockings (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 up and 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 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 dial:
“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.
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, 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 relentless 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’Funnybone, 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 companion 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!”
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 sounding grains or oddly-shaped fruit ‘n’ veg on trend and brazenly on display at the supermarkets nowadays.
Oh, I see them… with elbows leaned furtively on shopping carts they drift nonchalantly down the aisle, the majority with little idea what these new species are, what they DO… nor how to even peel one. Suffice to say, there’s little chance they’ll be cooking with one of these natural wonders any time soon.
But that’s not to say they can’t!
Most recent of the veg-du-jour would be Kale, Pomegranate, Avocado (ie: the smashing of) and the phenomena known as Quinoa (no, Mrs Smith, it’s pronounced “keen-wah”) which seem to be causing the most angst among my sceptical over-80’s mob.
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 wondrous beauties, seniors can decrease the probability of developing chronic illness, rehabilitate faster if they do, and subsequently, increase their chances of living much longer good quality lives.
Which got me thinking that not only is it Technology that an older adult is pressured to install, understand and hopefully utilise in today’s frantically progressive world…
… it’s also about what we EAT.
Having grown up in arguably more frugal times (where food just 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, too, 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 dickey dietary dilemmas. Although this may baffle some who might feel it’s easier to trust the Gods, close their eyes and just order a Vine-Ripened Pachino Tomato, Roasted Bell Capsicum & Basil Pesto Linguiniwith Pine Nuts & lightly-fried Zucchini flower, and a Caprese Quinoa & Almond Saladon the side… rather than risk looking a fool by enquiring about it first.
“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.
No longer can she happily enjoy the sumptuous spitting of lamb chops as they fry mercilessly 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.
BECAUSE, OH GOD, WE CAN’T GET 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 for wholesome homemade 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 respectfully brave clients at least give it a go. Seizing this new ‘foodie’ adventure by it’s edible 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 the most gorgeous man 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 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.
Interesting to note, I find the biggest motivator for my elders to climb aboard the Superfood train by including more fresh ingredients in their diet, is the possibility that it might lessen 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 silly or inept in front of others. And with this traditionalist Boomer generation, it’s understandable why they might 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 being empowered from new lifestyle choices which might just allow people to not only live longer, but live BETTER… gets lost in the despair and gloominess of ‘being old’.
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.
“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 a mature person’s bathroom? That’s excluding the mandatory piece of dried-up pumice stone once used to file corns and callouses from busy, hard-working feet of a lifetime ago.
Well, there’s good reason for it apparently. Summed up perfectly by 89 year old Elizabeth 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 peeps 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. Thus leaving some elders with a moisture-less, thinned barrier that’s vulnerable to anything untoward.
Oh yes, defences by this stage, can most definitely be down!
Understandably, with skin that’s as delicate and translucent as Lizzy Waterduck’s, the last thing she’d consider doing as part of her shower routine, even if she might have done it regularly in her carefree 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 skin balance right 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, I swear, 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, too, means we might also get to grow unsightly skin tags, unflattering strangely-shaped moles and, prevalent on the backs of hands, balding heads, ears, arm, noses and necks… are the brownish-coloured ‘liver’ or sun spots we stereotypically associate with someone ‘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.
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 in your advanced years 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 perilously 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.
I get to observe a lot of skin, in varying condition, 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 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 Crabtree 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?
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 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 even 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 we get, the less cleansing our 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 shower time 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!
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
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.
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 Older Adults are more 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 people 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?)
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 energy levels and leave one 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 (note: her Cream Cheese & Banana Nut loaf is pretty fabulous too).
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 dear, 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 it doesn’t exist, right?
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 I lose 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 jocularity 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.
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?!?!
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 the new kid on the block. 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.
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’ just to save a fuss.
“For efficiency’s sake”, she’d always say.
Ultimately, ‘Gina’ and I got on so famously she insisted I call her by her first name anyway. Phew…problem solved.
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 domestic 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 is hearing impaired (the logical and most common one)
your client is from a non-English speaking 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 deafness issues only to get home at the end of the day and continue the trend with my family… haha lucky them!
5. Compliment your Client
One of the best bits of never-fail advice I can offer all budding carers (or for anyone trying to be accepted by someone new) is that you need to find something about your new client to compliment them on.
It could be that the buttons on their cardigan are sweet, you just love the colour of their blouse, 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 ceramic vase in the lounge room, the beautifully manicured lawn or the fabulous blooms on the Camelia bush.
Whatever, doesn’t matter.
Most mature-agers 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.
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 which 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.
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
A mistrustful senior will 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 confidence of your brand new judgemental client… and you can disinfect yourself in the car later!
8. LISTEN to your Client
Every brilliant 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.
An astute and qualified carer should be able to evaluate a lot about their new ageing 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 and colour 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.
10. You’re In!
Well done! Superb job!
You’ve passed the probing and interrogation stage and your shiny new client 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 most-recent companion, 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.
Remember your integrity, listen to your inner voice… and feel pride in being able to provide a service to people who need your support to stay living in their own homes. And who on the most part, are actually very, very, very pleased to see you.