“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.
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.
I received this email from my cousin Rochelle recently.
Thought I’d share it here (because I can), and also to emphasise how shitty and random this increasingly common disease called Dementia is. Not to mention the despair and frustration for families who are left heart-broken and grief-stricken as they watch on hopelessly; it is totally NOT FAIR.
Aunt Winnie taught me that girls don’t have to aspire to be receptionists or typists or office note-takers who run around after others… “unless you want to, then that’s fine, too.”
Instead, if you’ve got the gumption (her favourite word) – you can make a great career doing something you love, settle down and hopefully find a nice boy “wearing not-too-tight slacks” to make a good enough life together.
It has eventuated that I have done both.
Aunt ‘Winnie-the-Poo’ – – – YOU ROCK!
(We miss you so much).
To my dear family,
I’ve been back from overseas for almost 2 weeks and there have been a few changes with Mum (our Winnie), so thought I’d send a group email update so you all know where that’s at.
Unfortunately, and as predicted by most of us, her mental health has declined significantly.
I took her to her GP and she completed a MoCA test (half hour competency testing), where the results were not flash: ie: 10 out of 30 is bad.
Poor mum scored 2…(TWO!) Is that even a number???
Thank the Lord she defiantly remembered where she was from, although truthfully, I think she must have fluked the second point by just sheer good luck!
We also discussed her anxiety levels and turns out, they’ve put Mum on a little ‘upper’ to assist with her mood. Arthur is great with mum and loves her to bits which I could cry with relief about cos he’s such a caring wonderful man.
Obviously, as a retired school teacher, he revels in the role of directing and correcting! (Plus, the Citalopram will be doing it’s job – keeping Mum calm and ticking along, happy to stay back after class with another special Arthur ‘detention’ !!!)
In the meantime, the Geriatricians will without doubt, assess Mum for ‘Care-Home’ level assistance, and I assume officially diagnose her with Dementia. This should happen soon. Hopefully, while I am still in the country – although I may be called up any day now so not sure what we do then…
Thankfully, in all the zippity-do-da (haha another one of her ‘funnies’) most stuff can be sorted online and organised via email etc. And legally, I don’t need to go to the lawyers- which is just perfect.
The best thing is that the staff at the Respite home where Mum is now are all on the same page as I am. And they have been concerned with her deterioration for a while – the head nurses have an amazing rapport with her, plus they’ve kept me fully up to speed on things.
I am just SO impressed with the set-up there!
Win gets to stay in her current apartment WITH Arthur – and the Care Team actually comes to her! This includes 3 showers a week, getting dressed daily and undressed, breakfast, lunch and dinner, dispensing medications, clothes washing, housekeeping etc.
At the moment, Mum is just having shower and dressing assistance (extra $100 a week). Once the new level of care comes through, we will apply for a subsidy as their combined total assets is less than $119k.
This new level of care will be paid from Dad’s deceased estate account (ie: $23k – and then the good old government takes over…PHEW).
I did have Mum come stay with me by herself last week (and my girls too, much to their horror), for a night recently. She spent the WHOLE TIME thinking Arthur would be coming to pick her up at any second – watching out the window, pacing up and down etc.
I could tell she really would have preferred to go back ‘home’ to Arthur; we had to phone him a few times during the night when the panic set in.
You should have seen it the next day, though, when they re-united. I just about died… they had the biggest SNOG I’ve seen in ages! In front of all the staff…everyone…THEY DIDN’T CARE!!!
(I think I was actually JEALOUS!)
Mum’s just fine where she is and like I said, Arthur loves her to bits. So as weird as all this is, Winnie’s definitely safe and cared for. She actually does realise her memory is bad (kind of), but quickly seems to forget she had that flash of realisation and so we just move on.
She happily accepts shower assistance, and for her own dignity and personal presentation, I’m terribly thankful for that. Physically, Win looks and IS well.
Don’t know what else to say but I really hope this email doesn’t cause any concern for you guys. I really feel she is in the right place and I think we should all feel blessed that she married Arthur last year – as crazy as that seemed at the time…. WHO IS THIS MAN WITH THE GIANT MOUSTACH WHO IS IN LOVE WITH MY MOTHER?
Because it certainly takes the load off me – not that I’m complaining…
It’s just hard, you know?
Anyway, I hope all is well with you guys – sorry if I’ve rambled on but I wanted to put you in the picture seeing as you are her family,,, the people who love her the most.
God, does she even remember?
You know what…I really don’t know any more. Today for example, she called me Geraldine. As in Aunty Gerry, her twin, who died when they were in their 20’s. And I can tell when she looks at me that she’s not ‘Mum’ anymore. I hate that the most about this awful disease.
Anyway, I’m waiting for confirmation of my next placement abroad – not sure when or where that might be but I’m loving my Oncology nursing and the fabulous people involved in the industry so that makes it all worthwhile (as well as being the best distraction from the Win & Arthur show!)
Will keep you all updated as the rest of the saga of our gorgeous mum/sister/aunty’s life unfolds.
Love you guys,
PS: please, don’t worry about mum. She is fine, really.
PPS: we must all get together in the SAME room one day. Life’s too short. – I could end up losing my mind, just like Mum. ARRRGGGHHHH!
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!”
“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