So, anyway… it was entertainment night at the Senior Citizens’ centre.
After the community sing-along led by Alice at the piano, it was time for the visiting star of the show – Claude the Hypnotist! Claude explained that he was going to put the whole audience into a trance.
“Yes, each and every one of you… and all at the same time!” said showman Claude.
As the lights dimmed, the excited chatter dropped to silence as Claude carefully withdrew from beneath his waistcoat, a beautiful antique gold pocket watch and chain.
“I want you to keep your eyes on this watch” said Claude, holding the watch high for all to see. “This is a very special and valuable watch which has been in my family for six generations,” Claude announced proudly.
Slowly, he began to swing the watch gently back and forth while, quietly chanting:
“You must watch the watch —
Watch the watch —
Watch the watch—”
The elderly audience became mesmerised as the watch swayed back and forth, sparkling as it reflected light from the watch’s gleaming surfaces. A hundred and fifty pairs of aged eyes intently followed the movements of the gentle, methodically swaying watch…
There was no doubt – the crowd were actually hypnotised. Even the staff could not look away!
But then, suddenly, the chain broke!!! Horror of all horrors, the golden watch fell and rolled off the stage where it hit the ground and burst apart on impact. Shattered pieces of intricate mechanism and smashed glass crystals tinkled across the hard floor.
“SHIT !!!” …cried Claude in dismay at the sight of his bewitching timepiece in smithereens before him.
It took them three days to properly clean the Senior Citizen’s Centre.
“It’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!”