“Oh yes, Dollie…I still drive my car. Been driving for over 40 years it must be. Can’t imagine what it will be like when I have to give it up though. It really worries me in fact, so I’m not thinking about it ’til I have to. I mean… what do other old people do when they need to get around?”
“They take the bus or get family members to drive them. Or a taxi, maybe? A lot of pensioners are eligible to get a discounted rate – half-price I think… so that’s a bonus. Or we could find out if your council provides an Assisted Transport service… you know, to take you to the shops, appointments and stuff?”
“Oh heavens, I hope it doesn’t come to that, Dollie. Having to rely on others all the time and being a real nuisance to everyone – I couldn’t stand it!”
“Well, you could get one of those nifty motorised scooters? You see people racing along on the footpaths on them all the time. Get one with an orange flag sticking up on the back – I could definitely see you on one of those, Rhonda!”
“Actually, I’ve already got a scooter. A bright red one! But I’ve only used it the once. I took it out for a practice run to the big shopping centre… but it was such a dreadful experience. And now I’m just SCARED of it!”
“Scared why, Rhonda? What happened at the shops?”
“Well, I drove it front-first into an elevator, not really thinking. It was such a busy day and the lift filled up behind me with all these people and their great big shopping bags. Then a young mum got in with her twins in an enormous double pram…. and I found I couldn’t get out! I WAS STUCK IN THE LIFT!”
“Oh no! Didn’t it have a reverse button on it?”
“Oh, Dollie it was awful! The stupid thing wouldn’t go backwards! Instead I had everyone in there, all talking at once, trying to help… giving me suggestions. Ridiculous! In the end THEY all had to get out – to let ME out… including the poor lady with the huge pram and her babies who by then were bawling.”
“And here’s silly old me trying to do a three-point turn in that tiny space… only for that to become a TEN-point turn because I wasn’t steering the damn thing right. Kept bumping into the doors and beeping the HORN – instead of the BRAKE! Last resort, the blokes (who were all laughing their heads off) grabbed a corner each and literally lifted the scooter out… WITH ME ON IT!”
“Oh, I could’ve died with the embarrassment, Dollie. I don’t care if I have to take the bus everyday of my life… I’m not going near that hideous contraption EVER AGAIN!”
***Conversation with the fabulously feisty, albeit red-faced… Rhonda ‘Racer’ Rushwell (88)
Care-Worker Tips: For When your Client Doesn’t Answer the Door
SIGNS THAT SOMETHING COULD BE AMISS:
1. Blinds down in the middle of the day.
2. A barking and very annoyed-sounding dog.
3. Client’s car (if they still drive) is in the driveway / is not in the driveway
4. An over-flowing letterbox.
These would be the winning top four indicators that tell me, as a visiting Carer on the job, that there may be something awry when I arrive for a shift at the home of an older person. Inevitably, one or all of these ‘clues’ will mean my Client has either gone out, is in bed, or possibly laying injured on the floor hoping that someone, OH PLEASE GOD… will find them.
Perhaps from a medical emergency, or more commonly – they’ve had a nasty FALL.
A jam-packed letterbox I am immediately suspicious of. Especially if there is distinct and varying shades of weathered-ness on the junk-mail spilling out of it. Goodness knows how many days it’s been piling up for (or why the postie insists on stuffing more in???).
In my experience, this says ‘nobody is looking out for me; I am all alone’ and it’s never a good sign.
That, or my Client has been whisked away by an enthusiastic son or daughter for family jollies at the beach house and, what with the excitement of it all… nobody thought to call and cancel mum’s scheduled shifts. A more common occurrence over the festive season or public holidays, this one.
Similarly, an unrestrained Maltipoo with a demented look in it’s eye, doing cartwheels across the furniture and yapping its head off as you buzz the doorbell, can be of great concern too. If ‘mum’ was OK and had been poised waiting for her Home Carer’s visit as normal, she would’ve already bellowed “OH SHUT UP, MOLLY!” and had him tethered to the leg of the kitchen table by now.
Observing blinds that are down or curtains tightly drawn still in ‘night time’ mode when it’s well past lunchtime-o’clock, doesn’t send me much of a positive vibe either. A creature of habit Mr Bill Cornfoot, he should be sitting in his lounge room armchair munching a cheese sandwich, half watching TV, half doing the crossword at this time of day.
Why isn’t he calling out for me to come straight in like he usually does?
And why is his door LOCKED???
Ah, yes… waiting for a Senior to arrive at their front door can be a worrisome few moments for a travelling Care-worker. And tempting though it is to roll your eyes and say “Oh god, where’s he gone this time?” You know in reality, that there is every conceivable possibility that something untoward may have happened to your beloved Client.
The more likely scenario though, is that they have merely forgotten what day it is and have instead gone out. Doctor’s appointments, to the shops for groceries, getting their hair done, a day at the races, or been taken by friends to play the pokies at the RSL… we hear it all.
And that’s fine. As long as we KNOW.
I have several repeat offender Clients in this category who despite having had their Home Help service scheduled at the EXACT same time, on the EXACT same day, every week for the last two years, they continue their pattern of being frequently absent on service day.
Arrrggggh the frustration! So then we play the waiting game…
Because bound by a Duty of Care policy, as a paid Carer I am obliged to take appropriate and timely action when a Client fails to present at the door to ensure they are found safe ‘n’ sound and free from harm.
The key word here being: FOUND.
THE ART OF DOOR-KNOCKING
But before launching the official Sea-to-Air search & rescue mission, it’s important to give your aged Client a fair amount of time to respond to your initial knock. Followed by a calculated and respectful waiting period (depending on their general state of health and / or their mobility speed), before you go leaning on doorbells or knocking more loudly-er for the second, third or one hundredth time.
Some people can become exceptionally aggravated if they feel pressured into hurrying unnecessarily – so use your discretion. One buzz only, then wait… count to to 20 or whatever it takes before you start ding-donging away furiously.
Remember the reason you are there. And that it’s not about YOU getting to your lunch break on time – keep your composure and STAY COOL!
(Futile when they aren’t home of course, but as a process of elimination it has to be done).
And while some Clients with gazelle-like reflexes are capable of appearing within seconds (they’ve been glued to the window since breakfast in anticipation of your arrival) other movement-compromised Seniors can take many minutes to complete the long, pain-staking trip up the hallway to their front door.
Handy if you know this because you visit them regularly, but hard to juggle waiting time-frames if you’re meeting a brand new Client for the very FIRST time. You don’t want to appear rude or impatient by knocking or ringing continuously, yet you also hope your Client has heard the doorbell and is at least on their way.
More often than not though, you’ll find the more slower-paced folk will either call out that they are coming, or for you to “Come in, dear” which solves the problem, saves you time and puts everyone’s minds at ease immediately.
Some of my more frail Clients, however, can be SO delicate or unwell (you actually wonder how they manage living alone) that their families conveniently arrange for a key-safe to be affixed outside the front door somewhere, perhaps attached to a step railing or post.
This brilliant contraption requires a secret code number to open it before: Hey Presto! It pops open to reveal a key hiding snug inside for you, as their Carer, to let yourself in.
Word from the wise here: Make sure you knock first before you stride on in. And also call out to announce your arrival. You don’t want your unsuspecting client, in mid-doze, dying of fright as you suddenly appear with your bucket and mop from behind the sofa!
Oh, and make sure you PUT THE KEY BACK in the safe for other Carers who might need to get in after you’ve been and gone. The havoc you can create if you forget this can be totally disruptive and cause all sorts of headaches.
STALK YOUR CLIENT
Once you’ve done the acceptable amount of knocking and ringing, and you still haven’t had a response, there are windows you can peer through, and gently tap upon, as well.
Move stealthily around the outer rim of the house, calling out their name and rat-a-tat-tatting as you go, just on the off-chance that your Client is in another room, in the shower, or maybe just finishing up important business in the bathroom… no presh!
Or perhaps they haven’t got their hearing aids in?
Or they’re yakking on the phone?
Or they’re having a bit of a zzzz after a poor night’s sleep?
Keep knocking and also check out in the back yard and garage areas too, if you can access them. I once had a Client whose life revolved completely around her magnificent garden so I knew I’d always find her out back in her wide-brimmed hat digging away in the veggie patch… head down, bum up!
Sometimes too, at this nomadic point, you’ll find a neighbour can often lean over the fence and offer you THEIR five bobs worth on where they think your Client is (or isn’t).
“Oh I saw the ambulance there early this morning. Mary’s daughter said she may’ve had a heart attack so I think they’ve taken her in for some tests.”
Although not to be taken as gospel, you at least know that something serious has happened which explains why your dear Client is not going to be home no matter how furiously you knock. At this point, you’d report in to the office and let them take them wheel.
HELP! I’VE FALLEN OVER!
The other less desirable scenario, is discovering your Client on the ground from having an incident such as a Fall. As unpleasant as this thought is, it is very much a reality considering the age and the state of health of the older adults you are dealing with.
I once found dear Mr Jeffery Bonecracker out by his clothesline one afternoon after he’d tripped over the peg basket and gone for a tumble. Although he swore he was fine and ‘please don’t make a fuss, Dollie’, turns out he had a shattered hip, a dislocated shoulder and required two months in hospital (throw in a further six weeks in Rehab).
FUSS?! Very glad I chose to ignore Jeff’s plea and immediately called emergency services for a whole ambulance-load of fuss!
Note: Never hesitate in calling for an ambulance if you feel it’s warranted. Better safe than sorry – you don’t want the alternative on your conscience.
PASS THE BUCK
So once you’ve explored all the accessible surroundings of your Client’s property (and checked under the clothesline) and you STILL haven’t made contact, it’s time to officially launch into plan B: Ring your office.
Here is the typical procedure a Care Co-Ordinator or Administrator might follow when they receive a report from a Support Worker out in the field with a Client who has not responded:
STEP 1:Phone the Client’s Phone directly:
Fortunately, nine times out of ten, success is often achieved at this point because although your Client may not hear a Support Worker banging, ringing and hollering like a crazed loon at the front door – the sound of their home phone ringing seems to grab attention fairly smartly!
STEP 2:Ring the Rellies:
Failing that, and there is still no response from within the Client’s residence… the office will then call any Next of Kin/Emergency Contacts listed on file in the hope that somebody somewhere may know where your absent Senior is today.
Often, in all the fervour of a better offer, some Clients just downright forget to notify their care provider that they won’t be home today and to please cancel service. Annoying, but understandable and as we all know in life – stuff happens.
STEP 3: Call the Police:
Finally, the last ditch effort in pin-pointing the whereabouts of your missing Senior is to bring in The Law. Meaning yes, the Police are informed and a Welfare Check is systematically conducted by them at your Client’s home to ascertain if they are in there or not. If that means breaking down the door then SO BE IT!
I remember one day not being able to locate my client Mrs Doreen Appelblatt… to pick her up and take her for her regular weekly one hour of shopping. I’d felt quite concerned at the time when she didn’t answer her door as she had complained only the week before of experiencing dizzy spells and ‘feeling a bit off’ recently.
The office too, had exhausted all avenues of contact but had managed to locate Doreen’s daughter Ellie who had also become quite anxious. So much so, that she had jumped in the car and driven the hour long trip to Doreen’s house to see for herself where mum was.
“I rang and reminded her last night that Dollie was coming today to take her shopping – she should be home!”
Oh god, what if she was on the floor, had slipped in the shower, passed-out and unconscious in the bathroom? Perhaps she’d banged her head on the dresser and was slowly bleeding to death after crawling on hand ‘n’ knee trying to haul herself to the phone?
As peppy and alert as Doreen usually seemed, she was 88 years old and had had medical mishaps in the past. Perhaps her number was up and she now lay slumped in a chair from suffering a life-threatening INTRA-CEREBRAL BRAIN ANEURYSM???
(Honestly, the things that fly through your mind!)
But then… as we waited nervously in a clump on the porch for the Police to arrive, Ellie and neighbour Jim (who’d kindly sent out a search party of his own via his Canary Club peeps) watched as a taxi roared round the corner and pulled into Doreen’s driveway.
In disbelief we looked on, as four high-spirited ladies wearing matching blouses piled out of the car, all yakking at once and juggling handbags with platefuls of cookies and sponge cake.
“Pop the hood, if you would kind Sir!” sang Doreen, oblivious to everything except extracting an enormous gold trophy from the boot of the cab.
I remember daughter Ellie looking relieved, as were we all… but at the same time she was fuming that her absent-minded mother had missed yet another valuable council-provided service, wasted everyone’s time and caused a whole lot of bother. Not to mention having the nice police officers in on the act, too!
Apparently winning the tuesday morning Senior Ladies’ ten-pin bowling ’round-robin’ just wasn’t going to cut it this time.
My little yellow sports car,
I puff my chest with pride
When zipping along the freeway,
or tootling through countryside.
My little yellow sports car,
oh, I feel just like James Bond
All that’s missing beside me,
is a long-legged, busty blonde.
My little yellow sports car,
the envy of all my friends
A cut ‘n’ polish each Sunday,
the joy it is immense.
My little yellow sports car,
my daughter calls me absurd
“You’re too old to be driving so fast!”
"That’s shaken’ dear, not stirred".
My little yellow sports car,
now locked up in the shed
I’m not allowed to drive her,
I may as well be dead.
My little yellow sports car,
bye-bye from this ‘Double-oh-Seven’
'Cos when I go I’m taking her with me,
So I can race her to Hell in Heaven.- by Ted J. Tailpipe, age 88 ....BEEP, BEEP!
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!
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!!
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.
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.