Posted in Respect, Society

The ‘Invisibility’ of Old People

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 political passive-resistance ‘sit-ins’, who declared that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.

But then, he would.

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.

Eeek!  FEET?

TOUCH ME
TOUCH ME
TOUCH ME

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 their magnificent cultural banquets) under the one, usually fairly large 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 and 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 our 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 (does Skype 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 still 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 cashier’s 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 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?”

Crowded shops – a nightmare at any age!

To be honest it was pretty similar to what I’d thought 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 elderly 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.

Fun (NOT).

I braced myself, dreading what awfulness might come from this juvenile whipper-snapper’s mouth. Would there be yet more disinterest, some degrading comments… in an equally degrading 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 crappy 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 stupidly over-priced food mixers, I reckon without question, he would have been most peacefully and passively… chuffed to bits!

So, you’re saying it’s not all about ME then?

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers, Dollie


Posted in Technology, Working with Elderly

HELP! The Computer Swallowed Grandma!

You wanna do WHAT with my Cookies?

Before we go scoffing and rolling our eyes too loudly when it comes to mustering the patience for showing an aging 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 bot-bot 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, she finds it intimidating and it just feels so damned impersonal to her.

I bet Grandma would like to give HIM a finger…

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, isn’t it?

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 begged by my elderly 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 last week”.

Do you think perhaps some water got into the wiring, Dollie?”

That the “inter-web must be broken” because the screen hasn’t lit up… or that “I think I’ve broken the internet” after accidentally deleting her own shortcut icon. Or asking if one needed to locate an ‘App’ just 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 she’d inadvertantly opened close to 30 windows and had 14 tool bars running!!

“Would it be easier if I hopped on to ‘The Google’ 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 adult 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.


See what I mean – CUTE!  

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!!

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers, Dollie
Posted in Aged Care, cooking, Working with Elderly

When Old Dogs, Learn New Cooking Tricks

Pommy-granitt! What’s THAT when it’s at home?

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, oddly-shaped fruit & veg on trend and fearlessly on display at the supermarkets nowadays.  

With elbows leaned furtively on shopping carts they drift nonchalantly down the aisles, the majority with little idea what these new species are, what they DO… or how to even peel one. Suffice to say, there’s little chance they’ll be cooking with one of them any time soon!  

Off the top of my head there’s kale, pomegranates, avocados (the smashing of) and the phenomena known as “keen-wah” just to name a few that appear to be causing angst among my sceptical over 80’s mob. 

Pomegranate earrings?
– wardrobe essential

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 natural beauties, elders decrease the probability of developing chronic illness, rehabilitate faster if they do, and subsequently, increase their chances of living forever.  

WIN-WIN-WIN!

Which got me thinking that not only is it technology that an older adult is pressured to adopt and understand in today’s frantically progressive world.

It’s also about what we EAT.

Having grown up in arguably more frugal times (where food 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, 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 dietary dilemmas. Although they may baffle some who are afraid to ask and feel it’s easier just to stick their heads in their Vine-RipenedTomato, Roast Bell Pepper & Basil soup than have to ‘get with the times’ and figure it all out.  

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.

The Art of Murdering BROCCOLI

No longer can she happily enjoy the spitting of lamb chops as they fry unmercilessly 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.

OH GOD, DON’T MAKE ME 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 and hearty wholesome 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 inquisitively brave clients at least give it a go. Seizing this new ‘foodie’ adventure by it’s 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 a lovely chap 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 super 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. 

Delish!

Bake it up, Bert!

Interesting to note, I find the biggest motivator for my elders to climb aboard the Superfood train and include more fresh raw ingredients in their diet, is the possibility that it lessens 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 dumb in front of others. And with this traditionalist Boomer generation, it’s understandable why they’d 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 empowering themselves with new lifestyle choices which might just allow them to not only live longer but live BETTER, gets lost in the despair and gloominess of  ‘being old’.  

Instead slumped into recliners, watching life pass them by with a rug over their knees, and beans on toast or a mug of something for dinner yet again, is as tricky as some can cope with.

Now, shut the damn gate when you leave, Missy!

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.

Oh yes, roll on next Tuesday!

Arrrrh, ’tis true, me Hearties

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers,
Dollie
Posted in Aged Care, Working with Elderly

Cranky Old Man

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)

Reflections…

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers,
Dollie

Posted in Aged Care, Working with Elderly

Elderly Constipation – the In’s & Outs

“And it’s a Pain in the Butt!”

Being constipated STINKS.

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.

Waiting…. waiting…

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 Seniors are 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 elders 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?) 
OUT, damn plop?

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 our energy levels and leaving us 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 (her Cream Cheese & Banana Nut loaf is pretty fabulous too).

Mmmm creamy, bananery, nutty goodness

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 lordy, 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 does it actually exist?

What kind of STOOL am I?

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 she loses 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 kidding 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.

HAPPY CARING!

Cheers,
Dollie

Posted in Aged Care, Working with Elderly

10 Tips for Meeting an Older Adult at their Home for the First Time

An Aged-Care Worker’s Guide

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?!?!
Ding, DONG!
Anyone home?

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 a learner.  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.  

Beware the twitching curtains…

1.   SMILE!

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’ for the obvious reason.

“For efficiency’s sake”, she’d say.

Ultimately, ‘Gina’ and I got on so famously she insisted I call her by her first name anyway.  Phew…problem solved.

And who are you, Dear?

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 Home Care 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 suffers from deafness (the rational and most common one)
  • your client is from a non-English 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 hearing issues only to get home at the end of the day and continue the trend with my family… aren’t they lucky!

HELLO? WHAT?

5.   Compliment your Client

One of the best bits of never-fail advice I can offer all budding carers (or anyone trying to make someone else like you) is that you need to find something about your new client to compliment them on.  

Something. Annnything.

It could be that their hair or make-up looks nice, you just love the colour of their shirt, 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 cermaic vase in the loungeroom, the beautifully manicured lawn or the fabulous blooms on the camelia bush.

Whatever, doesn’t matter.  

Older adults 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!

Wow, look at the pink on YOU!

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 that 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.

For example:

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

Seniors 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 faith of your brand new judgemental client… and you can disinfect yourself in the car later!

But why hasn’t Freckles moved in over an hour?

8.   LISTEN to your Client

Every 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.  

Isn’t it?

9.   ASSESS

An astute and qualified carer can evaluate a lot about a new aged 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 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.

Been on the gin, Mr Slusher?

10.  You’re In!

Well done! Superb job!

You’ve passed the probing and interrogation stage and your shiny new elder 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 new elderly client, 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.

Work hard, and always have pride in being able to provide a service to people who need your help if they intend on staying in their own homes. And who on the most part, are actually very pleased to see you.

Happy Caring!

Cheers, Dollie