Nowadays we have different days dedicated for every one and everything in our lives! We have Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Elders Day and even a day for cheesecakes! Strange! Superficially it is a bit weird to celebrate these days in a year but take a closer look. These days can be good reasons to smile, share and enjoy. But is that all? Or do these days convey a deeper significance? I believe so. Let us see an example.
The World Elders Day is celebrated in India on October 1 every year. Traditionally, this day is held to honor the elders, give gifts, talk and spend quality time with them. In a nutshell, do everything to make them feel happy! But hey! Think again! Shouldn’t we be doing this to our elders all through their lifetimes? Well, that’s the whole point! It is like eating, and earning money! The only requirement is our willingness.
Why World Elders Day?
Let us put into perspective the need for a separate day like World Elders Day. There is one simple reason: if you are one of those few already taking good care of your elders at home then this day could be spent to reiterate your pledge to continue to do your best, or probably look back to check if you have done enough or make amends. And if you are one of those looking for some reason to start, then this day could be the day!
To begin with, do we celebrate World Elders Day at our homes?
The World Elders Day has a dubious distinction! Today, it is nothing but sheer pain to see that this Day which ought to have been celebrated inside our homes with our elders is celebrated more outside in old age and destitute homes. The reason: today there is an increasing impatience among young men and women and this has forced many elders, willingly or unwillingly, to move into homes for the aged. Frankly speaking either way we are committing the heinous crime of forcing out someone who spent his entire lifetime for us. It may sound cliched yet it is a fact.
Where are we going wrong?
All of us know that we will be elders one day and join the ever increasing percentage of elderly citizens in the world’s population! And yet some of us continue to show gross indifference and disrespect to our elders in our own families and in the society! Each of us might have countless reasons, logics and excuses for this transgression but I guess this could be due to a combination of many problems. Let us try to put into a right perspective these various problems and what we could do to keep our elders happy.
Psychiatrists believe that fulfilling the physical, psychological and emotional needs of elders is the key to keep them healthy and happy. Intentional or unintentional neglect, impudence and maltreatment inside the families and in the society often lead to high levels of stress among elders. This in turn could lead to various physical ailments, psychological and emotional disorders and even cause death in some cases.
Experts say that elders are like children. Just like little babies, the moods of the elders swing, sometimes too quickly not allowing us enough time to grasp. But with a little effort and time we can make a difference! Again, willingness holds the key. Elders need attention at homes and if we don’t give it, they start demanding it. When the elders begin to feel they are neglected, they adopt ways to attract this attention from us which may be totally or partially raw, and at times irritating. Mental agitation, restlessness, falling sick often, nausea, vomiting and even suicide attempts could be just reactions to this neglect by family members. Immediate medical care, physical and psychological alone may not be enough. It is better to pause and ask us this question: What did I do to be here? Most often the answer will be neglect, intentional or unintentional. Remember, elders need attention.
What is ‘attention’?
Attention to our elders does not mean providing only basic amenities like a place to stay, food to eat, some money and new clothes during occasions. Most of us pat ourselves for providing these to our elders at home and expect them to appreciate it and if not at least stop complaining and save us the embarrassment! Unfortunately, we fail to fulfil their most logical and humane expectation of spending quality time with them. It doesn’t mean that we spend hours together with them; it only means that we find a few minutes of quality time for a heart-to-heart talk with them. In some cases, as psychiatrists point out, even certain things done inadvertently could strain relationships.
As suggested, spend a few minutes daily to talk to them. Do not take them for granted. Find out their interests, their requirements, and their concerns. Show respect to their feelings and consult them on important issues. Make them feel important. It is the only viable solution. It is an unassailable fact that we will also face aging! One day we will be elders too. Let us put ourselves into their shoes and ask us this: Will I be truly happy if my son or daughter provides only amenities but avoid talking to me?
Remember, by helping our elders stay physically fit and mentally happy, we are only helping ourselves and our future. Psychiatrists claim that our children who constantly witness how we treat our parents tend to repeat it when we get older. If we fail to give proper care and respect to our elders at home now we will get the same ugly treatment from our children later on in our lives!
Government too has a role to play in keeping elders happy
During the World Elders Day celebrations, the elders take to the roads to highlight their problems and submit petitions to the authorities concerned for alleviation of their difficulties. The Government too is duty bound to fulfill the logical demands of the elders in the society.
Take for instance the health care and health insurance for senior citizens in India. There is a huge void that needs to be fast filled up as far as the standards of health care and the rising health insurance costs for elders is concerned. Elder abuse is another issue the Government should take care. Elder abuse can take many forms and could even prove fatal. It is high time the Government of India speed up the effective implementation of the comprehensive policy for older persons it announced in 1999 to help and support older persons in India.
As always said, everyone has to face aging. One day you will be an elder too and you wouldn’t want your son or daughter to ignore you! Would you? Let us pledge to make a difference on the World Elders Day on October 1. Let us work towards bringing the much needed change, right at your home, right now.
It is a sad fact that most people who financially exploit the elderly get away with it. They often find it so easy that they do it time and time again. Each time the Exploiter becomes more and more bold. They act as though they are entitled to this money and no one else deserves it. This is why they must be prosecuted. There will be another victim.
Prosecuting these crimes is difficult for the State Attorney because of how it is done. In my career as a Professional Geriatric Care Manager in South Florida I have noticed a definite step-by-step process, almost a formula, that these Exploiters use to separate elders from their life savings. In many cases the Exploiter actually gets permission from the elder to take their money. Because of this, it can be argued that the elder “allowed” their assets to be taken and therefore, no crime took place. Furthermore, to argue that an elder was easily influenced by the Exploiter is to imply that the elder is incompetent and perhaps should not be in control of any of their finances. Few elders want to admit that. Instead they justify the theft or even cover it up. Once the elder realizes that they have been victimized, they may feel responsible, guilty or embarrassed. Few will testify against the one who stole from them.
When we think of someone who steals from the elderly, we conjure an image of the stranger lurking around the ATM machine or scam artist selling bogus products. Since Investment Broker, Bernard Madoff “made off’ with his client’s millions, we have all become familiar with the term “ponzi scheme”. But this type of financial exploitation is rare compared to the financial exploitation elder care professionals see every day which is perpetrated by an elderly person’s friends, family and caregivers. In cases I have worked I have seen that THIS type of exploitation achieved slowly, purposely and in FIVE PREDICTABLE STEPS. It is often done so artfully, that the elder and others around them see it happening but cannot believe it is true. They ignore all the small telltales signs. When the situation finally explodes, the FIVE STEPS are then seen as clear as day. By then it may be too late to do anything about it.
Here are the STEPs. Learn to recognize them and you may prevent this horrible crime from happening to yourself or someone you care about.
STEP ONE: The Exploiter comes to the rescue – they become a caregiver or helpmate when the person suffers a crisis. They may do extra favors for the elder without pay and refuse to take payment even when offered…at first. The Exploiter will later remind the elder of the favors and cause them to feel indebted to them.
STEP TWO: The Exploiter convinces the elder that they are the only one who cares about their welfare. The elder is brainwashed to believe that the true family only wants their money.
STEP THREE: The Exploiter separates the elder emotionally and physically from their family. They bring in their own family to be the “replacement family”. Next they tell the elder they are like family to them. May may even start to call the elder ” Mom” or “Dad”. They may deny the true family access to calling or visiting the elder and cause others in the community to regard the true family as exploiters. The elder may never know about all the family’s attempts to reach them.
STEP FOUR: The Exploiter gets permission to use the elder’s credit card, ATM card or other money for a small purchase. Then they continue to use the elder’s assets and transfer assets little by little to their own account or distribute assets among the Exploiter’s family members. The Exploiter may shop for the elder but purchase items for themselves as well. They may take the elder out to dinner but also invite their whole family and have the elder pay for it. When the Exploiter’s car needs repair or gas, the elder is asked to pay for since that car is used to shop or transport the elder. The elder will feel they have no choice but to agree.
STEP FIVE: Finally, the Exploiter will attempt to take legal control over the person. They may become Power of Attorney, change the Will to disinherit the family and bequeath assets to them self and or their family. A few years ago, I had a case where an attorney changed the Will of a confused dying woman to give her home and assets to an aide whom she had only known for two years. This was especially heinous because that lawyer had previously written the Will for the family and knew that the heirs existed. This family fought the caregiver in court and had to settle for about one tenth of their original estate. I testified against the the attorney and he has tried to retaliate against me several times since. A few weeks ago I testified in a case where a caregiver in her forties married a ninety- four year old man. She was previously his maid for about two years. She had a notary perform the ceremony in their living room while her children served as witnesses. This act automatically disinherited the elderly man’s entire family. The marriage was challenged and annulled. The elderly man was deemed incompetent by a court of law and assigned a guardian of his assets.
The secret weapon these perpetrators use is LOVE, ATTENTION, FAMILY- LIKE CONNECTION and even SEX…all the things human beings need but may not get once they are aged. In South Florida, many seniors retire to this area only to find themselves thousands of miles from their original family when they need them the most. This isolation creates a dangerous opportunity for exploiters.
If someone you love has a person in their life, be it friend, family, caregiver, or even a trusted professional and you feel they are taking over that person’s finances, lifestyle and even thought processes, get professional help! Contact a professional such as a Geriatric Care Manager or an Elder Law attorney and make sure someone contacts Adult Protective Services. The reality is that the police and State Attorney’s office will need you to practically build the case for them in order for them to prosecute. The evidence may need to be gathered secretly in order not to cause the Exploiter to quickly move to STEP FIVE. Most importantly, take action immediately. Know that the elder will feel you are meddling and taking over. They will not thank you for this because they have already been convinced that the Exploiter has somehow earned their loyalty and their money. Act anyway because it is the right thing to do.
It always makes me sad to hear the families of an elder say “Mom made me promise to never put her in a nursing home”. That is simply a promise that most families today cannot keep. If a caring son or daughter finds that they have to break that promise, they may feel guilty for the rest of their lives. Mom probably asked for that promise because the nursing homes she remembers were dark, institutional places which would be considered substandard in America today. Today’s family structure and the financial challenges of elder care, make facility living a very common choice. When an elder shows signs of not being able to perform the basic activities of daily living, families or concerned professionals must step in. It is actually against most state laws for a professional to be aware of an elder in trouble without taking some reasonable action to secure their safety. There are many indicators that an elder is no longer safe at home alone. The basic litmus test is to ask yourself is: “Could this person save him or herself if their home were on fire? Would they be able to call 911 and communicate their exact location? If left alone for any period of time are they at risk for physical abuse or financial exploitation? Do they have the skills and resources to meet their daily hygiene and nutritional needs? The answer is “NO” for many American elders who live home alone.
Independence vs. Isolation
Many of my elderly clients who were trying so hard to maintain their independence by living alone at home actually maintained nothing more than an isolated existence punctuated by the occasionally call or visit from friends and family. This type of isolation was also coupled with medication errors or abuse, self neglect and unsanitary housekeeping. A person living in this situation will often “bloom like a flower” in the right retirement facility environment. It is amazing what three hot meals a days, social interaction, clean sheets and regular administration of medications can do for a person’s mind, body and spirit. A person who lives alone is more likely to fall and lay alone on the floor for days without being found. A person, who lives alone may make poor choices such as keeping, (or worse,) spoiled food in the refrigerator. If a person lives alone, there are many signs of illness that no one will notice during sporadic short visits. Medical appointments may be missed and prescriptions left unfilled. Many people feel that they are honoring their aging loved one by letting them live alone, even though all the tell tale signs of self neglect are apparent. There is no honor or dignity in being found on the floor after one has laid in their own excrement for three days. Unfortunately, many families will wait for this type of incident before insisting on either home health care or facility placement. If an elder is physically or verbally abusive to family and care givers, they are much more likely to be left alone to make their own decisions, regardless of how dysfunctional their situation may be. Elders with difficult personalities are many times more likely to be abused by caregivers. They need more supervision, not less.
American Family Dynamics and the Pressures of Today’s World
I hear people say “Americans don’t take care of their elders like other countries do”. Well that is not my experience. The adult children who consult with Geriatric Care Manager or other eldercare professionals are very concerned about their parents. They love them and they want the best care their money can buy. That’s the clincher: what their money can buy. In America, caregivers, maids, etc,, are expensive. Perhaps in another country where slave labor is commonplace, people can afford plenty of care. But in this country it costs $12.00 per hour (or more) for a home health aide. At eight hours per day, that is $96.00 per day. That is $2,880 per month or $34,560 per year – more than the average working American earns per year. The average woman gets a social security check of less than $500.00 per month. Do the math and you will soon see that unless you are wealthy, many people cannot afford to keep their elders in their own home with a part time caregiver or even in their children’s home with a caregiver.
Now couple this financial problem with another very real problem. Most middle income women in their fifties, who are caring for their elderly parents, are also trying to hold down a job, help their young-adult children and maintain a marriage. If a middle income woman stops working to care for her parents, she and her husband either cannot pay their bills or they must significantly reduce their standard of living. I know a few husbands who are fifty-something and feel they have worked too hard and too long to have their dreams of retirement evaporate because someone else’s needs are suddenly more important than their own. Now that Americans have come to grips with the concept that it takes two incomes to live well in this country, they are more determined than ever to have a retirement. Paying $35,000 per year for a caregiver can take a huge chunk out of the retirement savings. Frankly, most people couldn’t afford to do it even if they wanted to. Because most Americans’ net worth is in the equity of their home, selling the family home is the most common way to finance elder care services. If the family home sells for $100,000.00 and the average cost of an Assisted Living Residence is $36,000.00 per year, an elder can afford to live in that Assisted Living for 2.7 years. Coincidently, the average amount of time a person lives in an Assisted Living before moving on to a nursing home is 2.5 years.
Many adult children, who do have the desire and financial means to bring their elders to live with them, still cannot. They cannot because the medical or psychological needs of the elder are beyond their capacity to manage. For example, if Grandma is sweet and docile by day, but “sundowns” or grows agitated as evening falls, this poses a difficult problem for the caring family. When some people experience dementia or other medical issues, they may stay awake all night. They sometimes wander out of doors or rummage through drawers and closets. This behavior will keep the whole family awake at night. If a working family cannot sleep at night, this situation will become intolerable very quickly. Some adult children have been raised by violent, aggressive parents who are now violent aggressive elders. Children who have been raised under these conditions need not feel obligated to bring their parents to live with them, despite the pressure they may get from outsiders who do not know the real story.
Elders and their families who are trying to make difficult choices about elder care benefit from a professional assessment from a geriatric specialist. Professional care managers can offer an objective opinion based on a clinical evaluation of the physical and cognitive status of the elder. Physicians, hospital case managers, facility admissions coordinators and social workers can also offer advice about appropriate placement of an elder or even suggest how to set up services in the home to best meet the elder’s needs.
Home Health Care – Stay Home without Being Alone
At the very least, any elder living alone should have a medical alert system. This is a necklace or wrist band with a panic button that can be pushed in case of emergency. If the button is pushed a dispatch center receives the signal and makes and attempt to communicate with the elder through a speaker placed in the home. If the elder needs help or does not respond to attempts to communicate, emergency services will be dispatched to the home. Many services will also contact friends and family to notify them that assistance is needed. A good candidate for this device is one WHO DOES NOT have memory loss as memory loss makes it difficult to learn to operate new appliances.
We would like to stay young forever, but there is the inevitability of old age. We are scared to look old. We try to look young, but in spite of all technological advances – skin tightening, and dyeing the hair – and beauty parlors, old age creeps in. Even our attitude is flexible till our youth, and rigidity creeps in as we age. We are no longer in the main stream of social activity. We tend to live secluded life within our homes. We must live life proactively with enthusiasm, and be self-reliant: socially, financially, and emotionally.
Oh! the inevitability of old age!
Are you old in age?
- Or, you have ‘an old person’s attitude’!
The universal symptom of old age
* As rigidity increases in a body, it indicates arrival of old age.
A sapling is flexible.
An old plant is not; it is rigid.
An old animal or a bird have a less flexible body.
An old person does not have a flexible body.
Old age attitude – the exclusive symptom for humanity
* Rigid views in old age
For humanity, ‘rigidity in views’ is more relevant!
An old person is normally rigid in his attitude.
He has fixed habits.
He refuses to change.
Over the years, his daily chores have been sculpted, and tailor-made to suit his likes and dislikes.
He finds himself uncomfortable, when he faces a change.
* Rigid views in young age
A young person, with rigid views, is no longer young in mind.
A rigid attitude implies a stagnant mind.
All militants have rigid and stagnant attitude.
They can never appreciate or tolerate a different way of life or ritual, not in conformity with their anachronistic views.
Yet, they are not incorrigible.
But who will come forward to discuss with them, or to educate them?
Old minds in young bodies are dangerous to humanity.
Busy doing unproductive activities
* An old person may not know,’how to spend his time’.
He keeps himself busy:
(a) A morning walk with friends, to neutralise loneliness throughout the day,
(b) Reading newspaper – each page, leisurely, even classifieds – a favourite pastime for 2-3 hours,
(c) Playing cards daily – 10-12 hours a day, and
(d) Participation in honorary jobs, and consultancy.
Be an asset to society
* An old person is a liability to society, when he draws pension or avails social welfare measures.
Japan faces the problem of abnormal increase in number of retired, old persons.
An old person must earn money, without bothering about others’ criticism.
Then he is an active member of society.
He is less of a liability, and is back as an asset to the society.
Participation in social activities
Old persons feel less lonely.
It gives them a purpose of life.
Be a part in a social welfare project.
Meet older, lonely souls in old age homes.
Meet lonely old age or young lonely patients in hospitals.
Even looking after orphan pets, or discarded pets, is a satisfying activity.
Living in old memories
* Don’t live in old memories.
The World is full of grandparents who keep repeating same interesting anecdotes of their younger days to their disinterested grandchildren.
Create new memories, by living an active life – new hobbies, and new friends.
Children and grandchildren can’t share their lives with old grandparents, as a friend.
There is a generation gap.
Old persons have to find their conversation group in their age group.
How to face the old age
* Create fresh memories in life, by active participation in life.
A 93 years old Sikh, Fauza Singh ran the London marathon 2004, in 6 hours and 7 minutes.
He did it – an incredible physical feat.
But more important, his robust mental health,
And his enthusiasm for living life fully!
* Have a project in your life.
A 90-year-old friend is writing a new book every year, explaining his religion to his community, in an easy to understand language.
God has gifted him mental alertness, in old age.
* Enjoy being proactive in your habits.
If you are in seventies or eighties, but immobile or bed-ridden, move out in a wheel chair.
Enjoy the cool breeze, river banks, and scenic beauty of mountains.
Don’t stay secluded within the home.
Be thankful to God, for your good health, all these years.
Be thankful to God, for the old age.
Not everybody is granted old age experience by God.
Our bodies seem to follow a bell-curve of strength that starts at our infancy and ends with our life. It is important to understand the elders body and its limitations when seeking activities to share with them. This may mean speaking with the senior’s doctor or listening to any pain or exhaustion that they might experience from doing some activities. This article presents some suggestions for activities that may often be well appreciated well over age 65.
One fun activity to share is taking a moment to enjoy the rich beauty nature has to offer. You may take a day to walk in the park, watch the birds or go on a kayaking adventure. If you bring a camera, a good project may be to make a scrapbook of all your outdoor excursions and the birds you see. Many people enjoy the outdoors, so it may be great to find an outdoor activity that you both enjoy. You could also take turns introducing one another to your favorite outdoor activities. If the elder enjoys going for walks in the park and your hobby is drawing landscapes or fishing, you could take the time to share each one. By introducing one another to your favorite outdoor activities, you may find a great new hobby and create a memorable experience together.
There are many sports that you also may enjoy together that are not physically demanding such as tennis, swimming, horseshoes and golf. It is important to speak with the elder’s doctor provider before playing sports, to make sure that they have permission. In some cases, the elder may have a condition preventing them from playing high intensity sports. If this is the case, there are plenty of other activities that the professional may recommend.
Your community may have a center designed for these activities like a YMCA or a country club. Some high schools or universities will allow visitors to use their athletic facilities during specified hours, contact your local schools to ask about these opportunities. There may also be putt-putt golf courses, local parks and beaches in your area for you practice athletic activities or just appreciate the outdoors. If you enjoy exercising, Yoga and Thai Chi are also ways to stay physically fit and are often recommended for the elderly.
When the elder is exercising, it is important to warm up and cool incrementally. This is encouraged for anyone exercising, but is more important as we get older. By stretching, you are preventing your body from being sore or exceptionally tired after workouts. You are also greatly reducing the chance of injury of you and the elder. We can often be exited to begin with our activities for the day, but a simple ten-minute stretch can go far.
The elder you are caring for may not be capable of some activities and tasks that many can do. Some may have medical conditions or be on medication and have orders from their doctors to avoid such activities. For other elders, their physical condition may make some activities both dangerous and extremely time consuming. Shopping can be perceived as a simply task to some, but for the elderly it can become difficult and dangerous.
The elder may have trouble finding their way to the store, remembering what they need and is risking physical injury. By helping the elder shop or do other activities, you are making their lives easier and may be preventing serious injury. If you are unsure what activities the elder would like help with, do not be afraid to ask. By helping with too many activities without being asked, you may be harming their pride and feeling of independence.
It is often important to ask elders before helping, unless you believe that they are in physical danger of completing the task. By automatically helping you are sending the message that the elder is incapable of properly completing the task him or herself. Having difficulty completing tasks that were once considered simple may be embarrassing and diminish someone’s pride.
If you prefer to grow your own food for fun or enjoy natural foods, you may also help the elderly in their garden or create one. Having a garden may reduce stress and strengthen your emotional bond by creating life together. Gardening can be a simple activity or a very complex career. No matter what your skill level, there are many resources available to get you and the elder started on gardening. Some plants take less skill to grow than others; growing wild flowers may be easier than growing prize winning squash. If your gardening skills are hopeless, there is always the option of growing weeds. Although, some believe that they only come up when they are not desired.
Once you have collected the bounty in your garden or at the supermarket, you may help the elder prepare meals. If they are independent, the senior may not go through the effort of preparing full meals and may not have a well balanced diet. Cooking meals may be a fun way to help improve the physical and emotional health of the elder you care for, while improving your skills to impress guests. It may help to make large portions of meals or extras, so that the elder may easily prepare the meals again to enjoy your kitchen creation. If you or the elder does not enjoy cooking, they may be eligible for the meals on wheels program in your local community.
If you prefer literature or the arts to other activities, you may read or write with the elder that you are caring for. Our eyesight may decrease drastically as we age and reading small text may become difficult. Other people may develop arthritis and experience pain while gripping a pencil to write. For some elders, this loss can be devastating. Some people have retirement dreams of reading every day or writing a novel, just to discover that their physical condition prevents them from achieving this.
By helping the elder in these simple activities, you may just be working with them to achieve their dreams and ambitions. Even if the elder does not aspire to be the next Herman Melville, reading and writing is an essential activity in today’s society that you can help them to do.
A great way to spend time with one another and spread the value of knowledge may be to share your favorite books or poems. The elder may be aware of amazing classics novels and poems that you have not yet discovered and you may have insight on the latest best sellers. Together, you can share the rich experience of reading and explore new books.
You may also take a trip to your local art museum or gallery to share the art and educational experience with a loved one. Before you go, make sure that the elder can properly see so that they are not disappointed when entering the museum. Some paintings are positioned far from the eyes and some museums may prevent visitors from getting too close. If a distance rule exists at your local museum or gallery, try calling ahead and asking if they can accommodate the elder.
If you and the elder prefer creating more than observing, there are many low cost arts and crafts projects available online. Creating artwork and following instructions may give seniors a sense of accomplishment and pride. Their creation will be with them forever as a trophy to their achievement and with you as a reminder of your compassion. Sometimes local art centers have art classes available for painting, clay or mosaics and theatre. These classes often charge a fee, although they may have a discount for seniors or may be able to make accommodations upon request.
There are many other activities that you can share with the elderly. The important thing is to be creative and select things that you both enjoy doing. You can introduce one another to new activities, but no one likes to be forced into activities that they do not enjoy. If the elder asks you to do an activity that you do not enjoy, there is no need for you to continue doing it. If the elder seems to not enjoy an activity you share with them, recommend something else.