ELDERCARE - HOW IS IT DIFFERENT DOING REFLEXOLOGY OR EXERCISE CLASSES OR ANY CARING WORK WITH OTHERS?
To handle yourself, use your head;
To handle others, use your heart."
-- Eleanor Roosevelt
There are many reasons to become aware of the specialness of seniors, both men and women. When you are visiting them in a residence, they are often there because of their children’s choice. Perhaps the children are fearful for their parent’s physical or emotional health and safety. The parent may have become forgetful, leaving the stove on or the bathtub running. Perhaps their parent is no longer eating adequately since it is too much effort for him or her to cook appropriate meals. Perhaps the home appears too large to be properly maintained.
Often the children, having lives of their own, find it too difficult to be available to mom or dad. There are many reasons and each is a plausible one. The end result is that the senior feels that he or she has no choice and relinquishes pride, self motivation, and independence. They miss their old home, perhaps their mate. They have little initiative and feel they have nothing to live for.
As a health provider, you can go a long way in helping them to reclaim their hold on life. You can help them be proud of their 95 years. But, and this is a big “but”, be wary of being patronizing. Seniors, like children, sense far more than you can perceive. When you patronize them you diminish them. You are not being honest but pretending your affection.
Talk with seniors as equals. Laugh, joke, be real. Explain things so they understand them but not from a superior place. You are not “more than” – you have not lived through their experiences. Seniors, from the time they were your all-knowing parents, have given their lives to making their children’s lives easier, smoother, happier and fuller than their own. They gave up so much to give it, especially since the parent role had them stuck in their own image and their own scenario for years. They deserve respect, genuine affection, praise, appreciation and thanks. Make any interaction you have together something they can look forward to.
One of the first things you must be aware of, as a health worker is a physical one. There skin has lost elasticity and the subcutaneous fat layer is gone. The skin and tissues are so much more fragile. This can cause irritation with the slightest pressure. Even though their feet may have many callouses and areas of hardened skin, you must handle the feet and hands delicately.
There will be time when your client is saying “Ouch!” and you have barely touched them. If this is repeated, your best avenue to success will be to use a series of relaxation exercises instead of reflexology. All these special exercises are meant to affect different parts of the body in a gentle but non-invasive way. Your session may contain only “desserts” and treats. The result will still be calmness, relaxation, brighter eyes, improved sleep and delight as they now look forward to the next session. The important thing to remember: DO NOT CAUSE ANY PAIN!
When it comes to the word “Ouch!”, I always precede a session with the words” “Ouch” means “Ouch” and “Stop” means “Stop”! Do you want me to stop?” When a person says “STOP” I do so immediately. This will illicit trust in you, and allow them to have control of their session.
Seniors in this day are no longer respected for their wisdom. They have lost their power and the importance of life’s many lessons. It is in your power to return that to them. Talking is the key, but listening is the answer. You will learn by listening. Listening is emotional support. You cannot learn by telling and talking, only by shutting your moth and opening your ears and your heart.
Therein comes another lesson. Many of you who work with seniors will come in contact with death, loss and grief. Residents will grieve not just the family members but also their new friends passing. And so will you. That is the nature of this type of work. You will learn that platitudes are the last thing you or anyone wants to hear. You will learn to keep your mind and heart full of the pleasant memories and let go of the pain, so you can let yourself go on. You will learn that you work here for the joy that comes with having done a very needed form of work. The old adage, “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” is a truism. When you open your heart, you will be open to pain, but also to love and exchange and the richness of many new friends.
Seniors are desperate for touch. Most of us suffer from touch deprivation. We tend to touch in violence and in sexuality. Seniors receive so little of it – even from their family. This is what you give freely. The result will amaze you both.
We, “young un’s” have a past, a present and a future. Seniors have a past and a strange present. It holds few promises and little passion. They live for the day and many have lost sight of their goals and dreams. A weekly session can at first give them the event to look forward to. As their health improves so will their outlook. Then they will look forward to a tomorrow when they can take a walk, visit places that used to interest them, write their memoirs, or a book of old remedies. Enlarging their world would be an incredible gift. In conversation, lift their spirits and help them to formulate a new future. Help them to reclaim a future by sharing ideas that might promote a tomorrow for them.
When you were a child, you had many moods, not all of them nice ones. Little be little, as you grew, you learned to cover up some of the moods, beliefs and concepts in order to fit with your contemporaries. You often wore a mask of propriety. Your senior did the same thing – perhaps even moreso as rules were so different then. As they approach seniority, the mask will often drop and they will expose the whining, nasty four-year-old that is still within. They will become angry more often. They will have streaks of stubbornness. They may be rude, selfish, even nasty. This is all part of your job and your education. You will learn patience as never before. You will understand them in a new and special way. You will listen with your inner ear, touch them with your inner hand and love them with a new and caring heart. They earned their bad mood and you jut might be able to change them with your skills. Remain their equal, not their parent or advisor. Explain to them what you are hearing and seeing. They may not have been aware of causing pain. Always express their worth back to them. Remember that a person who is needed retains a good self-image.
Become aware of your reasons for wanting to work with seniors. Is it to atone for something in your past? Is it because you always had wonderful special times with seniors in the past? Is it possible a control issue where you are more comfortable with seniors than peers? The reason does not matter. It does matter that you accept your truth and even talk about it with friends. Don’t hide it. Secrets become very heavy. Once your reason is out in the open the true you can shine through and cope with your self and even choose to change.
Seniors need laughter. They are often morose as day follows day with little change. I am sure you’ve noticed that on long holidays you lose track of hours and days. It isn’t a problem with you; it is temporary and caused by one day following the other without individuality. When you work, you always remember the day. When days are identical, so is time. So here is a place to bring your joy and laughter and to share it. I write up the best e-mail jokes, staple them into a good little bunch, then print them and share them with the residents. I only use kind jokes – not male or female bashing, but I do intersperse a “naughty” few. Seniors have not lost their sexuality and their need to laugh. When my hair turned grey, I noticed that noone told me any jokes. I had become respectable in their eyes. I dyed my hair and people shared their funniest with me. To this day , I dye me hair just to receive laughs that I can now share. Although a person ages, the heart stays young. Seniors will entertain wonderful, youthful fantasies because their hearts stay younger than their body/mind.
When working with seniors, pay attention to small details. Help your client in and out of the chair, even when they don’t require it! Little things mean a lot. I always put my client’s sock on. “Oh I can do it!” they say blushing. “Of course you can, “ I say , “and you’ve done it for 80 years. When is the last time someone did it for you? Probably when you were a kid or when you had a broken leg or something, So enjoy the treat!” And they do!
Sometimes in the course of the day, events happen that are distressful. Address scorn, impatience and narrow-mindedness by searching for the humour in the situation, in the moment and redirect the negative feelings. As you laugh with your senior, dance them out of the room. Get them to reclaim their youthful spontaneity. Laughing and its natural assistance in breathing helps bring brightness into slowing brains and aching bodies. You needn’t go far for laughter. Every moment is full of the joy of living. Make sure to include them in your tools of the trade. Laughter is truly a breath of fresh air.