Monday, August 18, 2014

The ageing society


The heaviness of grief presses down with a terrible weight. I have lost all my family members - first my parents, then Paul, Russell, James and Mark (brothers). As the oldest sibling, why am I the one remaining? Why has the Lord allowed me to live, the old maid, with no husband or children?

I face a future dependent on others; even my personal hygiene will be left to a caregiver. I am being stripped of pride, vanity and independence. Far from home, friends and church, my nightmare will come true. I will soon fade into obscurity, a statistics of a life lived. 

My sadness I reminiscent of how I felt when I was forced to retire because of my health. 

From the book  "Birthcry" by Shirley Roland Ferguson 

Hannah Mitchell (1907 - 2000) was a remarkable woman and I will tell you more about her in another blog - but I felt that this quote sums up the aged of today. We are now living longer than ever before, however our quality of life in the twilight years is not always satisfactory.  Last week I wrote about the importances of a dignified death (Link), how can we do this when we can't even manage to treat our elderly in a dignified manner.  

One hundred years ago we lived approximately to our mid 50's or 60's. In fact the aged pension in Australia was set at 60 because most people would either never access it, or would only require it for a few short years. Now our life expectancy is in the low 80's. Sadly for many who reach this milestone find themselves in nursing homes suffering from diseases such as dementia (which is what Hannah Mitchell suffered in the last years of her life). Or they are like my mother, suffering poor physical health but ok in her mind. Nursing homes are depressing places and in fact many who end up in nursing homes suffer from depression and anxiety. Mental health is not just an issue for the young, it also affects the elderly. 

It might surprise you that the highest rate of suicide (per 100,000 people) is in fact the elderly.  For men aged 85 years and over, the rate is 37.6 per 100,000 people (compared to 25.4 for those aged 45-54). It is important to note, that this is still a very small number of people (56 men) as the number who reach 85 years or more is diminishing. However, 56 men in Australia in their late 80's felt their life was no longer worth living. That is so sad. 

Once upon a time families use to take care of their own, it wasn't unusual for find three generations living under the same roof. Nursings homes weren't an option. However, for many elderly folk, they became a burden to the family and many women who were left to care for their mother or father (or in-laws) became quite bitter about this arrangement. We must not glorify the past when it wasn't always good. For many years we have neglected our elderly.  We just don't value our elderly as they do in some cultures such as in Japan and China. In fact, it isn't new at all. In 1 Timothy (5:8) we can see that it happened in biblical times too. Christians were behaving worse then none believers and neglecting those within their own household. We must not ignore our own families and let them suffer. We do have a responsibility.

But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. (1 Timothy 5:8)

Placing a parent into a nursing home is sometimes the only option -  for example if they require 24 hour nursing care, it just means you need to take extra effort to make sure their lives are worth living. 

You do need to choose a nursing home wisely - some are far worse than others.

They need to know they are not "fading into obscurity". 

They need to know that they are valued, loved and wanted.  They need to be told this often.

They need to know they are not a burden to society.  

They need to be involved in conversations about their living arrangements and not talk about as if they weren't there.

They need to know that their wisdom (accumulated over decades) is still valued. 

They need to know that others are praying for them and that they haven't been forgotten. 

My dad visits my mum every day and the one thing he has noticed is the number of residents who never have visitors, not even at Christmas, Mothers Day or Fathers Day. These are people who do have family who I can only assume are "just too busy" to care. So the next time you walk through a nursing home, stop to chat to those who rarely get visitors, smile, offer a compliment. It will make their day.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. (Leo Buscalglia)


As I said in my post about death, the elderly do deserve to leave this earth in a dignified manner, they do deserve our respect and our love, our kindness and they do deserve to feel wanted and not alone.  No elderly person should ever feel unloved and alone. You wouldn't neglect a child, why neglect someone frail and old. 

I will end with a quote from Hannah Mitchell (Hannah's last entry in her journal):

Even though I am moving into the shadows of my long life, I have the assurance that my Heavenly Father will be with me. Even when I can no longer pray or acknowledge Him, He will he there. At the age of eighty-three, I know that I am closer to going to my heavenly home now than ever before. I know that when I sleep for the last time, the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will awaken me to a new world untouched by human hand. . . I am ready Lord, Thy will be done.

****

17 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks - we will all get old one day and it would be terrible to be forgotten.

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  2. These issues will face of all of us, more and more as the baby boomers continue to age. I was just talking with an older man who said he is thinking about suicide because he doesn't want to face a nursing home. This is tragic. You make some very helpful suggestions. People need to know they are valuable, even when they are old and feeble.

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    1. There is a growing number of Australia's who seek the advice of euthanasia experts to find way of committing suicide that is perhaps more acceptable.

      Whilst nursing homes aren't great, it is what you make it - I think something feel that is all hopeless when they reach that point in their lives and it doesn't need to be.

      We all need to know we are valued, but the elderly in particular.

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  3. A Beautiful and thought provoking post. My Grandma went into a nursing home and loved it. She joined the choir and did lots of crafts. My mum would visit her at least 3 times a week on her way home from work and once a week Gran would be taken out to spend the day with us.

    I hope she knew that she was loved and never had feelings of fading into the shadows.

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    1. My mum was unwell for a number of years after her stroke so wasn't happy about going into a nursing home (dad remains in the family home) - and on her good days she really enjoys it, but when she is depressed it all becomes too much. Dad goes every day and that does help and he runs around for her and gets her everything she needs. She is blessed to have a husband that cares for her so well.

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  4. This is very moving, Jo. Thanks for writing this!

    I thought of one or two verses from this passage. I didn't intend to put in the whole thing, but after reading it I couldn't leave out the middle or the end. :-)

    Psalms 71:9-21 Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. For mine enemies speak against me; and they that lay wait for my soul take counsel together, Saying, God hath forsaken him: persecute and take him; for there is none to deliver him. O God, be not far from me: O my God, make haste for my help. Let them be confounded and consumed that are adversaries to my soul; let them be covered with reproach and dishonour that seek my hurt. But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more. My mouth shall shew forth thy righteousness and thy salvation all the day; for I know not the numbers thereof. I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only. O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come. Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high, who hast done great things: O God, who is like unto thee! Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth. Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.

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    1. Thankyou for posting these verses :)

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  5. This is such an important post. The older I get, the more I value the advice and thoughts of the elderly. They came from an era when people thought before they spoke, life was more sober (perhaps partly because they grew up in world wars and the depression etc). I do wonder with the way the world is going, what young people today will have to offer young people when they reach those elderly years - will they have anything to offer? It's sad.
    It's also sad how people who are elderly are neglected. And we are definitely doing something wrong if we don't teach our children to value the elderly - after all, we're shooting ourselves in the legs if we neglect to teach them this - THEY will be the ones to take care of us in our old age!!! We should be giving them the example of the way WE want to be treated! People are horribly short-sighted if they can't see that!

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    1. I wish I had listened to my ageing aunts far more - people like Auntie H as they knew so much and lived a life so full, but I was young and silly and missed the opportunity - I didn't realise at the time how precious their advice and wisdom was. This is one reason why I value the conversations I have with Auntie D and Uncle D - I don't want to regret not listening to them.

      After reading the Mamamia article about the number of elderly who live alone and die alone and no one noticed their passing - it shows how important it is to be aware of your neighbours and reach out to those that appear to be alone. I live next door to a lady who is ageing and I keep an eye on her to make sure I see her regularly, yo never know if they have fallen over and need help or can't get to the shop for food. We do need to care for others and in particular the frail.

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  6. Hi Jo, this post means something to me. I don't want my parents who have changed my dirty diapers, raised me in my energetic toddler-hood, prayed for me with all their hearts in my teen-aged years to feel alone and desolate in their old age. I pray my husband and I can take them in if they are healthy enough to do so. I always tease them (though seriously at the same time) that they need to take care of themselves NOW so that I can take care of them later... I hope and pray that I won't end up in a lonely room one day myself. This is where the Golden Rule really needs to be considered. You always share such thought provoking posts! Thank you...

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    1. It would have been wonderful to take care of my mother, sadly I live in another state and my father is able bodied. Therefore we really didn't have any choose sadly. Dad is in the family home and doing quite well - he visits mum every day and does lots of running about for her (he is the perfect husband) and she gets lots of other visitors. And still having all her faculties she is able to read and knit and talk to others and she reads to a blind lady and helps with some of the ladies with dementia, so she tries to keep busy which does help her mind. But sadly she does get upset and depressed and we all try our best to keep her positive and her focus on the Lord.

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  7. I love that picture every time I see it.... This is a heavy post, but a good one... so much to think about. Thank you for sharing this.

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  8. My mother, 80 & still fit & spry & traipsing around Alaska at this very moment, has chosen to live in a retirement village although we offered her a home with us. She doesn't want to feel that she is a burden on her family & that her health needs will receive 24/7 care if she ever needs that. We try & visit often but are at that time in life when we have many family commitments of our own. I think it is always difficult though I am comforted because mum explains she does get visits from all of us while many never see family from one year's end to the next.

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    1. Wow, 80 and still travelling - I dream of that!! There are some excellent retirement villages these days that look great and contain all the services the residents require. My dear friend's mother has just moved into one about 5 mins from her daughters home - she can maintain her independences (which is very important to her) but be near enough to her daughter if she needs help.

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  9. This is a wonderful post because we truly do need to care for the elderly - because we are all going to be that one day!
    However, I wanted to point out one issue you mentioned --
    "who I can only assume are "just too busy" to care" - I don't believe that this is always the case. I know of some families who just find it WAY too hard emotionally to visit, especially if their elderly family member has dementia and doesn't know who they are, or has become aggressive/violent (as some dementia patients do). For them, it's not a busy issue - its the emotional pain of seeing someone they care about so so deeply, hurting and struggling.

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