My grandmother has always been one of those people, who exude energy, life, and authority wherever they go. Having always seen her as a woman of strength and unshakeable command, I was in for quite a shock when I met her a few months ago, after a gap of three long years.
Well into her 70s now, she had come to India for treatment for a number of age-related illnesses. It broke my heart to see that age had finally caught up to the woman who I’d always considered to be strength personified.
But my shock and sorrow at this change were evidently nothing compared to how she felt about being dependent on the family for help. Cruel as it is, ageing is an inevitable change that she had to go through, and I decided that it would be up to me to help her through it. Realising that I am not alone in this, made things easier. After all, we all have relatives who inevitably go through the tough process of ageing. But there definitely are things that we can do to make the process more comfortable for them:
A 2014 study has revealed that loneliness among the elderly deserves urgent attention, as it increases the risk of premature death by 14%, the biggest reason behind the death of elders. When children and family members move out into the world, the sudden loneliness born out of the Empty Nest Syndrome can make it an emotionally difficult time. As youngsters, we can do our bit to help cope with this loneliness, by making our grandparents more tech-savvy. Why should social media not be a source for them to stay connected with their loved ones? Quick tutorials of WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype and other apps, can help them keep in touch with their families, and reach out when they are feeling lonely.
With ageing, illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, weaker eyes, respiratory issues, and indigestion become everyday battles, making frequent visits to the doctor a routine occurrence.For those used to being fit and healthy, this can be a daunting process. To support them through this, one of the most effective ways for youngsters to help is by offering companionship, especially during the doctor’s visits.
Understanding the illnesses and making sure timely consultations and intake of medicines takes place, too, can help. Sometimes, living far away could make being physically present a challenge. But there are still things we can do to help. It could be as simple as setting a reminder on our phones to call and check if grandma visited the doctor, or took the prescribed medicines at night. What matters, in the end, is that we provide emotional support through something that might be stressing our elders out, and merely showing that we care could go a long way in achieving this.
It is common knowledge that as you age, you get fewer hours of sleep at night. With so much time in hand, the days can become daunting to face. Here’s where we step in. Encouraging our elders to take up hobbies, helping them enrol into different groups and clubs, and organising their holidays can be enormously beneficial to them. Not only would it provide a break in what could easily slip into a monotonous life, but would add interest and excitement to their lives.
As our bodies age, they also become more physically limited. Aches and pains, balance issues and weakness become next to normal. Frustration and anger in such situations are not uncommon. Some physical limitations, such as urinary incontinence, or loss of bladder control, can even cause intense embarrassment among elders.
A little extra attention and love from us, however, can go a long way in helping them cope. Simple steps like helping them identify the right kind of mattress for their backaches, or buying them orthopaedic slippers, can make a big difference. We can also be more sensitive to their needs, and instead of laughing at these sudden physical limitations or isolating them because of it, we can support them through it. Often, for instance, incontinence can be a difficult issue to handle. Not making a big deal about it, treating their adult diapers like any other product for hygiene, and not making insensitive comments, could be great ways to help them cope with the condition.
Accidents are unavoidable as one’s body ages. Forgetfulness, falls, and breaks become routine in old age. It could get frustrating for caregivers and family members to realise that the toilet hasn’t been flushed yet again, or water has been spilt on the kitchen counter and not wiped. But it’s worthwhile to remember that these are just accidents and not deliberately done. Our elders can’t help it and losing patience and lashing out won’t help in any way. In fact, it’ll only make things worse, as loss of self-esteem is already something they struggle with.
Travelling is hard when you’ve aged. Resilience, strength and control are on the decline at this stage of life, making long trips a challenge to handle. We need to remember to keep these things in mind while travelling with our elders. Frequent pee breaks on the way, using travel pillows, and regular stops for them to stretch their legs can be very helpful in making the trip as much fun for them as it is for us.
Above and beyond everything else, what elders care about most is how their offspring are doing. Setting aside time to spend with them not only gives them something to look forward to, but also makes way for us to strengthen the bond we share with them. It doesn’t have to be very elaborate conversation- just a chat about everyday happenings or having them tell you one of their favourite stories, would be enough to make them happy. And it won’t be something you’d regret, either.