Over the past year I have been working hands on as a caregiver in a retirement home that has more long term care clients than retirement. Retirement is most often linked with letting go of formal work and sitting back on the financial kitty you have and collecting the Canada Pension and Old Age Security checks. Taking time to spend with grandchildren and taking up hobbies on a daily basis like painting or pottery, woodworking or cabinet building, making the choice of sitting on the couch and reading a book or watching an old movie. All these choices sound like fun in "retirement".
We have all seen the advertisements for "senior community living" where smiling grey haired people are actively bowling, eating together or taking down a book from the library shelf. The illusion that "retirement" is going to be fun and entertaining. These ads can be so far from the truth.
I sit at a table where four people reside for lunch and spoon feed them and talk with them event though they appear not to even know I am there. The drool of lunch runs down their chin and so, for dignity, I wipe it off. I watch across the room where three other caregivers do the same in a room with about 35 older adults. The 10% are staring blankly out the window as their table mates are unable to carry a conversation so they eat in silence and wonder what the afternoon activity will bring. I spend time one on one with many people. Some tell me wonderful stories of life on the farm and the family they loved. Some have crippled hands and feet curled up into a ball and have no voice, simply guttural noises escape from their lips. I massage their hands with love and affection in hopes I am making a difference in their day, in their moment. Moment by moment they exist.
In my heart, I wonder why we do this to our loved ones. The moral and ethical dilemma of end of life care is a deep and challenging subject. There are many opinions about how to deal with the human existence at end of life and what constitutes quality of living.
While I paint this picture, that which is frightening to me and should be to you as well, I do so in hopes of getting to you before you get here. How do you plan to spend the last 1/3 of your life? There are jokes about people getting "old and dying". Many of the people I work for and with only wish they could do the "die" part. The reality is you will get older however you may not die for many, many years.
Long term care environments are lost on most people simply because they choose not to really see it. Only when you work in it do you witness the reality of aging. The part that makes me angry is in my research and education, I am now "optimally" aging and fighting toward a good finish to my life. There are things you can do! Truly there is! You just have to commit to doing them and come along with me for the ride! My passion is to educate and drag/pull/push anyone who is interested in hearing more about healthy aging to information sessions to learn more. Let me come and teach you about aging well and how you can do it! Let me share what 15 years of education and experience has taught me. Let me show you how turning 60 will be exciting for me as I compete in triathlons and run 15 kms just to say I can do it. Let me introduce you to others who are doing the same into their 70's and 80's and are aging well and living a full and abundant life.
Do not choose to simply get old and leave "how" up to fate ... contact me today. Where two or three are gathered I will be there to teach, inform and educate.
Gail Sheehy, PASSAGES: Predictable Crisis of Adult Life
Chris Crowley/Henry Lodge YOUNGER NEXT YEAR
Paul David Nussbaum PhD SAVE YOUR BRAIN
Optimal Aging by Cynthia Breadner