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Caring for the Elderly

Author: Radhika Prasad

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Caring for the elderly

A friend of mine called the other day to ask if I knew of any elder care centre for her mother. The mother was presently staying by herself but after her hip fracture, had lost confidence in living on her own. My friend, who lived abroad was feeling very helpless.

With medical science getting better and with the arrival and convenience of nuclear families, elders have found themselves in a very empty nest, by themselves, and for an extended period of time.

Elder care has become a concern and has moved from being the duty of one's children to a societal responsibility. In clear terms, elder care is the fulfillment of the needs and requirements that are unique to senior citizens. This term encompasses such services as assisted living, adult day care, emotional care and management, nursing homes and hospice care and home care. Elder care stresses on tending to the social and personal requirements of senior citizens who need some or more assistance with daily activities and health care, but who desire to age with dignity. It is an important distinction, in that the design of housing, services, activities, people training and such should be truly elder-centered.

Off late, we have seen the growth of assisted living facilities and senior friendly apartments around us, especially in urban areas but a zone that has fallen short of requirement is emotional care and management of the elderly.

According to Sanheetha Ved, an emotional health professional and geriatric counsellor practicing in Bengaluru, senior citizens in our society are getting increasingly lonely with no one to express their feelings and concerns to. With age comes a certainty of mortality and a decreasing hope in improvement of quality of life. In addition, senior citizens battle illnesses and physical limitations that longevity has thrust upon them.

At the same time, households have become increasingly involved and distracted with having to cope with daily life. The daughter or the daughter in law of the house, who has been the informal care giver traditionally, has had to step out to work and it is difficult to expect her to fulfil her traditional role dutifully under the new circumstances.

Old woman

The needs of the elderly tend to take a back seat in this situation. Family members often don’t have time to spend, just chatting with the elderly and asking them about how they feel. As a result, bottled up emotions lead to further health and relationship complications.

Elders need to express their thoughts and feelings (just like any of us) on a regular basis to a person who can give them time, understand them and not mitigate their feelings. This, according to Sanheetha Ved, is where the emotional health professional and geriatric counselor steps in.

Most elders prefer to live in their homes and it is here that they need the help to cope with their lifestyle. Adult children can take care of their financial needs, give them accommodation in the house, hire a nurse, a cook or a maid to help them but it is the time to spend with them that they lack. Sanheetha says, “Many senior citizens have benefitted from the involvement of a geriatric counsellor.”

The latter isn’t a doctor, but a psychological health professional trained in identifying and caring for elders. Being attuned to elder care, they can also identify medical situations and symptoms in elders that are a cause for concern. Without the needed attention, these facts could well go unnoticed by a busy and otherwise pre-occupied family member.

According to Sanheetha Ved, an elderly person needs to feel safe, remain close to other people and believe that his life continues to be meaningful. Meeting his emotional needs can help him avoid depression. Signs that he lacks sufficient support may include difficulty in sleeping, a poor appetite or an inability to concentrate. Emotional care for a senior should include steps designed to deal with vulnerability, loneliness, boredom and isolation.

A senior citizen may feel fearful and nervous, especially if she lives alone or has mobility problems. Many a time, the senior isn’t willing to voice these issues to the adult child for fear of being told off or seeming like a burden. Sanheetha says a professional counsellor is often a conduit between the adult child and the senior.

The counselor also helps facilitate the senior maintain contact with friends and the outside world. They are the ones who have the time to sit with the senior and go through old photos, music, books and listen to their stories of the past. They help organize geriatric meets and events that are senior friendly so that seniors can meet up with others and enjoy lighter moments.

Aging is a part of life and no one can escape this transition. A child grows into an adult and with every passing day age takes a toll on each one of us. It takes many years to earn the kind of experience an elderly person has accumulated over his life span. Seniors, with their experience, could be a guide who could help us steer through the tough journey of life. For this and plenty of other reasons, our elders command our respect.

As a way of thanking them and to add value to our own lives, it is important to ensure their robust mental health and happiness. The society is changing to a fast paced nuclear one but that in no excuse to ignore elders. New orders bring new systems in place and one of the systems that brings hope of robust health into our society is the emotional health professional, a term unheard off perhaps, a couple of decades ago.

Senior citizens
Image Credit: Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, flickr.com,
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