Don’t lose your marbles

Active Ageing logo v3Active ageing defies the phrase “counting your years”, and instead repositions everyday with activity that becomes fun and enjoyable.

Senior Citizens often find themselves with too little to do after retiring or once their children grow up and move away. While many aspects of age-related decline are inevitable, scientific evidence shows that staying involved with physical, mental and social activities can help seniors maintain a healthy mind, body and spirit.

Mental Function

Senior Citizens who remain physically active significantly reduce their risk of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia. Physical activities include walking, yoga, gardening, housework; anything that keeps a person moving on a regular basis.

Longevity

Regular physical activity reduces incidence of premature death due to chronic diseases such as heart attack, stroke and diabetes. It also helps people maintain bone mass density, which can help prevent osteoporosis. Senior Citizens who exercise regularly are also more agile and mobile significantly improving their quality of life.

Emotional Well-being

Social activities can help keep Senior Citizens engaged and close to other people. Taking part in group activities and social events helps elderly people maintain a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

Here is a list of activities, hobbies that senior citizens can take up and enjoy themselves

  •     Form walking clubs groups, learn Yoga, crack puzzles work on word games, and play cards, chess, caroms anything that interests you.
  •     Learn to stitch or start again
  •     Build a garden
  •     Indulge your grandchildren or learn the art of long distance grand parenting
  •     Collect antiques, collect newspaper articles.
  •     Grow fishes build an aquarium
  •     Join a Senior Centre or a  club,
  •     Buy a camera, shoot everything in sight.
  •     Go to a library, read, write, blog paint
  •     Organize city history tours, temple walks.
  •     Organise a retro movie club.
  •     Join support Groups, teach slum children, counsel people.
  •     Learn new recipes, share yours with others, and write recipe books.

To share ideas send email to  involve@oldisgoldstore.com

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Most of our elderly parents live in denial

protecting elderlyMost of our parents, even though they have become older and have lost some of their balance, still believe that they are completely capable of living unaided.  Genuine inability to notice the gradual deterioration of faculties along with not wanting to “burden” their children with their difficulties plus pride leads to this deadly state of denial.  And sometimes as children, we are also lulled into a false sense of belief that all is well, especially when we are living away from them – until there is some unfortunate accident that leads us to re-look at the situation with new eyes.

A few incidents involving our customers can help illustrate this problem as well as enable you to identify such situations and take necessary measures to ensure that your parents lead a safe and secure life.

I will narrate below one such incident involving one of my favorite customers.  An elderly lady, she walked into our showroom one bright sunny day to take a look at what we had on offer.  “Saw your advertisement and was curious to know what you have for us oldies…”, she said with an impish grin.  I showed her the different products we had and she clucked at each of them as though to say, “maybe for other older people… I don’t need these now”.  Finally we came to the walking sticks section and she picked up one of them, checked the price, paused a bit, chuckled and said, “I might be needing this one of these days”.  She then put the stick down and added “just not yet” and left the shop.

She came again a couple of days later saying she was just passing by and wanted to drop in and say hello.  I noticed a slight stutter in her steps and her hand against the wall, but pretended that I hadn’t noticed anything.  Her eyes wandered around the shop and I caught her glancing at the walking sticks.  “Not for another six months at least”, she half muttered to herself. She then shook her head, made small talk with me and went away.

A week later she was back.  This time she said “I keep coming to your shop and going away empty handed.  The least I can do by way of encouragement is to buy something. This time I am determined to buy something from your shop just to show you that I appreciate what you are doing and for all the times you have patiently listened to my chatter”.  Then she looked around and said, “what can I get for Rs. 500?” and then she looked at one of the walking sticks she had spied during her previous visits.  She grabbed at one and pretended to be surprised that it was priced exactly at Rs. 500.  “Humph, might as well buy this then, even though God know I don’t need it now.  I only rarely feel dizzy when walking anyway” she said and bought the stick.  She unwrapped it then and there and declared, “Now that I have bought it, I may as well use it whether I need it or not”!  Now, every time she visits us, she has her trusted walking stick firmly in her hand.

It took this tough lady 3 visits to convince herself to buy a walking stick, something she needed quite desperately.  Most of our customers are like that when they come by themselves – reluctant to accept that they are no longer as sprightly as before.  Some times, one of their children or a younger relative accompanies them and in that case there is usually a lot of argument before the young person says “I will buy this now.  You can use it when you want”.  Invariable, whatever they buy gets used from that day forwards.

When you are living away from your parents, it is usually not possible to find out exactly how they are getting on.  You end up going by their word, which is not always as objective as we would like it to be.  So remember, you need to be a lot more proactive when it comes to ensuring that your parents have all the protection and safe guards they need to lead an accident-free and safe live.

Introduce your parents to the internet and watch them have fun

oldman_computerAfter several years of avoidance (on the part of both of us), I finally taught my father to use a computer when he was 80 years old. Within a couple of months, he was corresponding with family, friends and colleagues through email, facebook, skype, gtalk and even linkedIn. His online interactions, it seemed, were only limited by the speed of his two-finger typing!

The use of the computer enriched his life and helped him actively participate in all the important things in his life even on days when he could not leave home. And the things he read, discovered and re-discovered through the internet brought out the inquisitive child in him and resulted in many happy and entertaining days for all of us.

If your parents are computer illiterate, I believe they and you are missing out on a great deal in today’s world. With the internet on, the world is truly a much smaller place and even families distributed around the world can rediscover the joys of actively participating in each others’ lives.

I have put together below a series of steps you can take to bring your parents into the internet fold and help them lead a more connected and happier life.  Here goes:

1. Buy a tab for your parents. Install an ebook reader and add some books they would love to read to the tab. Include some games they may like and add a photo album that they can view. Add photos of grandchildren, if any.  A tablet is not as intimidating as a computer and much more intuitive to use and hence a very good place to start.

2. Install skype or google talk or a stable third party video chat app on it and teach them to use that. Seeing you and talking to you (seeing and talking to grand children works even better) will get them hooked on.  This looks like a big step but this is where a huge push is required and only a significant incentive will get them to surmount their anxiety, trepidation, reluctance and inhibitions to learn something new.

3. Introduce them to email. Gmail is ideal. Its fairly easy to use and very difficult to screw up. Making them type “ok” in response to your email is a great way of introduce them to the keyboard.

4. Send them interesting links via email and guide them to follow those links. Youtube videos, family photo albums, sites with quotes of their favourite author, artist, godman are all ideal fare for this purpose.

5. Create a facebook account for them and get them connected to the inner circle of immediate family and close friends. Let them watch the stream for a while and then encourage them to put up status updates. Teach them to connect to more people if they wish.

By now, if they are not itching to turn on the tab first thing in the morning, I will gladly eat one day’s worth of emails.

6. Now get them a computer. A Windows PC is an ideal choice (even if you are a die-hard Apple fan) as there are more people available to troubleshoot a pc environment.

7. Teach them to use google search and browse.

8. Send them interesting sites they can use/join (LinkedIn, Twitter, your blog, StumbleUpon, Squidoo,…)

9. Help them set up their own blog. It could be a photo blog or a wordpress, typepad or say, blogger account.

10. Sit back and enjoy watching your parents discover a new world.

Here’s hoping this article helps at least a few of you to get closer to your parents.

Second career – Active ageing

featherIn the book Illusions: The adventures of a reluctant messiah by Richard Bach, the messiah says “This is a test to see if your mission in this life is complete, if you are alive, it isn’t.

This book was written in 1977 and is as true today as it was the day it was written.  As long as we are alive our purpose for existence is not fulfilled.  While most of us look forward to retirement, if we want to lead an active, energetic and fulfilling life, we all need to keep ourselves gainfully and meaningfully engaged in order to be happy and be assured of the 3 R’s for Senior citizens.  The really energetic, age-defying elderly that I meet know this very well. To them retirement means moving away from doing what needed to be done to survive to doing things they want to do.

There are multiple ways in which you, as a senior citizen, can keep contributing to society.

1.  Actively look for a job that will use yours skills and experience.  Senior citizens as employees provide stability, experience and dependability – traits that are hard to come by in the youth.  Regarding payment, it is truly your call – you can aim for market salary or you can settle for less.

2.  Senior citizens in India are a neglected lot and many of them do not have anyone to talk to or anyone to listen to them and give them the necessary advice, counselling and guidance.  The younger generation, of course does not seem to have the time or the patience to listen to them.  If you are well-grounded, you can take on the role of a kindred spirit and bring a lot of solace and peace to other senior citizens in need.  Talk to us for such opportunities.

3.  Most NGOs struggle to get basic things right.  Working with the government, filing the necessary papers, keeping their accounts in order, promoting their cause, writing cogent, grammatically correct copy, help in sales and marketing, etc., are all problem areas for many NGOs.  The vast experience of senior citizens such as yourselves can go a long way in making the NGOs more efficient and effective.  You could volunteer your time for causes close to your heart.

Retirement is an outdated idea.  You need to remain active because that is the only way you can add meaningful and healthy years to your life.

Here’s wishing you a successful second innings!

Considering moving into an old age home? Here are some tips…

Hands-with-houseIn developed countries, a fair number of the old and infirm live in care homes, personal care centres and adult family homes – all different ways of calling what is essentially an old age home. Living in an old age home is not seen as a sign of dereliction of duty on the part of the children nor do the elderly feel deserted (not always anyway).  The reason for this is that the elderly get better care, better medical support and qualified supervision at these care homes than they can ever get from their own children (who may not be qualified to provide such a level of service).

In India on the other hand, even today, the phrase “old age home” carries only negative connotations.  It is usually used as a synonym for a destitute home and means that the children have deserted the elder person – which reflects very badly on the children as well as the parents (for having brought up such children!).

However, this mindset is gradually changing thanks to a few good and affordable care homes that have come up in the recent past.  These care homes provide independent or semi-independent accommodation, shared kitchen facilities, volunteering opportunities at various levels to suit every individual, assisted living support, regular medical attention and support, companionship, and group activities to keep everyone engaged and active through the day.

So, at some point in time, if you have ever wished for a nice place where you would be looked after by professionals, do not dismiss the thought because of the negative emotions attached to the phrase “old age home”. Do consider them a viable option, and check out a few of them before making any final decisions.

Here are a list of things you need to look out for/do while evaluating a care home for yourself or your parents:

  • Consult all family members and get their acceptance before embarking on the evaluation process.
  • Make a clear list of your needs, for now and for the future.
  • Set a budget.  Residential options including buying the property outright (usually valid only till your lifetime and will revert back to the care home after your passing), leasing and renting.  In additional, there will also be a monthly component involved.  So your budget should take into account the one-time costs and the recurring costs involved.
  • Check whether the home will provide for your physical, social, spiritual and emotional needs.
  • Don’t go by other peoples’ opinions.  Go visit the place personally, inspect each facility critically and make sure you will be happy and comfortable in the surroundings.
  • Talk to people already residing in the home.  See if they are people you would like to grow old with. If the management and staff are reluctant to let you talk to the residents that is not a good sign.
  • Talk to the staff.  Watch how they deal with the other residents.  Are they courteous?  Are the caring?  Are they attentive?  Don’t get taken in by the marketing spiel.
  • Check if you will have enough independence and privacy, when required.  Ideally, you should have at least a room for yourself so that you have a place all your own when you need it.
  • Ensure that visits from family are unrestricted and that visitors will have a place to stay when they visit.  Also check and make sure the home does not restrict you from visiting friends and relatives when you want to.
  • Ensure that you are completely convinced that the place is geared to take care of you not just now but also later when you are older and may have more needs.  Remember there may come a time when you may need extensive support and ensure that the place you choose can handle such a situation.
  • Check all the documents and fine print thoroughly.
  • If the option is available, stay there on a short term rental basis before committing. If you finally decide to move in, do a thorough job of all the document work and keep a copy of all the documents and receipts safely.  Have some relative or friend living outside keep a copy for emergencies.
  • Finally, provide proper instructions on what to do and who to call in case of emergency.
  • Not all homes are right for everyone. So choose the right home wisely.

One final word of advice – Make sure that the final decision is that of the person who is going to stay at the care home.  Every person should have the right to say “no” to the option of staying at a care home – even without having to provide any justification for the decision.

International Day of people with disability – 3rd December

ribbon-135x110 (1)International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) is a United Nations sanctioned day that aims to promote an understanding of people with disability and encourage support for their dignity, rights and well-being.

Searching the net for information regarding IDPwD and India provides very few search results.  As a nation of 1.2 Billion, how can we be completely blind to the needs of the disabled?

Recently, in view of the kutcheri season coming up in Chennai , we wrote to several sabhas suggesting that we would provide free wheelchair service (from car to their seats and back) to the elderly attending these concerts.  After all, senior citizens with mobility issues can also be considered disabled.  Very few Sabhas have actually taken up the offer.  In fact, one of the Sabhas actually said, “There will be only a few people needing the service each day and hence I do not think it is necessary to provide such a service to so few people”!

I believe that India as a country and Indians as a whole are disabled – Blind to the needs of our own, be it the disabled, the elderly or those less fortunate in other ways, deaf to their requests for even basic support, and dumbly watching people as they suffer!

Will we ever change?

Parents vs Profession

A couple of independent discussions around the topic of elderly parents being left to fend for themselves in India came to my notice last week.  One was on facebook.  A friend had posted

ppl May disagree With what i say, but having son or daughter near u at the evening of ur life is the best boon for any parent. am at a relatives’ death where both the son and daughter r in USA.

A simple observation by most counts and many of his friends seemed to agree.  One person though, took umbrage and wrote a fairly scathing response. To wit, he wrote that it was unfair to target people in the US and that we are a hypocritical society and that elder people left to fend for themselves was an universal problem and that the original poster was insensitive – about 1000 words to that effect!

The other discussion was actually an opinion column written by a Doctor – Dr. V. Srinivas titled “Parents… or the pot of gold?” in The Hindu where he describes some of his meetings with elderly folks with empty nests struggling to live their evening years without sufficient familial support.  A well balanced article that shows how all of us – both young and old – have contributed to this situation.  A must read for every Indian.

As a company catering to the needs of senior citizens, we see our fair share of elderly individuals and couples bravely struggling to cope with all the challenges that age and this society is throwing at them.  Also, as individuals in our mid-forties, we have a lot of friends living and working abroad (with ageing parents back here in India) who are struggling to see how they could balance the life they have worked hard to build abroad and their responsibilities towards their ageing parents.

One the one hand, India is no country for the elderly.  There is hardly any working infrastructure – private or public – that is geared to provide even some minimum guaranteed level of comfort, safety and security for the aged, especially for the burgeoning middle class senior population.  It is inescapable that the entire onus of elder care lies on the shoulders of the children and immediate family.

On the other hand, over the last three to four decades, there has been a veritable exodus of young adults from middle class families to greener pastures abroad thanks to governmental reforms and liberalization, access to better universities abroad, challenging work opportunities, peer pressure and ambitious parents.  This has led to the situation today where we find middle-aged couples with teenage children well settled into a “American dream” life trying their best to look after their parents who are in the mid-70s abd 80s still living in India.

Until a few years ago, if my friends asked for advice, my ready response was to recommend that they move back and start a fresh life here with their savings as a solid foundation.  However, things have changed quite a bit since then.  Now the children are older and more difficult to transplant. Job opportunities are not as easy to come by with most companies preferring younger (and less expensive) local resources to seasoned experienced people returning from abroad (who may be expecting a larger salary and greater freedom).  More than all that, for people who have not already bought a house in India, coming back can be nearly impossible, unless they have made a killing in the stock market or have been working for facebook, linkedin, google or some other internet behemoth from their early days.  While half-a-million dollars is a huge sum of money in the US, it can hardly fetch you a 1500 sqft apartment in a Indian city today.

To be truthful, my sympathies are equally divided between the senior citizens struggling here to lead a normal life and their children struggling to reconcile their established life abroad and their responsibility to their parents back in India.  I do not think there is an easy answer here.

Ideally, the answer would lie elsewhere – either in organizations looking at elder care as a business opportunity and providing good services and/or a more sensitive government taking responsibility for improving living conditions for all sections of society including the fast growing senior citizen population which is likely to cross 100 Million in 2013.  With our government’s track record, we can only hope that the private sector can step up to the plate and take steps to make a difference.

Would love to hear opinions from elders and Indians living abroad on this topic.  Please use the comments section to post your thoughts.