I like to meander through the aisles of second hand stores to see what the deals are. Sometimes I go looking for something specific, like this particular day when I wanted to make some mittens out of old sweaters, until I came upon the housecoats.
The store I visited was very popular, and I had to wait a few moments to get to the stand of sweaters I wanted, so I let myself get distracted by the housecoats instead. There was something about several of the housecoats there that reminded me of being little and at home with my mom, because she always wore these cotton housecoats, usually floral, some with zippers and others with ties. There were about six of them hanging on the rack, and I looked closer.
These housecoats were soft and faded, and had obviously been washed may times. Some were floral, some were printed abstract, all were looking a little old and worn and tired as they clung onto the wire hangers. I looked up at the first one, and saw a name tape ironed in the facing just below the collar. Agnes, it said. I looked at the next one, and it said Ruth. The third one had a name tape ironed on top of another name tape; Carol. These were housecoats that had been donated to the second hand store, seemingly from a senior’s home of some sort. They made me feel just a little sad as I looked at them, because each housecoat had someone’s name written on iron on fabric tape, and pressed into the collar. Obviously, they had come from seniors who had them labelled so they didn’t get lost in the laundry of the facility where these ladies had lived, and I wondered how they felt as adults wearing labelled clothing, similar to how a young child would have their coats and boots labelled for school. I felt the fabric, thought of the women and the lives they had lived, and tried to honour them for a few moments.
There’s a really powerful video circulating right now, of a man named Alan Beam being interviewed by his wife. In it, he shares how he is aching for a visit from his friends, who no longer visit now that he has Alzheimer’s Disease. I didn’t really have to watch it to get a sense of how terribly sad his situation is, but then I decided to watch it anyway and had a good cry. (You can see the Global news version here as long as they keep the link active or try this one -> Global News Link.
This man’s story is so familiar to us, because our clients here at Elder Move tell us the same kinds of things. Many seniors, no matter where they live or what their circumstances are, feel isolated and ignored because people just don’t visit them. Holidays are a heartbreaking time for us to visit different facilities, as residents are often completely alone. There are lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is that often it can be extremely difficult or not recommended for residents to leave their residence to spend the holidays in the care of their family. I remember how hard it was to transport my grandmother to our Christmas festivities, but it was so important that she be there we just made it work when she was healthy enough to do so. As she became more fragile though, it did get a lot harder and after a few years we had to take Christmas to her rather than bring her to Christmas. While I understand why some families won’t come visit their seniors until after all the holiday hubbub has wrapped up, I hope they realize how hard that is for the grandma’s and grampa’s who are left out.
I heard of one facility just this past Christmas where there was an outbreak of a contagious illness during the holidays, and no visitors were allowed at the facility for nine days! There was no way around it given how contagious things were, and it practically ruined Christmas for some residents and their families, but was hardly different than any other day for others.
I’d love to see better access to technology for residents in all facilities, so they can access a webcam and say hi to their loved ones, and chat just like they would by phone. Some residents have private phones of course, others have cell phones (though theft and fraility make them a target) so a better plan is needed.
Some facilities have great programs for their residents, connecting them outside to the community, and keeping people engaged inside with some pretty amazing activities. We see people dancing, doing exercise classes, singing in choirs, painting, woodworking, and much more. One of the places we often visit has a billiards room with tables for games, a huge screen for watching movies, and a karaoke machine. That’s a high energy, vibrant place and we are really thrilled to see so many of these types of residences being built. The residents love them.
When my own grandmother moved into an extended care facility, she had experienced a stroke. Her symptoms had a pretty big impact on knitting, which truly perplexed her (and us!). She had been an admirable knitter her whole life, turning out great volumes of delicately knitted sweaters, cardigans, baby layettes, afghans, and more. After her stroke, there was an obvious breakdown in her cognitive abilities, where she could still read a pattern, but she couldn’t get her hands to follow the directions in her mind. This frustrated her to no end, and although she did not finish another knitting project after her stroke, she was able to attend knitting classes in her facility and to offer instruction to other residents and at least was out and about being social and not feeling confined to her room.
If you know a senior – whether they are part of your family or they are a friend – who is alone and would appreciate some company, please go and see them. If you aren’t sure what to talk about, then take the advice of the man in the video at the beginning of this post, and talk to them just as you would have before they got ill. Don’t use the excuse that you want to remember them “just the way they were.” They need you now, just the way you are. Your visit and compassion would mean the world to them.
It’s that time of year when the sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots make it really hard for seniors – and all the rest of us – to get around. I really want to encourage all of you to help your neighbours, parents, and elderly friends out if at all possible. Having safe access outside can make the difference between someone getting out in the winter, or being entirely shut-in the house. Trails of ice need to be banished from everywhere that people want to walk and stay upright!
Last year I bought some of those slip on ice stabilizers / cleats so that I could stay upright while walking the dog. They worked pretty well, although they do feel weird underfoot when on clear pavement. The dog doesn’t seem to care what’s on my feet as long as he is outside, and I am pretty sure that he is going to help me find them soon so that I can stay upright, and he still gets his evening constitutional out of the deal!
Are your favourite seniors able to get out and about safely? A lot of seniors residences in our area do a terrific job of keeping their properties safe for residences, but places like bank, grocery, and doctor’s parking lots need plenty of work. Watch your step!