Posts Tagged 'aging'

“How many of us are left?”

At our annual lunch at his favorite cafe by the Hudson River, Glenn usually gets around to the question he’s been wanting to ask.

“So, how many of us are left?”IMG_4024-001

Last year, when he asked this, I was fresh off of the memorial of dear Alice. I swallowed, and told him that about half of the original group of 30 that I profiled in my book were still living. And then we talked about how hard it is to see so many go.

This year the losses were even more personal. My grandfather was one of them. He used to ask the same question that Glenn likes to ask. And he’d want to know about the living – the guys in particular – like how Glenn and Eddie were getting on.

When I told Glenn that I thought only 1/3 of the group was still living (10 individuals), he seeemd to connect with that. “We’re all going downhill,” he said. “I’ll be 97 in two months.”

You may recall that Glenn liked to play pranks to get people laughing. To lighten the mood, I asked him if he had played any jokes on anyone recently. He said no, but he had a big surprise for me. (Each year there is big news of some sort that Glenn builds suspense about.)

Out of his file of papers and pictures, he pulled out a bill for a five-day emergency room stay. $25,000. “My doctor told me my heart wasn’t right, so I had to go to the emergency room.” That was the big surprise of 2014. Luckly, being a veteran meant his bills were paid in full, at least in this case.

Glenn lives for his family. An our annual year-in-review lunch, he brought along a file folder full of evidence of his kids and grandkids’ success, and by association, his pride. There was a picture of a fancy yacht, and an amusing story about his grandson’s summer job cleaning that thing with a toothbrush. Then there was a dog bakery menu – evidence of a job his granddaughter’s boyfriend got in New Zealand. And there was his daughter’s recent book on translating – and a free copy for me if I so desired.

After running through the year’s events, he turned to me and says, “Now it is your turn, run through your highlights.” Uh….. I say something brief and they redirect to questions about his kids.

I imagine his kids must have known something was up when he was wheeled into the emergency room. He talks to most of them every day or every other day, and all of a sudden there was silence. I asked if they came to visit recently.

“All of a sudden, when I was in the emergency room, they all had business in New York. They all came to visit, one by one.”

Now back and home, Glenn resumes his daily calls and/or emails with his children (one in Haiti, one in Paris, one in Washington state, and one in Washington DC. He says he can’t do much, and he misses being active. Walking to the mailbox leaves him out of breath. But he did say that he had his Danish friends over last week for lunch.


Stories from a Nursing Assistant in Training, Part 1

ImageThe students who take “Sociology of the Life Course” at Colgate University with me, go on to do amazing things. In the next few installments, I have asked a few of these students to guest blog about their experiences in “the field,” as we say. Evan, a rising senior, is spending his summer training to be a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and writing about this for his senior thesis. Here is part one of his adventures in nursing!

Dear Readers,

Have you ever wondered about the people who provide the vast majority of institutionalized care work in our country? As a multi-dimensionally privileged, healthy, able bodied, American born male I may not have encountered a nursing assistant since I was born over twenty four years ago. Yet over the course of the last four weeks I have come to intimately know dozens of home health aides and nursing assistant students. So…who are these people that I have quickly learned to admire? Our group of twenty nursing assistant students have faithfully commuted up to four hours each day, and we have consistently shown up for class every day over the last four weeks. Many of us have children, full time jobs, or both; several students, both with and without children, come to class every morning after working long night shifts at a psychiatric hospital. Class is never easy, but these students magically stay awake hour after hour both in the classroom and in the skills lab.

The traditional textbook and classroom portion of our learning has been completed and we will now transition into the clinical section of our nursing assistant training. I am particularly nervous about this section of our training. Learning to change a brief and provide perineal care to an elderly person is no walk in the park, and I am still unsure how well a book can prepare me for the journey on which I am about to embark. I even had to relearn how to wash my hands properly! Although many of my peers have taken care of children and/or elderly parents before, I have zero experience providing care for either demographic. I have never changed a diaper or brief, fed someone, given a bed bath, or dressed anyone other than myself. Even though I have perhaps the least amount of care work experience of all of the students in the class, I am relieved to know that we are all nervous, and I believe we will grow as individuals and as a class through whatever next week has in store for us.

Our teacher has a tough job. Over the last eighteen years she has brought thousands of people out of unemployment, launched innumerable careers, and empowered her students with the knowledge necessary to successfully compete in the medical field. As a student in her Home Health Aide and Nursing Assistant training course, I can also attest to the difficult challenges that face her unique teaching environment; her current class of twenty students speak nearly a dozen languages, come from as many countries, and all of us must be trained to provide quality care to an even wider range of patients, residents, and clients. Our next week of clinical practice in a local nursing home will be as much a test of our newly developed skills as it will be a testament to her adaptability as a professional nurse and educator.

Want to hear more about the daily life of a nursing assistant? Want to know what it is like to change a brief, give a bed bath, or use a hoyer lift for the first time? Stay tuned for next time, when I write about my first experiences in nursing home care work.



The Art of Aging – Israeli Children’s Museum Exhibit

The Israeli Children’s Museum has an exhibition on aging called Dialogue with Time.

How smart is that? And one of the goals is to facilitate intergenerational dialogue. As a student of mine shared, “I particularly liked that in establishing the museum they created jobs that could only be held by elders (70+) as guides and experts.”

Why not counter age-based stereotypes from day one, and honor how one will age and grow and change with time…

Watch the testimonials here.

Perhaps a Children’s Museum in the US would be willing to take this traveling exhibit on as well?

Here’s the info from the website:

Dialogue with Time – an exhibition about the art of aging

Dialogue with Time is an interactive exhibition, the first of its kind in the world that deals with aging from an original perspective.

Dialogue with Time is a groundbreaking exhibition that allows its visitors a glimpse into the world of the elderly. Through experiential play, using latest technology, a creative intergenerational dialogue is produced dispelling stereotypes and clichés of old age.

The guides of this exhibition are aged 70 and above. They are the mediators and experts in all facets of aging and act as role models.

A Daily Routine; With Flexibility Built in

It hadn’t happened before, but Eddie was late today. He was late getting out of the locker room.  Dick, at the front desk, said “This is not like Eddie.” So I waited…

Eddie visits his favorite gym twice a week, like clockwork, from 6:30-8am. He constitutes the morning welcoming committee there at the gym. He knows names and faces and greets everyone, just as he did years ago as the elevator operator at the state capitol building. Except this time he’s standing in a large basketball court, waving his arms like a helicopter, to enhance circulation.

Today he was lingering in the locker room for a particular reason. He was showing off the book in which he is highlighted. He was talking up his celebrity status. He was pointing out the picture of himself doing circulation exercises. And all of this was interspersed with lots of humor, knowing Eddie.

His friends emerged smiling, and one asked, “Are you the author of that book? You’ve made Eddie into a monster.” And then, finally, Eddie was there, with his wide grin, holding the book, thanking me, and calling me Marilyn Monroe. After a few pictures and a few more jokes, he was off, to take his sister to the beauty parlor.

To me, Eddie brings home the importance of a routine, and this goes beyond exercise. A recent NYTimes article emphasizes the importance of exercise across the lifecourse; reminding readers that any activity is better than none. But like most articles focusing on exercise, it doesn’t take into account all of the benefits involved. Eddie’s exercise routine is crucial for muscle strength and circulation, but also for social connectivity.

Eddie’s Tuesdays and Fridays begin with an early morning breakfast in front of the TV, and then a visit to the gym, and then a whole constellation of errands followed with a hot meal at Applebees. He designed this routine so that the evening is open for relaxation.

This routine allows Eddie to care for others, to nourish himself in a variety of ways, and also to feel like a part of something bigger. Perhaps most importantly, Eddie is able to achieve continuity in his life; to continue the greeter role he has always enjoyed.

Eddie has also taught me how flexibility in routines is a good thing. Being late, once in a while, to celebrate something exciting, is a plus. Not long ago, Eddie quit smoking and started eating cinnamon rolls for breakfast. He also started reading in the evenings, an activity he says he hasn’t done in any major way since he dropped out of school in 8th grade.

Come to think of it, maybe I’ll send a print copy of this along to him, for a little light reading.

Caregivers with Benefits

Paula Span’s new article on the NYTimes New Old Age Blog discusses the health benefits of caregiving. Could it be that contrary to what we thought we knew, caregiving can also be beneficial to those who care for others, especially when it comes to brain health and memory?

I saw this mixed scenario (benefits and constraints) with my grandfather. When he was actively caring for his girlfriend Linda who had Alzheimers, he was stressed out and seemingly exhausted. On the other hand, his memory could not have been better. He had no choice – he had to remember all appointments, and report back on Linda’s health to doctors and family members on a regular basis. That meant remembering details.

These days, since Linda moved to a care facility, he’s not made to be accountable in the same ways. He’s missing that caregiver benefit, as well as the strain.

The Author

Meika Loe

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