The average life span of humans is increasing year on year due to better healthcare and more awareness. People are eating healthier, focusing on self, and in general taking better care of themselves. The result is that we live longer. That is definitely a good thing! Or…is it?
As we live to be 70, 80 or above, it is critical to have a reason to wake up each day. Why should a senior citizen feel the need to get out of the bed, no matter how healthy they are?
There are enough articles and tons of research about how everyone must have hobbies and other pursuits in life. As we grow older, these pursuits of passion will help us keep us going, keep us motivated.
Is that enough though? And can everyone find their passion? And have enough to fill up a day?
Creative pursuits, hobbies, networking with a peer group, participating in events for seniors — all of these are good channels to rejuvenate and energize senior citizens. Most of these are self-driven. If a senior citizen is naturally inclined towards such activities, they will gravitate towards them and keep themselves happily occupied.
What if some folks don’t have enough to fill their days? What if the things they do (or don’t do) are not bringing them enough reason to hop out of bed each morning?
One of the things humans crave for is the feeling of being useful, of being able to help with something, however small, and of being appreciated for that small accomplishment.
Here is what I have observed. Seniors like to feel that they are being useful to others, especially the younger generation. They understand that the younger generation people are busy. They watch as the youngsters buzz around each day, and they feel helpless. They wish they could do something to help youngsters catch a breath.
Be Inclusive, Give Senior Folks Small Errands
Younger folks have much to do and things to run behind. In this race, there must be some things that we can delegate to the older folks? Things that they can do easily, but it saves us some time and effort. Big errands are fine too, if the seniors feel up to it. But at least we could start with something small?
Here is a possible list of tasks that seniors could accomplish just as well as (or better than) us:
- Pay monthly bills (unless you are all set up for online payments of course)
- Pick up or drop kids to their school or other classes
- Bring grocery items
- Replenish the milk or fresh veggie stock
- Help with odd jobs in the kitchen like chopping vegetables for the next day
- Help fix a light dinner
- Have a snack ready for when we come home famished
- Help with some repair work at home (say, find a plumber to fix a leaky faucet)
- Water the plants
- Walk the dog
- Tickle the hamster
You get the drift. These are small tasks. We can definitely do them ourselves. But in asking seniors to help, several useful purposes are achieved:
- We free up some time for ourselves
All these tiny tiny jobs add up to take away a huge chunk from our already busy life. If someone else can do these for us, we would have some spare time here and there to catch our breath. Since the seniors are looking to really help, they will exercise extra care and caution while doing the job.
- The job gets done quickly
Since the premise here is that seniors are not busy enough to fill their days, they can carry out our task with single-minded focus and get it done quickly.
- Promotes conversation with seniors
As our hectic life passes by each day, we don’t often have time to sit down and have a nice conversation with the seniors. In fact, we may not even have common topics to talk about. Often times, some talk time is all the seniors need to egg them on. Giving them something to do serves the dual purpose of making them feel useful, and engaging them in conversation.
- And most importantly, the senior gets immense satisfaction out of feeling useful. There is purpose to life!
I have observed this one often as I am lucky to be surrounded by loving senior folks. One of the tasks that my father-in-law has taken upon himself is to replenish the stock in our banana basket. When the stock dwindles, he automatically replaces it. He takes pride in the fact that we never run out of bananas at home. Small thing. But he feels good about it. It gives him a chance get out of the house and trot to the market.
Seniors feel good about lending a helping hand. I see a spring in their step when they have something to do. I can’t emphasize enough about how much of a difference this makes to their day.
Are There Downsides?
Of course there are downsides.
There is an off chance that the seniors around you actually have a full life of their own, and do not have time to run your errands. Or, they are happy leading a life on the couch watching TV. That’s okay. Leave them be.
The other thing that could happen is that the senior we work with may not understand the errand we want them to carry out, they may mess it up, they may keep coming back with questions and issues, and so on. We have to judge their abilities and give them things that they can successfully complete without stressing them out. It is a fine balance.
Again, we have to remember that the core goal here is not to help ourselves, but to infuse new enthusiasm into the life of the elderly.
If this means that we have to exercise super patience at times, gnash a few teeth, or lose a few hair, so be it. After all, we still have our original teeth and hair (touch wood!).
Remember though that we reap what we sow. If our kids are watching how we treat our seniors, they will grow up with the same values.
We will all be seniors one day, and our kids will know how to treat us with dignity, because we showed them how.
Why do This? Why Bother?
The obvious reason is to bring cheer and purpose into the lives of seniors. But there is a hidden agenda as well.
If we remain healthy, and have access to good healthcare, all of us are going to be old one day. Gone are the days when life seemed to be over with retirement.
We will be at the crossroads of having done whatever we had to in life, but unable to pass on due to good health (such a dichotomy!). And we will be in the situation that our seniors are in today. We live, but we are not alive!!
If we start building a culture of nurturing our seniors to play roles in our lives, no matter how small, we will walk into a future where we will be wanted and useful. We will have reason to live and rejoice. Old age will be worth it!