Elder Use

This week I had the chance to meet with a lovely 97-year old lady whom I admire greatly.  Despite her dementia, she can be eloquent and is interested in the world around her.  She’s always well-dressed, thanks to her aides and to her family, who provide her with fashionable clothing they wash themselves.  She’s often distressed, though, when I come to see her.  Why?  Because she feels she’s not being useful in the world.  Sometimes I say to her, “Rosebud, you’re 97 years old!  You’ve contributed a great deal to the world, raising two upstanding children and helping others as a social worker.  When do you get to take a break?”  Other times I point out that saying hello to the lonely and ailing residents on her floor at the nursing home is doing God’s work and is just as valid as any other kind of assistance.  I wonder, though, if she’d be feeling differently if she’d had the opportunity to participate in the campaign of the Presidential candidate of her choice, or if she could help raise money for breast cancer research or some other good cause.  I believe many nursing home residents would be excited and energized by the prospect of helping others in the outside world.  Taking the focus off their own problems, giving them purpose, making use of their skills and interests toward a higher good — all this would go a long way toward reducing the depression and tedium I see so often in the nursing home environment.  Why not a group that crochets blankets for babies, or writes letters to senators about important issues?  Is there a recreation therapist out there who’s running these types of groups?  Are you part of such a group in your nursing home? How is it going?

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