Lessons you learn from caring children and elderly are far more enriching than what you learn during school and university studies combined
Old age is a fascinating subject.There are so many facades to it. I call it moving in reverse gear. We are indeed moving forward with each day, but so far as our body is concerned, it is moving in the reverse after a certain age. There is an age when we start acting like a toddler and have to be cared for. That includes being fed, washed and everything else that goes with it. Now, this whole thing is very frustrating for the person.
Some people might not agree with my line of thinking and that is okay. Some might even think being old is not an attractive topic to write about constantly. Well people, deny as much as we may, but we are all approaching it rapidly. Some of us are even caring for elderly. It is always a good idea to approach something with knowledge than stumble into it without knowing anything. Let us face it. It is a topic we need constant reminder of. It is always good to know the different facades of it so we can deal with it better.
I know some might not like being old. Like most people my age, I also like to think I am still young or even that I look good “for my age.” There is one thing I want to share. I have noticed that as I get older, I think I have become a little more patient, more accepting, less doctrinaire, a little mellow and, yes, a little sadder and a bit wiser.
However, I have to admit that I have not become more adorable, precious, charming, or sweet. Rather I have become more like a child.
Return to childhood
It is often said that elderly and children are very similar, but the fact goes unnoticed. Here is how they are similar. The children are just starting the exploration of their life’s journey and are less caring about life, where as the elderly are almost done with life, and are in the mood to enjoy recollection of past events. Hence they are not very concerned about life either. So now drawing similarities between these two groups becomes very interesting.
I would like to start by calling elders and children curious nuts. They are curious about any thing and everything they see or hear. For example, why a person is what he/ she is, why he/ she does what he/ she does or what does a certain new product do. Basically they want to know about everything. Couple with it the fact that they also need constant repetition of what they were told earlier, even with so much care they will forget and the whole routine has to be repeated again and again. This is just the beginning.
Next in line is their honesty while speaking. Sometimes like children, the elders will let you know exactly the way they feel, regardless of the audience and the time. Thus often resulting in awkward situation for everyone concerned. Then there is the balance issue.
Both children and elderly fall a lot. One is learning balance while the other is losing it. Children cannot stay at a spot for long and elders are bound at a place for longer than necessary. When their limbs revolt and not cooperate, they have to give up. Some are not ready to give up and rebel and this results in constant falling. Children fall, pick themselves up and move forward, but when elderly fall, they break their fragile bones. Both need to be constantly watched.
Ageing takes away their independence. They are used to being independent and suddenly they have to start depending on others and that is the worst part of all. Independence is not all that is lost. Their modesty is also at risk when caretakers emphasize on depending on others, the elderly have to agree to their caretakers fancy. That includes being cleaned and dressed and other things to the extent of being fed. There is something else that is common.
Both have a vivid imagination. For children it is their fascination with imagination and the fun they draw from it. This helps them to be more imaginative. While for elders it’s their wish to bridge the gap of reality and their tendency to forget things. As part of their wish to belong to the current situation, they vividly relate incidents and events from their past as recent events. They will even try to convince you that they are right and the incidents did take place and if you don’t believe them, they will even get annoyed. For them it is real, just like for little children their imaginary friends are very real. Under such situation persuasion becomes an issue. Their imagination is set so deeply in their mind that telling them otherwise becomes almost next to impossible. That’s not all.
Children and elders are also very attached to things they fancy much about. It could be anything from something materialistic like their place of residence or money they have saved or any particular person. The attachment is such it is next to impossible for them to imagine a day without the thing of their attachment. The other thing about them is that both children and elderly are attention lovers. They love it when people pay extra attention to them. I have learned from caring and dealing with both elderly and children that they love special treatment. At the same time they also like to test their caretakers’ patience.
The other thing that is similar is their sense of insecurity. Just like a child the elderly also feel very insecure and uncertain. The elderly constantly fear that they might be left alone to fend for themselves.
The lessons you learn from caring children and elderly are far more enriching than what you learned during period of schooling and university study combined. You try all your imagination and creativeness to handle them to the extent of trying different combinations and permutations about how to handle them during both their best and worst situations. Yet, something goes amiss. Caring for these two groups is no less than riding a roller coaster on a loop. As a caretaker, you do not have the option of taking a break from being understanding and nice to them. Despite all this, their cuteness overcomes everything else. After all they are the sweetest of people with pure heart.
They are what they are and to some extent, we are also responsible for the way they are. Having mentioned all the similarities I feel guilty of infantilizing the elderly. Hence feel the need to differentiate the two groups too.
The major difference lies in their dignity. As people grow old caretakers have to be very careful of always preserving their dignity. While a lot of their behaviors are similar to that of a child or baby, they are adults. They have lived a whole life, and we need to treat them with respect, as an adult. It is pretty easy to fall into the trap of talking to them in a condescending way, or talking about them as if they aren’t there, or leaving them out of decisions that affect their life (thinking we know better). We can’t do that.
They are adults, and they can actually tell when they aren’t treated as such. They will let you know too. Believe me.
A baby can’t talk, or do anything, but lie there, but still needs your love and affection. It is the same with the elderly. I truly believe that just sitting with them and giving them that attention can make a difference. I know it is a fine line to walk. Then again it is our job to keep them safe. We have to remember that at the end of the day, it is their world and we are living in it. We are their companions who keep them safe and happy. The other thing to remember is when we care for a baby or a child, we are investing in their future, but when we care for our elderly, we are investing in our wellbeing in future.
Our children will imitate us and will follow the way we treat our elderly when time comes for them to treat us as elderly. Now that is not very difficult to understand, right?
Pokharel is an educationist and author of several children’s books