Today, Thursday 1st October 2020, marks the 30th Anniversary of the United Nations International Day of Older Persons.
To celebrate this momentous event, the Healthy Ageing programme has captured personal and professional perspectives from across Wessex reflecting on what the International Day of Older Persons means to them and providing an insight to how the older population is adapting to the new emerging world.
Today is a day to reflect on age-based bias and see older people for who they are as individuals, recognise and acknowledge their strengths.
Annie Clewlow has been a manager at Communicare for the past 4 years. Communicare in Southampton is a friendly, local charity that enriches the quality of life for lonely and isolated people in Southampton. Their committed volunteers act as good neighbours; they offer practical and emotional support in a variety of ways at no cost to their clients. Annie reflects on her observations and experiences of working with older people and encourages us to think differently, valuing them as individuals and celebrating their capabilities.
What does the day mean to me?
As a younger adult I looked forward to the day when I had grey hair, so that people would know I was old and wise and would listen to my words of advice…..
Sadly, although that day has now arrived it doesn’t seem to have worked out quite as I had envisaged and I don’t seem to have folks flooding to my door to hang on my every utterance! Could it be a problem related to the current pandemic and the need for social distancing, which is keeping them away? I would like to think that is the case, but who am I kidding?
As the Manager of a charity that supports a great number of our older community through good neighbourly activities, I am very aware of the way that life changes as we mature. Some of it is enjoyable but some things create real challenges.
And this is where the rest of us come in. We all (or most!) hope that one day we will be old! After all that is why we race to the gym, eat disgusting (but healthy) food and follow all sorts of great advice about how to prolong our lives. When we get there will we still have the opportunity to be ourselves? To be recognised for who we are and what makes us the individual that we are?
In my experience, one of the challenges of starting to become reliant on others for some parts of our lives, is that those meeting us for the first time fail to see past the limitations that ageing has placed on us and they just concentrate on what can’t be done, rather than what can.
Most of the older people I come across have wicked senses of humour and are so much fun! Many have time, patience and wisdom to offer. They’ve seen it all before! They have led the most interesting lives and bring a whole different perspective to each situation.
One of my favourite places to be is at the Haven Lunch Club, a group run in partnership between St Mark’s Church on Archers Road and ourselves, Communicare in Southampton. The Club has a wide range of ages in its membership, all contributing in their own individual ways and supporting one another based on their various abilities. Trust me, the older members are absolutely key to making the sessions so much fun and to fostering a sense of belonging for all.
So on the International Day of Older Persons is a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on what an important role they play in the community. It is particularly poignant this year as we face the difficulties brought by the pandemic, which target our older folk so cruelly.
“I miss the Haven so much now we can’t go. It gives me so much pleasure
meeting up with friends, enjoying a lovely lunch together. It is the day in the
week I look forward to most.
I think the International Day of Older Persons is a wonderful day that
brings the older generation to the attention of people who wouldn’t normally
think about us. Some younger people are very caring about their own
grandparents and will pop in for a visit, but once they are gone you are on
your own again. And often, whilst they are mindful of their own relatives they
aren’t really thinking about all older people. Maybe this day will encourage
them to do that.”
“I adored the Haven from my first visit and miss it enormously. It was
so sad on the last day we met, knowing that there was going to be no club for
some time to come.
I have made a lot of friends at Lunch Club. We enjoy the entertainment
put on and taking part in the weekly raffle. It is my favourite activity.
When I was in hospital recently and waiting to know if my daughter was
able to bring me home, I knew that I could call on Communicare if necessary to
try to get a lift home. They are very good at helping me.
What I would like people to know on International Day of Older Persons
is that it’s never too late to start an adventure! I met my boyfriend 5 years
ago when I was 79; he was 67! So he is a bit of a toy boy for me! But he is the
love of my life and we bring each other great joy.”
Our very own Kathleen McCulloch, Senior Communications Officer, describes the joy (and challenges) of introducing technology to her mother, Maureen to ensure she is socially connected with her family.
Meet Maureen, my 84-year-old mum, now the proud owner of an iPad!
A year ago my mother had no intention of ever owning anything IT related. My mum would adamantly tell me and my sister that technology makes her very anxious and that she doesn’t need it in her life. She has rejected numerous mobile phones and laptops that were given to her over the years. Maureen has age-related macular degeneration (AMD), this means her vision is deteriorating and therefore another contributing factor to her barrier to getting online.
At the beginning of the pandemic I organised her weekly shop. Every day we would speak, sometimes five minutes, sometimes half an hour. My mum relied heavily on her home phone to stay in contact with friends and family, that being her only source of contact with the outside world. I would deliver her weekly food shop by leaving it at the bottom of her stairs whilst she would talk to me out of her upstairs flat window, felt a bit like Rapunzel or Romeo and Juliet. On the weekends I would read out what’s on the tv, this became a not all that useful routine as more often than not, she would forget what I’d read out.
Covid-19 has meant that mum is having to grasp technology, being forced to learn anything new in a crisis situation does rather focus the mind, it helped her work out what’s important to her. Luckily for me, my mother already has a router and access to the internet in her flat as I had organised that when she previously had a laptop, so at least that was one hurdle already over, just needed to plug it back in. Having the internet did mean that we could all jump on her WiFi when visiting her.
Mum’s top priority for buying an iPad is to see her grandchildren and talk face-to-face with them. My sister and I decided to work together to talk her into buying an iPad rather than a laptop, we felt the accessibility functionality is superb plus the simple layout, less daunting for her. The thought of heading into the winter months plus the possibility of the need for her to shield with the increasing risk of rising infections, forced her to make that purchase.
Our top priority for mum is connecting her digitally to her doctor’s surgery. It took a bit of working out as she doesn’t have a smart phone, driving licence or passport but the NHS app provided support to quickly get her signed up through her surgery.
I have promised that when she needs to talk to her doctor that I will sit down with her to make the appointment and be there to help her see her doctor on screen. Moving her to online appointments is a massive deal for her and I want her to feel calm and confident with the technology so she can speak freely with a nurse or doctor in the safety of her own home.
When the iPad arrived, I set it up adding only a few apps, e.g. a TV guide app being one of them as she’s a fan of Gardeners World. I also chose a background colour that made the apps stand out, plus increased the app buttons to the largest size and played around with the screen definition and brightness to get the maximum clarity. I can see that the iPad offers an online magnifying glass but we’re not there yet with her finding and using it.
Introducing my mum to her iPad was incredibly hard work, her first response is usually negative followed by her anxiety that she will click on the wrong thing. She has since explained that the negativity is due to her frustration of not finding any of it intuitive when to us, all of it is, anything we don’t know we try clicking on buttons or arrows that we think might resolve our issue or googling to find out. When she lifted the screen lid for the first time she told me her heart was racing. Her fear is very real but also she is incredibly stubborn and would rather resist having to learn anything new; that’s understandable, really, at her age. Initially we asked her to touch the home button and register her index finger and thumb. That took a long time as she wasn’t applying the correct pressure to the home button and she wasn’t sure why she was doing it. We explained that finger recognition meant she didn’t need to use the passcode but the terminology, that we take for granted, meant nothing to her, plus the pressure on a touch screen is so natural to us but was at first incredibly difficult for her to master.
The first week she had it, I asked her to open the cover and play around with the iPad but she wasn’t really engaging with it. She had forgotten to press the home button and had no recollection of her passcode. When we asked her to press the home button with either her index finger or thumb she wasn’t sure which button to press, we kept telling her that there is only one button! We made regular phone calls to remind her to use her finger/thumb and her passcode number, it was incredibly frustrating for her and us. Mum now has an A4 size piece of paper with her passcode written on it; until it becomes second nature, the paper stays. My sister suggested that we need to set her a task each day, e.g. check the weather, find out what’s on TV that day or ask Siri a question.
Mum is really liking FaceTime and receiving calls, she knows to lift the screen cover and press the green button, that feels like progress! She has chatted with my niece who lives in London and I FaceTimed her whilst we were visiting our son in Berlin! My mum was so pleased to see us all, it took a few failed attempts for her to pick up, but we got there. She has FaceTimed my niece once (by accident) but that is progress too.
We’re a long way from the iPad being her ‘go to’ to find anything out but she realises she has a need for one and is slowly becoming braver with it. Mum is regularly charging it up, now she’s found the tiny hole the cable fits in. We’re also going to get an adjustable table to pull in against her chair as we’re always seeing the top of her curls and the ceiling rather than her face. Plus it means that she can put it down on its stand and chat with her hands.
My sister and I know that her iPad will open up so much to her during the dark winter months, garden tours, church services, food shopping and exercise classes to name but a few! Perhaps I’ll do another instalment in six months, see how she’s doing.
My mother’s refusal to join the world of the internet has held her back from so much! She’s been unable to see her grandchildren and old friends over the past six months. This, I know, has been a set back and has lowered her mood. It has been a very testing time and I hate to admit that the virus has made her see what’s she’s missing out on. We have an aunt whom my mother is very close to, she is friends with her own children plus my sister and me on Facebook and follows us on Instagram. My aunt knows that to stay in contact with her children and grandchildren she has to keep up with how we’re all chatting to each other. I’m yet to organise a face-to-face chat for mum with my aunt but I’m sure that’ll bring a few tears of joy.
To my sister and me, having an iPad or smart phone is as important as an emergency pull cord. It’s her life-line to stay connected.
What does the International Day of Older Persons mean to you?