To the Editor,
As a speech/language pathologist for 20 years, I have had the privilege of spending long periods of time with the geriatric population. Although I have been told by some that lengthy visits with “old people” would not be a privilege, I disagree. As the days of winter grow shorter and daylight seems less available to all of us, I implore you to reconsider that attitude.
Through the eyes of a person who only sees the sun out the window of a nursing home, its warmth is not an annoying glare. On the cold hands of a once beautiful church piano player, another’s hands feel warmly comforting. In an air filled with the smells of cleaning fluid and medication, the scent of flowers can last weeks. To the diminished ears of the “used-to-be neighborhood gossip,” the daily news lifts the spirit.
So many times I’ve heard patients with memory loss say to their family members, “I never see you anymore.” The reply is common, “Mama, we were just here yesterday.” A suggestion for those of you in this plight: Leave a sign. There are many ways to do this: Make a log book with a big enough print for “grandma” to read. Get a desk calendar and place it on the wall full of bright colors for “grandpa” and put stickers on visitation days. Leave fresh flowers or a new book with a card, and mention it on your next visit. Not only do they need your physical presence, but they need to be aware of your past visits and of those to come.
You are their link to the outside world and, for some, their link to reality. Over the years I have heard sons and daughters tell their older family members, “I’ll be back when I have time.” Step back and evaluate that statement. “Time” to a working mother, wife, Boy Scout leader or driver of the softball team car pool can seem quite short. “Time” to a patient or resident of a care facility can seem very long. Find the time. Look in places you haven’t. Look in your heart.
I can’t imagine a better way to feel good inside than to make someone else feel the same. I also can’t imagine feeling sad, lonely or confused day after day. For as difficult as your life is already to handle, extend it a little further this winter. Remember, older people have once been young, but you have never been old.