Don’t you forget about me: 4 reasons those in their ‘80s deserve some attention

Picture by: ouderen-activiteiten.nl

Picture by: ouderen-activiteiten.nl

How many times have you seen them in the corner of your eye, while riding past in your car or on your bike? Those blank sad stares, glazing over the streets where they once used to walk, having fun with their family or their friends. Now they are confined to the same small rooms. All day. All week. All month. All year. For the rest of their lives. That is what the everyday existence of many elderly in retirement homes all over the Netherlands is like.

And the situation has not improved since the latest budget cuts in the health care department. Because of that, the retirement homes have less money to spend. This means less money to pay the staff’s salaries, herewith causing lay-offs. Fewer staff members are available to take care of the elderly and spend a sufficient amount of time with them. The elderly become more and more neglected with the day. And as if that is not bad enough yet, the activities offered to them are the first thing to go. And they are decreasing in number at an alarming pace. All of this simply due to a lack of funding. But there are so many reasons why the elderly should be able to enjoy some time away from their dusty old rooms!

As a friend of mine, who is currently in the middle of her internship in a retirement home, mentioned, “It decreases loneliness. Many of the citizens do not have any family left anymore. In lots of other cases their relatives do not visit very often”. With other words, without any activities, these people would be just boxed in for the rest of their lives, with the exclusion of the periodical trip to the doctor’s, if they are lucky. Like a number in a system. Like a burden that just unfortunately happens to need to be dealt with. But they are so much more! “They are lovely and so genuinely happy to see you!”, Johanna, a retired nurse, told me. “Their faces just light up the minute you walk into the room. And you would not believe the stories they tell you, if you just care to listen”. Engaging with them in activities as simple as crafts, knitting, board games, or even simply a walk around the block might just make them feel a little bit less lonely.

Besides, did you know that participating in activities such as crafts is very beneficial for those struggling with their motor skills? Many elderly have suffered either a hand injury, a stroke, or something else affecting their hand coordination. According to the CBS, 10.3% of people aged 75 and older have suffered from a stroke already. Performing simple tasks, while crafting something small with either a relative, staff member, or volunteer, might just aid in their recovery. Due to the ease of the tasks, the elderly will be able to pick up on them, and see improvements faster than usually. In the case of crafts, they might even end up with a nice result, like a decoration for in their room. This works very encouraging and keeps their spirits up. And why would you not like to see an old grandpa smile?

Do not forget either, that activities in the retirement homes are usually organized in groups. This offers the perfect opportunity to talk to the other citizens, find out what is happening in their lives, and basically, socialize a little bit. Something we too often take for granted, but is more rare than you would think in a retirement home. Maintaining proper social skills can be really difficult, especially when combined with loneliness. A thing as simple as playing a game together, even if it is once a week, is the perfect way to help more withdrawn people come out of their shell again, while having a cup of coffee. Everyone gets to catch up on the latest news, and maybe even meet new people and make some friends. Nobody is ever too old for that, are they?

And finally, those that unfortunately suffer from terminal diseases that are affecting the brain, such as Alzheimer’s, also benefit greatly from all sorts of additional activities. As my friend explained “The activities provide stimuli for their brains. In some cases that could even slow down the process of the illness, or at the very least the activities provide a bit of fun in their day”. And honestly, is this not on its own enough of a reason to go the extra mile for those lovely people?

The bad news is, in many retirement homes the amount of activities offered, has decreased over time. The good news, on the other hand, is, that many retirement homes are looking for volunteers to help out with this very task. So the next time you drive past those blank sad stares, do not just keep on going, but walk inside, go up to the main desk and ask for the possibilities. Make a grandma or grandpa smile, and I can guarantee you, you just might have made their entire day by paying them just that little bit of attention. For as long as they can, they will remember what you did for them with so much gratitude. Please let your heart speak for those whose voices are not always heard. Don’t you forget about them.

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