Respect Your Elders

The more I learn, the more I grow…throughout my life I have often spent time with elderly individuals. As a teenager I volunteered at a local nursing home (now called long term care facilities). In the past year I have done clinical placements with the elderly and am now working with them. I have found it rewarding, enlightening and it has brought great joy to my life. I have learned something over the past year about myself…sometimes I want to change the world elsewhere when I should be looking right here around me.

In the Toronto Star this morning there was a big article about the conditions that many elderly are forced to live with in a local retirement home. Being left in soiled incontenence products for hours, wet and soiled sheets, substandard living conditions, lack of proper nutrition, even being abused and assaulted by those who are in charge of caring for them. I began to cry as I read the sad and disturbing stories of these individuals. I am astounded that people can treat these vulnerable and lonely seniors so horribly. This is not an isolated case, it happens through out the country in long term care facilities, retirement homes, family homes and other residences. In fact it is everywhere around us. Even in the best facilities there is great room for improvement.

I find it frustrating that more isn’t done to protect them, that the government and society on a whole don’t cry in outrage at the dismal shape of our community’s treatment of the aging population. I think the owner of the residence should have to lie on the floor after falling from a wheelchair, face down in urine while no one comes to help her, I think she should be intimidated into giving all her money and getting nothing in return, left to sit staring at a wall for hours that turn to days. Yelled at and humiliated and treated with total disregard. How do we let this happen? Why are we not doing more to ensure that those that built our communities and have lived long productive lives are treated with the reverence, respect and care that they deserve. Some day each of us will be in their shoes…even if the person being treated this way is not our mother or father or grandparent…they could be! They are a human being. They deserve respect and love and comfort and compassion.

People seem to be more worried about fighting for causes like- no prayers in schools, gay rights and freedom of speech when we neglect those who don’t have a voice and can’t fight for themselves. It annoys me that human suffering, poverty, abuse and neglect are not the focus of every campaign, the passion of everyone who lives. Why can we read the morning paper and then go on with our lives like nothing wrong is happening? Why do governments spend days arguing over getting pay raises for themselves, which scandal to expose and what tax cuts to give corporations when there are people in their country that are treated inhumanly?

The other day a little girl was canvassing for pledges for the Terry Fox run. When I mentioned that I had met Terry Fox’s brother a few years ago while organizing a fundraising campaign and that I actually remembered Terry Fox running through my home town she looked at me with astonishment and said “How old Are you? That was soooo long ago, you must be really old”. I felt like I should be picking out walkers and a rocking chair. But since I am not at that stage yet maybe I should try and make a difference while I still do have a voice.

People in this world make a difference all the time, they fight and campaign and care about the suffering of others. I have come to realize recently that there is sooo much suffering in this world. There is no lack of causes to get behind…to get in front of and lead. The world won’t change, people won’t be saved, compassion won’t overpower laziness if we all say “it is someone else’s problem”, “I can’t do anything to make it better”.

We can each change the world of those we choose to. You may not bring in legislation to protect the elderly or find a way to stop world hunger but you can choose to change the world for one senior by caring about them, visiting them, reading to them, being their voice. You can provide a meal to one hungry child, a basket to one starving family, be a voice and an angel for one hurting soul.

School has been hectic lately and I have been working on a blog for the amazing young women I was honoured to camp with this summer, I am volunteering and working and can’t believe how much reading and homework there is in the nursing program this year but I wanted to write an update to say the more I look, the more I realize how many need help, how much there is to do in the world. And while I work towards my long term goals I am setting some short term ones. I may be looking forward to travelling the world and helping poverty and health care in other countries…but 10% of Canadians live below the poverty (with that percentage rising up to 40% in some demographics), thousands upon thousands are abused, go hungry, are scared, lonely, in need of a voice or a helping hand and I can change the world right here at home before heading out to do it some place else. Hopefully more of us instead of waiting for someone else to make a difference will raise our hands, get involved and change the world for someone in need

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3 Responses to Respect Your Elders

  1. Gnarfflinger says:

    People tend to care most about what’s right in front of them. It’s a flaw in human design. Our sensory organs are all attached to our bodies. Our eyes only pick up a limited field of input. Our fingers only tell us about what they touch. Our sense of taste is limited to what enters our mouth. Even hearing and smell have limits on their range. This means that when things are out of sight, we really don’t think of them. We don’t see the seniors being neglected or abused, so we don’t think about it…

    Beyond that, our brains can only actively focus on so much. Usually, that’s one or two things. And when they have an axe to grind of their own, that takes center stage. People tend to let their own desires and goals push other, more important things to the side. It is worse is when some of them are so committed to their own agenda that they refuse to play nice in the sandbox. They go beyond what may have been a fair point and try to force others into their way of thinking. This draws attention away from compassion for those around them. What kind of change are they really making?

    But I guess the problem points out it’s own solution. People do need to see these things. You’ve taken a step in that direction by putting yourself in a position to see these things. Most of us never go to such places unless it’s our family in there. And the reporter has taken the second step by trying to inform those around her of the conditions they observed. Awareness is the important first step to changing these conditions.

    But I don’t think that placing the owners of the homes in the conditions that their clients live in. I don’t think such helplessness can be simulated. We need a better way to watch over these places. We need to make sure there’s enough trained staff to check on the residents more often. But with fewer people having children and a greater life expectancy, thus problem will only get worse instead of better.

    Another question about isolation could fall to the families of these people. I know that when my late grandmother was in a home, all six of her remaining children (and most of the 13 grandchildren) were able to get in to see her regularly. But most of the occupants won’t have had that many children. And some will have children who’ve moved far away for career reasons. Perhaps it could be those seniors who would be most vulnerable.

    I guess I’ve been lucky that my grandmother was in a good facility, and that my other grandmother can still live with us. But with smaller families–perhaps even no family at all for some, that safeguard will not be there for future generations…

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