By Ian Chow, Certified Massage Therapist
Length: 6 mins read (1299 words)
From attending to a number of my massage clients whom are elderly, I can’t help but to notice the interaction between the family members with my client and the things that they shared with me. I wouldn’t say that my list below are my recommendation of what to do or not to do but treat it as a reminder to ourselves when we are caring for the aged.
In Malaysia, senior citizens are defined as those who are 60 years and above. And of course, the way we age varies from person to person cos the environment, lifestyle, diet / nutrition, cultural / social / healthcare support, our current physical / emotional wellbeing do influence how we age.
a). Understanding, acknowledging and empathizing
At times, certain things happen not because of the fault of anyone but due to the effect of aging. One very simple example, they may be asking us to repeat our sentence multiple times. Firstly, their hearing is not as good as before and secondly high-pitched sound (produced by most consonant such as s, t, k) are much harder for older people to hear.
Or they may take longer to walk from one point to another. This is because their gait is not that good anymore and their spatial sense is also effected hence they are more careful and slower in their motion. And let’s not forget that one also losses at least 10% of your muscle mass every decade.
Hence, by us understanding what is going on in their body biologically, acknowledging, accepting and then work with them based on those limitation will certainly make everyone’s life easier. Cos there is really no point in pointing fingers and keep on asking them to improve on certain things that are already beyond their control due to biological factor.
With gum receding, tooth decaying plus a lot of elderly may find it harder to swallow as they grow older, it will definitely effect the appetite. They will even see it as a huge chore to eat. One way to counter that is to give them softer (easier to chew) food or shred it to smaller pieces. Can you imagine feeding them with mutton curry with the whole piece of chewy roti canai, and later asking them why are they eating so slowly and so little?
Or if they don’t have the appetite to eat big meal, do consider letting them eat more frequently (but with balance nutrition). It can be in smaller portion each time but constant: wake up with breakfast – tea time – lunch – tea time – dinner – tea time again before sleep.
First of all, we all know that sunlight can help our body to generate vitamin D which assist in supporting bone health and facilitating our immune system. Due to the lockdown, I have heard family member said they are not able to let their elderly parent to go out. But then again, what is needed is just 15 to 30 mins of their time to be outside at their house garden or the condominium general area. You don’t have to go out from the house / condo compound. If you live in a condo environment, do consider wearing a mask. At the same time, they can also do some light stretches while they are out.
Sunlight does help in boosting a chemical in your brain called serotonin, which in return can give us more energy, keep us calm, positive and focused too (which everyone do need that nowadays with the pandemic).
d). Stretches and exercise
We all know that stretches allows a greater mobility in our joint and it helps in improving our posture. Even if the elderly may need walking assistance i.e. wheelchair, walker etc but that should not be a deterrent factor for them of not doing simple light stretches. Encourage them or do it together with them. Go to the outside compound; can get some sunlight at the same time too. Just like a machine, if anything is not put to use, it will get rusty and same goes to our body which will stiffen up.
I find this site offers practical and simple to do routine for the aged: https://morelifehealth.com/articles/regaining-flexibility-guide
e). Mental health
Like any regular human being, elderly may go into depression especially when day by day they are experiencing the deterioration of their body. I have a client who were very active in sports during his younger days and til now, he is yet to understand (or accept) why he can’t even walk properly anymore. That thought haunt him and he asked me the same question every time I see him. Meanwhile, death of family member, close friends or spouse are common causes too.
We should always watch out for signs of depression in elderly i.e. persistent sadness / anxiety, feeling of hopelessness, restlessness and helplessness, losing of interest in once pleasurable activity, on-going difficulty in sleeping, focusing, remembering or even thought of suicide. Do seek professional help if conditions worsen. May refer here too for advice https://mmha.org.my/ (Malaysian Mental Health Association).
And as a caregiver, if you are in the capacity, you may lend a listening ear without judgement. I have come across scenarios where they are not even looking for any sort of advice but rather someone to just hear them out; such is a power of listening.
Don’t be shy if you have to ask the elderly to repeat their lines. Some elderly tend to slur due to the weakening of the face, mouth and throat muscle which is important for articulation of words. You may also need to go nearer to hear them clearly as they may not have the energy to project their voice.
g). Power of touch
I know this point can be so difficult especially in Asian culture in how we were brought up. But it is time to change our perception. A gentle clasp on their hand, a rub on their shoulder or even a hug can do wonder on how love can be expressed without uttering a single word. At times, this can be even be more powerful than any words. Don’t wait til it is too late; as I have shared with my friends, once we are in our 40s and above, we attend more funerals than birthday / weddings party. Life is short so don’t wait.
h). Don’t fall
There are a lot of instances, even if the fall is not fatal, it does have a worse impact on the elderly. In a lot of cases including those with my relatives, physical conditions seem to accelerate negatively at a faster phase due to the fall. This has to do with the healing rate that is much slower (or may even stagnate due to other pre existing medical condition) in elderly. Plus, the impact on their body can be more severe as they may not have good enough muscular skeletal system to cushion the fall. Hence, please secure your home as fall-proof as possible. Watch out for slippery type of flooring, steep floor or steps / stairs. If you need any consultation, feel free to get in touch with Autumn Aged Care Academy & Consultancy, https://www.facebook.com/muntohfong/
i). Self care
I do believe this is much needed for both the elderly and the caregiver. A timeout to do something that both party enjoy. It can be just your own “me” time or it can be a fun filled time together. It can be as simple as a meal that you enjoy, a drinking session, a movie time, going for massage or a short staycation even. You need to rejuvenate and refresh. Doing the same thing over and over again, repeating the routine day in and day out (and worse, expecting a different result), is not the way to go and does exhaust one out easily.
Being a massage therapist, I am always a believer that regular massage do help the elderly with their physical and emotional wellbeing. Feel free to refer here for the benefit of massage for the elderly specifically: https://happychowder.com/2020/12/11/aging-me-benefits-of-massage/. Get in touch with me to book your session of therapeutic massage (or for any of your family member) to assist in managing the symptom.