How does it feel to be old? It isn't something we can fully understand until it happens to us. As caregivers, we've all felt the frustration when dad can't hear at all, but pretends to follow every word of a conversation, or mom gets dressed in seemingly slow motion when you're late for her doctor appointment.
Sometimes, it feels as if our elderly parents intentionally try to annoy us. But, if you put yourself in their shoes, you might be surprised by what you learn. The staff of AgingCare.com did just that by participating in the Older Adult Sensitivity Program, a training course run by Sue Maxwell, Director of Older Adult Services at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, FL.
We wanted to know what elders experience as age starts to take its toll on the body and what we can all look forward to in the future. The hands-on exercise and sensory perception education shed a whole new light on what our elders experience on a daily basis.
Here's what two of us experienced that day.
Aging is Not for Sissies
Aging is not for sissies. To cope with impaired vision, decreased mobility and loss of dexterity, you've got to be tough. Some seniors may be frail, but they are tenacious. When your body and your mind start to fail, even the simplest tasks, such as getting dressed, reading forms and pushing a grocery cart, are a challenge. Tasks that younger people never give a second thought, represent barriers, obstacles and limitations for older individuals.
As part of the Older Adult Sensitivity Training Program, we wore funny-looking glasses that simulated conditions like glaucoma and cataracts and donned bulky gloves that imitated arthritic hands. I immediately realized that what I had previously considered easy tasks, like buttoning a shirt, opening a medication bottle or handling small pills, suddenly required my full concentration and took twice as long to complete. That is, if I could complete them at all.
I knew getting old was difficult, but before this training, I didn't fully grasp the complexities of dealing with declining physical and mental capabilities. I can't imagine the fear that must coincide with knowing there's nothing you can do to turn back time.
At the end of the course, I could take off my vision-impairing glasses and dexterity-impeding gloves and get on with my life at a "normal" pace, but my aging parents have to cope with those hurdles every day for the rest of their lives.
I can tell you this much: Put yourself in an elderly person's shoes, even for just five minutes, and you will gain a better understanding of what it's like to grow older and greater appreciation for what seniors deal with. It was an eye-opening experience.
Aging is Not a Disease
I know this statement to be true, but after participating in the aging simulation, I feel I have gained a more complete understanding of some of the obstacles facing seniors as they try to navigate the world.
Maxwell told those of us gathered for the program that "older people see the world differently than everybody else." I understood the figurative meaning of her words—seniors come from a different time in the evolution of our society. They view things through a different mental lens. But, after my encounter with the glasses included in the sensitivity kit, I also understand the literal truth of her words.
There were five pairs of glasses in total. Glasses one, two, and three blocked out certain areas of my field of vision to mimic the effects of glaucoma, macular degeneration and stroke. The fourth pair severely blurred my vision with "cataracts" until I couldn't read or write. Finally, the fifth set drenched the world in a golden haze to simulate yellowing lenses, making it nearly impossible to tell colors apart.
For a few minutes, the world truly did seem much different and much more frustrating.