How does it feel to be old? Its not 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 put yourself in their shoes. The staff of AgingCare.com did just that.
We put ourselves into our parents' shoes when we took part in the Older Adult Sensitivity Program, a training course run by Sue Maxwell, Director of Adults 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 are all in for in the future. The hands-on exercise and sensory perception education shed a whole new light on what our parents experience as they age.
Here's what two of us experienced that day.
Aging is not for sissies. To cope with impaired vision, decreased mobility and loss of dexterity, you've got to be tough. Seniors may be frail, but they are tenacious. When your body and your mind start to fail, even the simplest tasks – getting dressed, reading forms, pushing a grocery cart --- are a challenge. Tasks that younger people never give a second thought to, for elders represent barriers, obstacles, limitations.
As I wore funny-looking glasses that simulated conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts, and donned bulky gloves that imitated arthritic hands, I realized that what minutes ago were easy tasks – buttoning a shirt, opening a medication bottle or handling small pills -- suddenly required my full concentration and took twice as long to complete – if I could complete them at all.
I knew getting old was hard, but before this training, I didn't fully grasp the difficulty of dealing with a declining body and mental capacities. And 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 mobility-impeding gloves and get on with my life at a normal pace. But my aging parents have to cope with those barriers every day of their lives, for the rest of their lives.
I can tell you this: 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 an appreciation for what seniors confront. It was an eye-opening experience.
"Aging is not a disease."
I know this statement to be true. Though, I must confess, it is hard to view the difficulties that come with old age as anything other than a sort of inevitable plague.
But, after participating in the aging simulation, I feel I have gained a more complete understanding of some of the obstacles facing an older person as they try to navigate the world.
Maxwell told those of us gathered for the program, "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 eye sight to mimic the effects of glaucoma, macular degeneration, and stroke. The fourth pair severely blurred my vision with fictitious cataracts till I couldn't read or write. Finally, the fifth set drenched the world in a golden haze to represent yellowing lenses, making it nearly impossible to tell the colors of the kit's fake pills apart.
For a few minutes, the world truly did seem much different and much more frustrating.