Vintage Years

Vintage Years - Prerna Shah, Pune

As a Counsellor and Psychotherapist, I get the opportunity of meeting people from different walks of life and at different stages in life. Last week, I had the privilege of meeting an impressive Senior Citizen, Mr. Prasad Swaminathan*. His arrival 10 minutes before time, the firm handshake as well as his escort, a man in uniform, gave me an idea that Prasad ji must have been a Uniformed officer. I later learnt that he had retired as Chief of his Cadre Services.

Prasad ji had recently suffered a head injury, due to which some of his brain functions were affected. He could not recollect certain names quickly, would lose balance while walking, suffer momentary blur in vision, etc. To me, many of these complains were common aging issues. But, for Prasad ji, who for many years had been responsible for the security and well-being of other citizens, it was upsetting to not have control over his own reflexes. He was worried about the well being of his near and dear ones, if something worse happened to him. Like most senior citizens, he was worried about ending up in a hospital with life support systems and dependency on caregivers. He well understood that these negative thoughts were only his imagination, making him anxious. Still, Prasad ji was unhappy about his vulnerability, realizing fully well that with time he can recover from  internal injuries, and with acceptance, he can face aging too. Having been in command for most of his life, receiving suggestions from well-wishers was not easy for him.

Prasad ji spoke for almost an hour and I patiently listened to him. I was supposed to help him deal with his situation. There weren't any different suggestions that I had to share with him from what he already knew. Hence, shifting  his focus away from his health was probably the best way to help him. We sat down to list out all the pending things he would like to complete till he was fit enough to accomplish them. Once that list was ready, we started preparing his wish list, which he wasn't sure would be fulfilled. I gradually introduced Prasad ji to one of my long pending dream projects. He loved the idea. He was more than happy to be a part of it, when I requested for his help. He shared various new ideas that could be incorporated in the project, as well as mentioned the names of people he knew, who could help us in getting the necessary permissions and sanctions. Suddenly, Prasad ji seemed a changed person, bubbling with enthusiasm. Our meeting ended with a promise to each other to see this project come true. He reached home and sent me a message, "Interaction with you rekindled hope & positive thought process. We will work for the project and succeed."

That night, I felt a sense of accomplishment, without really doing much. Felt the satisfaction of being able to change someone's mindset from negative to positive. All it took was to find a purpose for Prasad ji to look forward to. This purpose ignited a spark of life in his eyes and mind. Keeping this spark alive is going to be our joint effort in the coming few months. His message to me today read, "Good morning. Enjoy the Sunday. It's a pleasant day. Trying to break out of self created depression."

This experience, inspires me to note down a few simple tips that we can keep in mind, if we have an ageing parent or relative at home.

  1. Please do not be in a hurry to relieve the senior citizen of all the work and duties at home and outside. When the person loses a sense of purpose in life, negative thoughts start  disturbing  and a feeling of being useless to the family and society creeps in. Involvement in household chores, according to his/her capacity and ability will keep the person occupied and away from negative thoughts.
  2. Do make time regularly to have a conversation and listen. Encourage the person to speak about life experiences. There is a hidden wealth of knowledge in every human being's life. Not only will we be able to gain some knowledge,  but it would help keep the person's self-confidence alive.
  3. Instead of only reminding the person about medicines, health and prayers, do arrange for an occasional dinner date or a comfortable holiday. Senior citizens enjoy good things in life too.
  4. Encourage him/her to read and write ( it could be writing a diary or letters to people). That may not only help with the person's motor movements but will also keep him/her updated with changing times, not letting a feeling of redundancy set in. Writing a diary or letters can help the person vent out unexpressed thoughts and feelings.
  5. Time permitting, make it a habit to play board or card games as a family at least a couple of times a week. Sharing a game and laughter with children and grandchildren will give the person happiness as well as a sense of belonging to the family.

If you liked this article, please do share your personal experiences of caring for senior citizens and help add a few more tips that would be useful for readers.


*Disclaimer : To protect the identity of the subject, personal details, including the name have been changed.


(Prerna Shah is a Practicing Counselor and Psychotherapist living in Pune)


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