Tag Archives: senior viewpoint

Senior Viewpoint: Hands of Time, by Esther Margaret Ayers

“Do wrinkles hurt?”

The eleven-year-old boy asked it suddenly as we sat together on the piano bench. I had asked the student to observe my hands on the keys, showing him the proper position: curved fingers, the wrist forming a level bridge from hand to forearm.

“What?” I was caught off guard, unable to think of a simple reply. With three fingers and a thumb, he stretched the thin skin on top of one of my hands. It obligingly yielded, rising in a pale tent of tissue. He released it, and the tent slowly collapsed. “Old people have such cool skin,” he murmured.

“Okay, buster,” I retorted, gently batting his hand away. “Your turn to try this.”

I was thirty-two years of age at the time. I certainly didn’t accept the notion of myself as old. This was the first occasion a student had even hinted at such a thing. After his lesson was over, I briefly contemplated my hands, then set the moment aside. I was, after all, a young wife and mother, a teacher, a graduate student; I had no time to think about Time.

In my forties, a single parent, I continued to teach piano in addition to my full-time job as a vocal music teacher. My students continued to teach me, too.

One student, in her fifties, studied with me for eight years. She had grown up in a poor rural family, but had always wanted to play the piano. Over the years she mastered the basics, learned to play hymns and popular songs of her youth. Yet she loved the classics and we began to learn the much beloved Adagio Cantabile from Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique. She learned the notes and rhythms readily, but neither of us could understand why certain passages were so difficult, why it didn’t sing. We labored in some frustration until one day she sighed, “Maybe it’s my hands. You’re still young; you wouldn’t understand. But I’m getting older.”

I tried to brush it off. “Oh, we all have different hands. You’ll be playing in your seventies.”

“No, look at my hands. I think it’s the arthritis.”

I looked—really looked—at her hands, seeing them for the first time. I saw the swelling and redness. I had been so focused on the music and the instrument, I had been looking right past her hands. How could I have been so blind?

I took her hands in mine. She encouraged me to feel the knobs forming at her joints. “It’s probably from the laundry.”

“Laundry?”

“Yes, that’s what the doctor thinks. I was the oldest of nine kids. My job was to hang wet laundry outside on the line. He thinks it’s a miracle I can play the piano at all, but says it’s good for my hands.”

I closed my eyes, picturing the little girl in the woods near Big Bay, her bare fingers freezing in the winter wind as she pinned up the family washing.

“Shall I play it again?” she asked.

Yes, please. Tears ran down my face this time as she played the timeless melody.

It’s been twenty years since the woman with arthritis suggested I was too young to understand, and 30 years since that boy cast me as an ‘old’ person. I still work full-time: mornings are for writing, afternoons for piano teaching. Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of students of all ages, all with something to teach me.

This fall, a new student began lessons with me, a professional woman in her forties, with a good ear and a ready laugh. She took lessons as a child. As a yoga instructor, her posture is already perfect. Her fingers curve beautifully over the keys. However, when she plays the Arabesque, I hear a brittle, tense tone. I observe how her wrists and arms are locked.

I say, “Watch me play for a moment.”

“Oh,” she exclaims, after a few measures. “You make it look so easy. Your hands move so naturally.”

“Here.” I pat the bench of my piano. “Come sit beside me. Let’s draw some circles with our wrists and elbows.”

It’s true my presbyopia makes me fiddle with myriad sets of glasses, which amuses my young students. But I wouldn’t trade the eyes I have now for anything; I see more clearly, with more openness.

It’s true my ears don’t work as well as they once did, especially that left one. But I hear my students better, for I have finally learned how to listen to them.

And even I will admit I have “old hands.” But these hands are still learning—from my own teacher, now in her mid-seventies, who guides them in making even more beautiful the music I still desire.

Esther Margaret Ayers (known to her students as Esther LaVoy Barrington) lives and writes in Marquette. She has taught piano from her home studio near McCarty’s Cove since 1983.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2017 – 2018 Issue, copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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Senior Viewpoint: Elders + Youth Increase Happiness Quotient, by Barb Dupras

What can be sweeter than a tender, intimate moment shared between a grandchild and the grandparent, or a senior and a young one? This contact not only brings delight to the child but also a cherished moment for the senior. Why is this so important, especially in today’s world, and how can we nurture or create these experiences today?

Generations ago, having extended family was part of life; those relationships grew and developed over a lifetime. In today’s world, with people living thousands of miles away from each other, it is more difficult to maintain those relationships in a close way. The intimacy and learning can be lost.

There is now more awareness of the importance for the younger generation to learn about the different stages of life through contact with the elderly. And because of the age difference, children learn important social skills. So activities have been created to give children who wouldn’t ordinarily have this opportunity time with older adults.

There are a variety of such options here in the U.P. Some churches’ youth programs include trips to nursing homes, particularly around the holidays. A children’s group calls Bingo at Valenti Nursing Home once a month. Foster Grandparents in Gladstone, sponsored by Escanaba’s Community Action Board, brings grandparents into schools to play with and read to children. The Bridges program, run by Pathways Community Mental Health, pairs at-risk youth with developmentally disabled adults in weekly meetings with activities. Marquette’s Peter White Public Library offers the Book Babies program, in which seniors/adults read to youngsters. Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Marquette always has openings to match seniors/adults with young people needing that relationship.

Interesting programs across the country are also bringing generations together. One such is All Seasons Preschool in Minnesota. The preschool is housed inside a senior living building, providing daily opportunities for those precious relationships to flourish. All Seasons Preschool’s philosophy is that “. . . quality of life is enhanced when all generations live and work together.” Daily activities with seniors include storytime, active games, cooking, and rhythm band.

Being around the seniors brings out the best behaviors in the children. Just being aware of another’s needs leads children to modify their behavior around the seniors. For example, those who were usually overly active slowed down. Children also learned about the differences in older people – wrinkled skin, white hair, can’t see/hear well, memory problems – learning empathy as a result. Long term studies have also showed improved vocabulary and advanced social skills result from these relationships. All Season Preschool has been so successful overall that developers interested in replicating this model elsewehere have been contacting the school.

As much as the younger generation needs the wisdom and patience of the older generation, the older generation needs the innocence and vitality of the young ones. At All Seasons Preschool, seniors who didn’t usually participate in activities came out of their shells once the children were present. Spending time with children helps to alleviate boredom, loneliness, and feelings of helplessness. How can you be depressed when a lively young one is in your presence?

Margaret Mead stated, “Somehow we have to get older people back close to growing children if we are to restore a sense of community, a knowledge of the past, and a sense of the future.”

As this country values independence, too many people feel dependence is a weakness. Seniors concerned about being a burden on their families do not ask for help. As a result, they tend to isolate, become detached. If we are to handle the increasing proportion of seniors in a life-giving way, we need to prioritize bringing them back into community. Too many seniors are lonely and alone, and too many children are deprived of this vital connection. Playing with electronics is not a substitute for a loving intimate relationship with a wisdom-filled older person.

Those interested in learning more about inter-generational activities may want to explore Generations United (www.generationsunited.org), the only national membership organization devoted to the well-being of the younger and older generation and building bridges between them. More such ideas are also described at http://www.legacyproject.org. Legacy Project is a “big picture learning and social innovation project” that includes community building through activities connecting generations.

So what do grandparents in our community have to say? One grandma who has a close relationship with her young granddaughter discussed the difference between parent-child and grandparent-grandchild relationships. Parents are often distracted with their own worries or have limited time. This grandmother feels that because she is not responsible for her granddaughter 24/7, she is more relaxed, focused and present; she can be at her best with her.

Several grandmothers told me they love to play pretend with their grandchildren. One described how her grandson loves to come into bed with her in the morning to play pretend octopus, whale or other sea creatures or animals together, which builds imagination along with learning. She also loves to sing with her grandson, making sure to sing in his range so he’ll be more comfortable singing along. She also feels it’s important to continue the stories of the past. She tells stories that came from her mother, and talks about what it was like growing up in a different era to educate her grandson on his lineage.

Grandparents have the unique opportunity to pass along their wisdom – in whatever way it comes through. If you are fortunate enough to have a grandchild, have fun nurturing your relationship with him or her, and know you play an important part in shaping a little life!

Barb Dupras is a retired Senior Center social worker and an energy healing practitioner who enjoys living on the Chocolay River

This article was reprinted with permission from the Summer 2014 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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Senior Viewpoint: Going Through Extremes, by Barb Dupras

One thing I love about the U.P. is the unpredictability of the weather.  As they say, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.  I also love the contrasting seasons.  But this winter’s subzero temperatures have shown us what it feels like to be in such an extreme condition.  Our bodies deal with these temperatures in their own ways, but people of later years need to pay particular attention in order to stay safe and healthy in this type of weather. Extreme summer temperatures also can be an issue.  This article will describe ways to help the elderly with challenging winter and summer temperatures .

Changing weather affects conditions that are common in seniors such as arthritis.  Do you ever wonder why joints seem to hurt more at certain times, especially when there is a change in the weather?  Dr. Mark Gourley of the National Institute of Health explains that the pressure in the joints changes as the weather changes.  Think of the tissues surrounding the joints as balloons.  When the air pressure decreases, the balloon expands a little, putting pressure on the joints which can create discomfort.  Some say they can predict changing weather by pain in their joints and they are right!  Dr. Gourley suggests the following to ease the discomfort when the temperature goes down:

  • Keep warm by bundling yourself in several layers from head to toe.
  • Be sure your home is kept warm and also preheat your car before entering it.
  • Warm your clothing by putting it in the dryer before dressing.
  • Sleeping with an electric blanket can be helpful.
  • Drinking hot liquids also keeps the body warm.
  • Before going out in the cold, exercise the affected joints.
  • Maintaining a regular movement program is helpful for loosening stiff joints while helping to prevent winter weight gain and the stress this can add to painful joints.

Respiratory problems such as rheumatoid lung disease and asthma can be affected by breathing extremely cold air.  If you have any condition that affects your lung capacity, wearing a face mask and/or covering your mouth to help warm the air you breathe may help you cope with frigid temperatures.

Often seniors fear slipping and falling on ice.  For those with osteoporosis, this is of even greater concern because more porous bones can fracture easily.  It’s probably best to stay indoors when conditions are icy.  If you need to venture out, prepare yourself.  Putting ice grippers on the bottom of boots, shoes and canes is a wonderful way to help prevent falls.  Call your local medical supply store to inquire about these.

Over time, burrowing inside to escape low temperatures can negatively impact one’s mood. Depression can affect anyone, but seniors are especially at risk in winter as they’re less active and more confined to their homes.  The lack of sunlight in our area during winter can also be a factor. If you or your loved one typically feel low in the winter, you may want to try using a full spectrum light for a period of time daily to improve mood and energy level.  I use the Verilux Happy Light, which can be found online.

Planning stimulating indoor activities before winter hits can also assist. Really delve into your interest.  Stained glass?  Painting?  See what online and community classes are available to you.

Keeping in touch with loved ones is also uplifting.  Try Skyping, a free video conference call over the computer with your loved ones.  Look into different ways to keep in touch.

Another way to beat the blues is to exercise.  Whatever your activity level, even if you’re in a wheelchair, find a program that suits your needs and keeps your body moving.

So plan for a better winter – make an intention!!   Hindsight is always good, but foresight is even better!

Now for the other side of the weather spectrum – heat!  Seniors frequently have a medical condition or are on a medication that can affect the body’s cooling system and ability to perspire. Certain psychotropic medications can also affect a person’s ability to feel extreme heat.  It’s important to check on senior loved ones frequently during this time. Here are some guidelines that may be helpful:

  1. Make sure the senior rides out the heat in an air-conditioned environment – if not at home, then at the senior center, neighbors home, library, etc.
  2. Encourage your senior loved one to drink plenty of water.
  3. Check on your loved one twice a day.  If you are at a long distance, you can Skype to know he or she is safe.  Seeing your loved one sometimes is better, as one can hide distress in the voice.
  4. Have a back-up plan and transportation arranged in case the power goes out.
  5. Check on those seniors in your neighborhood who may not have family or anyone close to do so.

To keep yourself or your loved one cool during extreme heat, take cool baths/showers, avoid heavy meals and strenuous activity, keep shades down and blinds closed but windows slightly open, keep electric lights off or turned down, and wear loose, lightweight clothing.  Muscle cramping can be the first sign of a heat-related illness.   Pay attention; if you suspect a senior could be too hot – take action!

You may want to keep this article handy as an informative reminder. Knowing what to do to keep yourself or your loved one safe in extreme weather is invaluable for the coming years!

Barbara Dupras is a retired senior center social worker who also is an energy practitioner and enjoys her home on the Chocolay River. She can be reached at duprasbarb@yahoo.com.

 Sources: http://www.seniorcarehgomes.com/health-and-wellness/winter-health-problems.html; www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/warning.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Spring 2014 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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