In 2018 I lost my dad but I got a mom back. Widowed, elderly and frail, she moved into our family home, opening our windows to another world. This is not unusual: one in four Sydney residents they live in a multigenerational household, and the fastest growing age group living in those households is those over 65.
Having done it myself, with all its ups and downs, I say keep going. But to help you with the steep learning curve, here are a few things I’ve learned so far.
Headphones help harmony
British detective shows that play at 140 decibels tend to clash with Zoom’s so-called work-from-home pandemics, school students’ study time, and the general neighborhood vibe. Yes, three generations can live together, but you better make sure everyone has headphones.
Jigsaws are dangerous
Puzzles are a great way for 92-year-olds to fill in time, but they also steal yours. If you don’t abstain, then piece by piece, dopamine hit by dopamine hit, you’ll go from looking around a corner to searching the web for other addicts. Before long, you’ll be buying, trading, and selling in groups of sordid puzzles.
To-do lists aren’t for everyone
The rules that apply to your children do not apply to nonagenarians. I find myself saying things like, “Don’t worry, leave your dishes in the sink.” Or: “Sure, throw your clothes in the hall and I’ll put them on.” And: “Of course you don’t have to eat everything on your plate.” All of which lead to complaints of age discrimination from teens.
Polio survivors put pandemics in perspective
There is no point in complaining about lockdowns or talking about vaccinations when you’re talking to someone who actually had polio and spent years in an institution recovering.
They give you the keys to the city
The Master Locksmith Access Key System (MLAK) allows people with disabilities to access specific public facilities, including toilets, changing places, elevators in train stations and swings of freedom across the country. It’s the only key to a city you really need, because it’s that, or lugging a foot-long suction handle rail wherever you go.
The key can only be purchased with the written authorization of a physician, disability organization, or community health center. Similar systems operate abroad, including those in Europe. Euro Key and the UK Radar key.
On top of that, having a disabled parking pass is like gluing Willy Wonka’s golden ticket to your dashboard, but you must resist the urge to use it when you’ve left the old man at home. If he can’t resist, he must get very good at faking a limp or he’ll end up where he should be, vilified in thumbs-down pages across the country.
Respite may not be a holiday for some
Going to a resort for a couple of weeks to lavish meals, activities, and no housework sounds like heaven to me, but nursing home respite care, which offers all the same things, sounds like hell. for my mother. His reaction: “I have all that here, why would I go?”
Podiatrists are great talkers
Not only do the world’s foot medical specialists remove dead skin from 92-year-old soles, they also know how to carry on a conversation. Sure, this is possibly a technique they’ve learned to distract themselves from the whole scaly foot and fungus thing, but it’s a date where pranks will keep you on your toes.
It’s never too late to skate
Weekdays are the perfect time to invite your 92-year-old son to the deserted netball courts or indoor rink while he learns to skate again.
Put on elbow, knee and wrist protectors and use it (and your wheelchair) as an ice skating aid. If you agree to dress up as a penguin or snowman, it’s more fun. Just make sure the wheelchair brakes are up to speed before trying.
Repeat after me
Loss of memory does not have to mean loss of goodness or humor. Being in the moment is what matters. If you cannot patiently repeat the answers, write them down in a folding notebook so that your elder has the answers he needs, when he needs them.
Along the same lines, signs, reminders, and arrows throughout the home may not be fancy when it comes to décor (yet!), But they are part of the Wiser approach to dementia care based on Montessori principles. It’s wise, they work.
These last few years have taught me that you can grow old with grace and kindness; that getting old doesn’t have to mean being sad. When Mom sees the ocean glistening in the sun, she shines too, describing it as the lamé cloth her father sold between the wars. When the teenagers and their friends stroll up the stair chair, she threatens to charge them. When I put her to bed at night, well, it feels good.
When we talked about this article, I asked him for his perspective. Breaking into a smile, she says, “Honey, what I’ve learned from living with you is patience.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism