Gen Z As Elder Caregivers
I just finished reading the Esquire article, The Silent Epidemic Affecting Generation Z, by By Anna Altman
The above-listed article describes the elder caregiving bind which has fallen on Gen Z’s and its effects on their education, career development and forming families of their own. I dedicated my working life to finding solutions to eldercare; the-Gen Z caregivers issue was something I hadn't encountered until now; WOW!
I worry about the Gen Z's being able to finish school, form families of their own, and move ahead in their careers. Unless we address this issue, our society will have a sad experiment in the affects of stress on the young.
None of their goals are selfish; they are integral to the forward motion of our society. A better-educated younger generation will be more likely to have income to afford help for them in the future. Promotions at work helps secure their future and may grant benefits in their payment package as they become more "valuable" to their employers. Forming families of their own is the key to creating the next generation who will take over those jobs and help care for the Gen Z’s when they need it.
These kinds of help today are NOT COSTS; they are INVESTMENTS in our country's future. We need to look at society's investment in these younger caregivers as though we are planting an orchard, not planting a crop. A crop is harvested at the end of the season, short term result. An orchard takes more years to reach production. However, it also produces more valuable 'crops" for a longer period of time.
Let’s not cut down these young ones before we have all benefited from what they could do to “feed’ this country.
Age Is Not A Disease
This blog is prompted by an article I recently read, "Is aging a disease? Treating it like one could be worth trillions, study says," by Hannah CritchfieldTimes staff
I'm old enough to remember when childbirth was also considered a "disease". Doctors, usually men in those days, did not think women needed to know anything about the birthing process. Midwives had been pushed out. Women were given an anesthetic that caused the mothers to bang their heads. To "treat" this, the delivering women were given football helmets to wear!
The Lamaze Method was really a revolt in answer to this revolting scenario. Childbirth today is much more individualized, humane, with mothers who are knowledgeable about what is happening. Midwives and Dullahs are back in the process. Childbirth is not a disease.
Old age is no more a disease than pregnancy or childbirth. I know this both from 50 years of working with seniors and as one experiencing age myself. Old age is a stage of life only. Like any other life stage, people can develop diseases. Some conditions are the result of genetics. Many are the result of lifestyle choices or environmental factors. Some conditions resulted from poor medical management. Younger people could also have diseases for any of these same reasons. Healthy people of any age will perform better for longer; including seniors.
The change in old age is a loss of resilience. I compensate for that by modifying my lifestyle and paying attention to changes. I jump on anything I see immediately. This country MUST change to a medical management model, aimed at early intervention and prevention. Such a model begins at birth to be most effective. Waiting until old age, then labeling that stage a disease, is the wrong term: it should be labeled our society's failure!
As one of the women who wanted to be in charge of the births of my two children, I declare war on anyone who wants to turn yet another natural life process into a disease!! We burnt the long line bras, (and draft cards) we fought rules requiring us to get a man to co-sign our home loans, we demanded the right to run for office; not for coffee. 76-78 million of us will not accept being declared a disease!! As we march into our future, more and more of those who live longest will be women. We are the women (and men) who said "No" to many things; this will be the next one. We may be older and wider, but our spirit hasn't died.
Instead, recognize us as the pioneers in a demographic revolution. This is the first time in history we have had so many people living to such later ages. We've had babies for millennia; we haven't had as many elders. We are designing this pathway in life. Composing a new future means rewriting some other parts of life: since life's horizon is longer, how do we help younger people to plan for a 3rd age? What role do we assign to elders? Golf for 40 years? No way!
In my 50 years of work, I saw these things helped older people to remain healthy and functional; Purpose, Meaning, Connection, and Value. Therefore, we are seekers after these things. That is the only label I will accept.
Covid-19 has required us to protect ourselves by wearing masks. Sadly, masks interfere with hearing aids. Thus, those who want to hear must contend with protection that makes hearing aids come loose, fall out of the ear, or tangled with the hearing device. That frustration could lead to quitting the mask or quitting the hearing aids.
We need both. Numerous research articles have documented the connection between maintaining one’s hearing and keeping one’s memory. Hearing aids are for more than hearing. On the other hand, the CDC guidelines are quite strict about wearing a mask to protect ourselves from Covid-19. We will need masks until we can develop an effective treatment and or a vaccine. That could be years.
In Help! My Face Mask Is Getting in the Way of My Hearing Aid, AARP offers some ideas. While these might do for now, we should consider developing an easy-to-use, simple, device that does the job. If we can develop safety pins and zipper; we make a better device.
Senior health studies show that social isolation is as important health as flattening the Corona-19 virus infection curve in seniors.
OPINION: It’s Time to Flatten the Loneliness Curve for Older Americans, by Marc Freedman and John Gomperts, was published in Next Avenue, April 20, 2020. The article discusses the impact of social isolation on elder health. This factor was an issue before Covid-19. However, the quarantine has made their social isolation even worse. The article references other countries’ methods of recognizing and responding to social isolation and encouraging elder social engagement. It offers several possible methods to facilitate the development of programs in the USA as engines to promote a better quality of life for seniors and for society in general.
Did you know that grants were made last year to develop a Social Isolation Task Force and create a public education program? These grants were offered to all the state agencies that operate under the mandate of The Older Americans Act.
I was on one of those task forces in my state. The assumption was the public wasn’t aware of the magnitude of social isolation amongst elders. Another assumption was the public wasn’t aware of the effects of social isolation on senior health and cost of care.
Covid-19 changed all that. We‘ve all had a crash course in the experience of social isolation: the Stay-at-Home orders. We’ve seen people reacting, sometimes threatening violence, in a push-back against such measures. Children have suffered socially, emotionally and in their education as a result of being isolated from friends and school. To combat Covid-19, social isolation was one of the few measures we could employ. While we intended to combat the virus with isolation, we didn’t intend to isolate elders before Covid-19. Our society’s systems just didn’t address elder social isolation.
Our society did not face social isolation before because of three factors; our original population, our history, and our lack of a collective memory experience.
Our population was largely imported, usually young adults and their children. Later, they might send for the elders in the old country, or not. A sea voyage could be quite stressful on an older person. Thus, young people settled here. Later, another generation of young people left for the next new frontier. Our history shows that elders were left behind; again, and again. As a result, our focus was a succession of new frontiers. The USA never developed a role or task for elders. Today, our old frontier is closed. It’s time to bring society into the new social frontier: one in which we recognize we are a multi-generational country. There are gifts from each generation. We need to develop a role, and a function that recognizes the value of elders: a living history, perspective and experience.
We also lack a collective memory of the elder’s journey. We all remember things from our childhood; many of us may not “remember” things from our elder hood; unless we have made that journey ourselves. Society hadn’t experienced certain aspects of aging, like social isolation, until now. We should view stay-at-home orders as our chance to learn what life is like for seniors who are forced to stay-at-home.
What puts elders in that position? Their health may not permit frequent trips outside the home. Other elders are trapped at home because they can no longer drive. Public transportation may be too infrequent, too strenuous, or non-existent. Some elders find that vision or hearing problems interfere with socializing. We have few forums in which all generations come together. Religious institutions fill some of that gap but they can’t cover all the bases. Our neighborhoods are often age-segregated. Schools group children into smaller age cohorts: this is not the era of the all-ages, one-room school house. We build age-segregated housing only for elders. How is anyone to learn about the elder journey if our opportunity for observation and interaction are taken away?
Covid-19 has given us a gift in disguise; we all shared some of the elders’ social isolation predicament. We reacted vehemently to these restrictions on ourselves. Now we know what they feel. The recommendations made in this article should be implemented. Let’s learn from this. As the old song says; ”Someday, some d-a-a-y, we’ll be together. Yes we will, yes we will...”
A daughter commented that she had not been able to visit her parent because the facility was “locked down” to prevent the viral spread from Covid. She could only drop his snacks off at the door. She worried. No matter how many times she explained, she still couldn’t get him to understand.
Many elders and their adult children face this dilemma. All facilities are closed to visitation: even when the elder is dying! The more frail the elder, the less likely they can manage total separation. Seniors need tangible connections; touch, sight and hearing.
How do we keep in touch in an era of no-touch? Families often bring presents to these visits, yet; it’s the present of their presence that elders crave. So, how do we convey presence when we can’t be present?
KEEP IT TANGIBLE: E-cards are nice but a classic greeting card is tangible.Your loved one can hold it or look at it repeatedly. Tuck a greeting card into a bag of groceries or a bunch of flowers. The facility staff can point to it to remind them that you are keeping in touch.
MAIL CARDS: It helps support our postal service and your loved one. Getting mail is a big event in care facilities. It’s not how fancy the card, it’s how often you provide a reminder that you care.
TRY PRINTED PHOTOS: These are more tangible. Perhaps you got your loved one a cell phone and sent them pictures. That wasn’t their early experience. For decades, today’s elders only had the paper option. When you send a shiny paper photo it resonates. Photos used to require going to a studio, posing, and were made for special occasions. Photos were important. So printed photos carry an important message from you; “You are important to me”.
Children’s crayon drawings carry the unique, tangible message. They are especially important if the drawings are labeled with the child’s name, date, and something about the picture. That way, the staff can point out the picture later, when the elder says they think they’re forgotten.
WHAT’S THEIR FRAME OF MIND: We’ve all had a crash course about pandemics. Elders may not have paid as much attention to the news. Some have turned news off altogether. 98+% of today’s elders weren’t alive during that last pandemic in 1918. It isn’t part of their experience. They can’t relate to the scale of lock down necessary to contain a pan-demic. Some may have known families who were quarantined when they were children; but they are not familiar with a whole society in quarantine.
So what do you tell them about why you can’t be there? Start by asking them what they know about today’s news. If they have been following the news, use their level of information to determine what you share about your being away.
If they don’t seem to know; try a simpler explanation: you “have to be away for awhile”. You’ve taken vacations, trips and returned. This is just another time away. Promise only that you will return. Say that in a card as well as on the phone. Say it often. “ Someday, some way, we’ll be together”. That’s what the song says and that’s my prayer for all of us.
Corona Virus-19 is not your parents' quarantine. Before vaccines, quarantines were a common event. Your senior may have lived through several of them. with the passage of time, the anxiety and social disruption may have been lost. All that remains in their minds is that they survived. I've met some seniors who think this is just another flu. They believe that, because they've lived this long, they're immune. It's been a challenge to convince them that this virus has an impact closer to that of the 1918 Spanish flu. I usually ask them if their parents ever discussed the Spanish Flu. Then I draw the comparison.
I've also had to explain that our immune systems change with age. We all know hair turns white/gray with age but not all changes are equally visible. The senior may not realize that they may succumb to this disease because their immune systems are affected with age.
I share these points to forewarn caregivers that your senior my see this disease very differently than you do. What's in your senior's mind? If the senior doesn't get the message, they will be more likely to get the disease.
Stay well and set a good example; wash your hands with your senior.
"A Senior Moment" is written by Ms. Sara Lieber, owner of Senior Sidekicks. Ms. Lieber has over 30 years of experience in senior care.