They're not always golden years

Pam
Pam Frampton
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"We've put more effort into helping folks reach old age than into helping them enjoy it."

- Frank A. Clark (1911-1991), journalist and cartoon author

Walking around Kenny's Pond with our dog, my husband and I enjoy seeing seniors out for a stroll, or sitting and chatting on park benches.

Like the fledgling ducks, the saucy gulls and the mature pair of swans that live there, the people who live at Kenny's Pond Retirement Residence are part of the circle of life.

The pond is frequented by parents with little kids with boats and toy float planes, dog walkers, joggers, energetic older folks and their relatives visiting them at the home. Don't call it a home, though - it's a lifestyle.

And a lovely lifestyle it is, too. The retirement residence has an elegant licensed dining room, cosy suites, a movie theatre, a residence bus, woodworking facilities, a games room and TV lounge, a convenience store and beauty salon, and many other amenities to encourage seniors to enjoy their "golden years" to the fullest.

The lakeside setting is bucolic on sunny days, with lush grass and flowering trees and scattered wildflowers. You can hear the birdsong in the trees and the children's laughter from the nearby playground, and watch the swans primp and preen.

It's the kind of retirement you'd wish for anyone you loved who preferred not to stay in their own home, whether because of an illness or impairment or just because they no longer wanted the hassle and responsibility of home ownership and upkeep.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access or the financial wherewithal to live in such a lovely place.

Not quite 'home'

I once visited a relative in a senior's home where a blackboard on the wall in a dark and drab common room proclaimed: "Today is Wednesday. We will have ham today."

Befuddled-looking residents sat slumped in chairs, staring glassily at a wrestling program blaring from the TV mounted high in a corner. Some were drooling, others had stains on their clothes. The place smelled of sweat and grease and baby powder. Staff were kind and caring, but clearly overwhelmed by the number of residents and their individual requirements.

That's not exactly what most folks have in mind when their parents reach a stage in life where they might need some assistance.

And it's something many people will have to think about.

I recently finished reading "Welcome to the Departure Lounge," Nova Scotia-based writer Meg Federico's non-fiction chronicle of caring for her elderly mother.

Federico's efforts are complicated by geography and circumstance; her mother lives in the U.S. and has recently married an older, hot-tempered man who is eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and both are prone to bouts of heavy drinking.

Federico and her siblings and step-siblings also have to deal with parents who don't want to receive care, some caregivers who aren't particularly dedicated to providing it, and a health-care system that seems propelled by a fear of legal liability.

The book is hilarious, disturbing, poignant, sad and completely candid.

Money can't fix everything

While Federico's mother is extremely wealthy and can cover the cost of renting private planes and limos, going on impromptu shopping trips and employing a stable of attendants, servants and drivers, her affluence does not provide any immunity from a whole host of afflictions.

Meg's mother grapples with senility, lapses in social graces, the sometimes aggressive and unwanted sexual attentions of her husband - who goes through a period of fascination with mail-order sexual aids - being robbed by her own employees, the loss of memory and the occasional desire to die.

A recent incident in this province, where an elderly resident of a long-term care home was charged with assault as a result of some sort of interaction-gone-awry with a staff member, is an indication of the difficulties of caring for seniors who can no longer care for themselves, particularly those suffering from various forms of dementia.

Of course, the best-case scenario for many older people is to live as independently as they can for as long as they can.

Which is why a recent cut in provincial and federal funding to the Seniors Resource Centre was so shortsighted.

The St. John's-based centre provides all sorts of valuable supports to encourage independent, healthy living. Programs include educating seniors about fraud, elder abuse, diabetes and fall prevention, and operating a toll-free help line for unpaid caregivers.

As a result of the funding cuts, four valuable programs have had to be eliminated, including one that combined a social outing with grocery shopping, and the Lifelong Learners Program. Two full-time and two part-time positions have been lost.

The provincial government still provides some funding through Health and Community Services, and it has said it will review seniors programs across Newfoundland and Labrador to determine the Seniors Resource Centre's value, but it has made no commitment to reinstate the lost funding.

In a province with a growing seniors population, sprawling geography and a shortage of long-term care facilities, surely an organization that helps keep older, able people happy in their homes should be worth its weight in gold.

Pam Frampton, The Telegram's story editor, welcomes comments by e-mail:

pframpton@thetelegram.com. Pam writes a food blog at wininganddiningwithpam.blogspot.com

Organizations: Seniors Resource Centre, Health and Community Services

Geographic location: U.S., St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Helen
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Hi, Pam: I read your column and it sure hits the nail on the head when you comment about our aging population of seniors. Thanks for mentioning the loss of jobs at the Seniors Resource Center. We trust these valuable people will be reinstated and carry on their good work with seniors.

    Helen Traverse

  • M
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    No matter how hard anyone tries, we all grow old.
    Sometimes, a person can be very lucky, and maintain their health , and their minds, to the day that they die, without having to depend on others to help them. Those are the lucky few. As for the rest of us, some of us will develop mental impairment, or physical impairment, as we age. Sometimes, it's a combination of both. Having either one, or both, can result in challenges in accomplishing the activities of daily living, and that's not an easy thing to accept for someone who has been independant all of their lives.
    The Seniors Resource Center is there for the people who are senior now....the question is, will it be there, and able to help, when the rest of us need that help? All very well and good for the Government to short-change the Seniors Resource Center, because the people in the elected Government will be well able to pay others to give them a hand, when their turn to get old, feeble and no longer have the ability to care for themselves. What about the rest of the people in Nfld and Labrador, as they age? Don't they have the right to know that, if they need it, the Seniors Resouce Centr will be there for them?
    Shame on you, yes you, the people who cut the jobs, and made the decisions to cut funding to that place.....you need to be heartily ashamed of yourselves. Your turn to age is coming, and getting closer, with every birthday you celebrate. One of these days, you too will need help..... and who will be there, to offer a hand, when no one else cares about you? Think on that, as you go to sleep. It ought to make for a peaceful night's rest.
    You people should be doing MORE for Seniors, not less.