Ageing takes us hostage, resist it as we will. We become hostages to our grief, our guilt, our anger, our helplessness, our sense of being in a foreign land with no guide and no inkling of the language or the rules with which to negotiate it all. It doesn't matter whether we are the ones who are severely advanced in age or the ones attempting to cope, the dynamics described above are roughly the same.
I read a brilliant article on Facebook this morning, all because I 'Liked' the Facebook Page of the Gerontological Society of America . I'm so glad I did. It is one of the most interesting and useful things I have done from my perspective and purpose in life.
I read the text of an address by a beautiful researcher who died earlier this month, Elaine M. Brody. Her perspective combined those I described above. She was born in 1922 and was a researcher into the area of gerontology or old age. The tone of her speech was full of warmth, compassion, intelligence and humour. I want to age like her! Read the text of her speech for yourself. It is full of insights into the ways in which we care for our ageing has changed historically, and who has the burden of care in the community and who needs to take a greater share of that burden, and what it means to be a gerontological researcher who has become very advanced in age herself.
My individualised response to emotional turmoil has always been an academic one. I rush, eyes blinded by tears, not to my mother's lap anymore, but to the academic literature. These days it's online. I want to know the results of the big epidemiological studies. I want to consult the heavy science based research studies. I want to tune into the wide-ranging discussions from many countries that contextualise whatever it is that I'm responding to so that I can see X from the wider perspective than that my girlfriends have to offer. This is who I am and I offer no apologies. I appreciate the anecdotes of my friends, and I certainly value their willingness to let me unburden my angst, but I want to forage further before I assume a position on my parent's ageing or my own inevitable behaviourable characteristics in age. I know from my reading that there is a much, much bigger body of knowledge out there.
My blog business card states that I am a 'Healthy Ageing Activist". I like that I dreamed that job description up once long ago before illness cobbled me once again. I am ready once again to be active on your behalf and start doing what I love to do best and that is (apart from knitting etc etc), to look online for the academic stuff that we can usefully apply to our tiny corners of the universe.
Registering with the Oxford University Publishing website gives you access to a huge range of journal articles in a wide range of fields. Some are free, such as the Finnish study I refer to below; some you have to pay for to access.
This study comes from Finland and can be found in 'The Gerontologist' Vol. 54, No. 4, 634–650, 2013, published by Oxford University Press 'Cognitive, Emotional, and Social Benefits of Regular Musical Activities in Early Dementia: Randomized Controlled Study' by Teppo Särkämö et al.'
It appealed to me because it seemed like commonsense yet was measureable. It had quantifiable data to back up the results and the benefits were available to both carer and client or patient.
Basically, the idea is that songs and music are used deliberately to help sufferers of relatively mild dementia to help calm their moods and support their mental acuity in terms of short term memory. The researchers devised a series of 10 'lesson' or sessions that encouraged carers and patients to explore many aspects of music together. The tasks were easy and based on the participant's own backgrounds. Part of the scientific study involved a series of cognitive tasks before and after.
I wondered if I could adapt some of the ideas there to help my dad support my mother as she appears to fade in and out of her hold on reality at times. Dad loves music and mum has loved music as well. To this end I've printed the series of ten lessons out. Once a teacher, always a teacher!!! If somehow he could structure regular listening sessions together with their LPs of 'Oklahoma' or 'My Fair Lady' or talk about songs from their teenage years that I could happily source copies of for them then perhaps that could help sweeten life for them somewhat.
If I work out anything based on this paper that seems accessible, I'll let you know. Surely a former Early Childhood Education teacher, come High School English teacher, come TESOL teacher can come up with something adaptable?!!!
Many nursing homes already seem to do a good job with a variety of different activities. I am not sure whether weekly singalongs and musical discussions such as that listed in this Finnish research paper are part of standard Australian nursing home practice. If they aren't then maybe this research paper could be shown to the occupational therapists at the nursing home? Perhaps it may be of help and support?
It is the social isolation of a married couple at home alone with family living many hours away that seems to lead to aggravation and tension and increased acceleration of the many problems that ageing brings.
And perhaps there are lessons in music for we Baby Boomers, and our children who come behind us? But that is the subject of my In the Key of Sixty Plus blog and that reminds me that my flute some needs warming up.
Have a very musical day.