v. Annette Johannesen
Do we resemble each other more with increasing age? Or do we, rather, with the passing of time become more and more different?
Must we in old age go through ever increasing problems like privations, reduced competences, weakened senses, bad economy, loss of friends and close relations?
Or do we rather move into a phase of life where the ups and downs are a fact of life, but where increased self-determination, new varied activities and pleasant gatherings are on the agenda? And where pleasure over small, special moments and over life itself, is more deeply experienced than ever before.
My own experience from many years of work with frail, elderly people is that the latter describes the situation of most elderly people better.
Elderly people are, of course, as different as people are in all ages, and life is always changeable for old as for young. Influences may come from as well outside as inside the body. In a good life each old person relates dynamically to his or her circumstances and schedule their days according to the challenges they meet. And the surroundings – family and professionals – listen to and offer support, when needed.
Independence and respectful support.
Many studies have shown that elderly people in Denmark desire to continue their usual lives with their usual doings and social contacts as long as possible, and want to make their own decisions. They hope very much to remain independent of help from the public system and they also do not want to become a burden to their own children. And they actually succeed.
The large majority of old people in Denmark is still going strong and lives in their own homes. People who live with a chronical illness find ways of adapting to their situation and often indicate that they feel they are still, themselves, running their lives.
One of my studies of 85-year old people concludes that preserving your strength, control and self-reliance will help you retain your dignity. The eldest old make great efforts to adapt to their situation like learning to put their tasks in an order of priority, compensation and of learning new things. Sometimes, however demands on themselves become so heavy, or the available energy is so limited that they run into stress or loss of important activities.
Thus, two points should always be included in all support to frail elderly persons, institutionally as well as personally:
- The individual who needs help should never, by being helped, get a feeling of defeat or experience loss of control over his/her life.
- As helper one must always make sure that one supports the possibilities of frail old people to take part in activities of contact with others.