Learning From Our Elders

As Ombuds we have heard from numerous individuals doing their best to navigate these interesting, challenging, unique times. Many have handled the situation with minor setbacks and concerns. Some experienced  sadness, isolation, loneliness and frustration while others expressed fear, confusion and forms of grief. Because Ombuds are not therapists, we offer appropriate assistance and refer visitors to relevant therapeutic resources as needed. Occasionally, when the issue is not too complex or serious, lighthearted perspectives can be shared with visitors in an attempt to sprinkle some joy, provide alternative reactions to situations and scatter brief moments of glee. Recently, I have read a number of articles describing ways senior citizens have dealt with this pandemic. The articles made me  smile.These elders have experienced a lifetime of ups and downs learning  valuable lessons along the way. Lessons  which might help others cope better during our present world crisis. Following are just a few nuggets of wisdom:

1. Don’t Wait for Joy to Show Up – Create Joy.

Senior citizens who had been isolated in a London nursing home for several months due to the outbreak decided, along with their activity director, to bring some happiness into their quarantine bubble by recreating famous album covers. Selected artists included Michael Jackson from his “Bad” photo and Taylor Swift from her “1989” album. The photo shoot served many purposes along with creating joy for the residents including raising money for charity and providing some relief for family members unable to visit.

2. Do Something.

On July 16, 2020 Captain Tom Moore was officially knighted by Queen Elizabeth II but surprisingly not for his military service. The 100 year old British army officer was being honored for his heroic efforts to raise money to combat COVID-19 by walking laps in his garden and ultimately raising over $40,000,000. Originally his goal had been to raise close to $1000 to coincide with his 100th birthday. Captain Tom explained his motivation stating, “they (members of the National Health Service) deserve everything that we can possibly put in their place. They’re all so brave.”

3. Reach Out for Help.

At a nursing home in North Carolina residents were suffering from loneliness. For several months they had been isolated from their family members and loved ones all in an effort to keep them safe. The loneliness, however, was taking its toll on them. With the help of staff members several residents participated in a social media campaign requesting pen pals. Individually the seniors were photographed holding signs asking for people across the country to start corresponding with them by sending letters directly to the nursing home. As of July 1st, their request has been re-posted over 350,000 times.

4. Recognize Your Power.

If you ask, senior citizens will tell you that they have seen a lot and been through a lot. And most will also try to comfort and reassure the younger generations that whatever they are going through is not permanent and that the old adage “This too shall pass” is true. Their tips include incorporating laughter into your life, looking towards the future and looking out for others.

Experience and longevity matter and during uncertain times may offer some much needed perspective and practical guidance. As we all try to find our way through this unusual period of time maybe it will help to listen to those who have already traveled on difficult paths and made it to the other side. Although COVID-19 is extremely serious and needs to be effectively addressed, the coping skills suggested by older members of society may be useful to help incorporate well-being strategies into daily challenges. 

By Melissa Connell, Ombuds Director, University of Colorado Denver|Anschutz Medical Campus

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