By Leon A Smith
December 6, 2011
On reflecting over my blog over the past couple of years I’ve noticed that I seem to have a compulsive tendency to keep returning to the subject of food – I’m going to make a serious effort in 2012 to distance myself from that subject for fear of being considered obsessive on this subject.
Many people think that working in the care sector with older people must be a depressing experience. After all – older people are sick, have dementia, and they die! All of this is of course true. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Working with older people with an average age of 90 is an uplifting and inspirational experience. One of the great perks that I have in running Nightingale is the fact that I am in day to day contact with a large number of amazing people – they all have a story to tell, some emotional, some harrowing, some tragic, some joyous. But the remarkable thing is the sheer resilience of the people I meet in light of their life experiences.
We currently have some 10 residents aged over 100 who were born prior to the outbreak of the Great War. Most of our residents went through the Depression, or lived through the Second World War and many have been scarred for life by their experiences and many have awful stories to tell. Yet they have carried on, persevered, survived and in many cases prospered – even if that has been at a price.
We hear constantly how difficult life is for younger people today – unemployment, difficulties in purchasing a house, temptations of becoming involved in drugs or crime and so on. Yet in relative terms life is a cakewalk compared to the experiences of so many older people in our community. The hardships that many have suffered are quite unimaginable to us and even more so to our children – many of whom have simply never known what we can really call “hardship”. What was it that motivated the older generation not only to survive, to work hard, to endure and to prosper. What qualities did they have that we do not and our children may have even less? To a great extent it may well have been the instinct to survive. A generation who they themselves were immigrants or certainly the children of immigrants knew that they had to make a life for themselves to survive and that nobody else was going to do this for them. Their experiences pre-dated the Welfare State and the National Health Service, yet survive they did.
There is however a counterbalance to this: So much of the publicity that we hear about young people is negative. Yet one of the very uplifting aspects of working here at Nightingale is seeing the increasing number of young volunteers coming into our Home to talk to and to help our residents. Young students coming in for time limited work experience placements find that in no time they establish an rapport and a close relationship with our residents – even when their placement is finished they will come back to visit. These young people realise not only how much they can give, but how much they can also receive in terms of wisdom and life experience from our residents.
Schemes that can bring younger people into contact with older people are to be applauded as both parties have so much to gain. We are currently running a wonderful volunteers programme organised by our Volunteers Manager called Young Voices. This project is aimed at doing just that and providing an experience within a structured context for younger people to work in the environment of a care home. There has been great interest already in this scheme. It is a true pleasure to see the motivation of these young people.