Each time a friend or acquaintance experiences an illness or death in the family, I go through the same thought process. When should I call? What should I offer? Will I intrude?
What it really comes down to is this: I should stop dithering around and just do something — just about anything, really — to demonstrate that I am thinking about my friends. It all comes down to being present for the people who need to know that their friends care.
In a thoughtful January op-ed piece New York Times columnist, David Brooks, wrote about The Art of Presence. All of us, he explains, need to develop the ability to understand how and when and be near people who need our assistance and support, especially during times of great stress or loss. Many of us of are not that adept at responding appropriately when people need our help.
“There are no uniformly right responses,” Brooks writes. He also describes how blogger Catherine Woodiwiss shares her family’s experience with trauma and offers what Brooks calls collective wisdom — how to help others in need and the importance of being present (and maybe it’s just being around) when things go wrong in people’s lives.
In June 2013 I listened to a PBS News Hour segment about valley fever. A fungus, Coccidioides (often called simply “cocci”) lives in soil in the southwestern United States as well as in Central and South America, and it causes valley fever. In the U.S the cases occur primarily in California and Arizona deserts and parts of several other states.
When the news story finished up, I asked my husband a question. “What is the incidence of Valley Fever? Just how many cases are there this year?”
“Aha,” he said. “Like lots of other people you are confusing incidence and prevalence.” So what is the difference between these two epidemiological concepts?
The question that I was asking — how many cases of Valley Fever had occurred in total — was not about the incidence of the disease but the about prevalence. According to the authoritative A Dictionary of Epidemiology, prevalence is the number of instances (cases) of a disease over a given time in a population. So my inquiry was actually a prevalence question — because I was wondering how many cases (of valley fever) there were in a given population (in the deserts/states where the cases were occurring) at a time (when I just finished listening to the program).
I’ve always thought of myself as a cup-half-full person. Just about any time that something hard or challenging occurs, I’m out there trying to help solve the problem or at least make things better. My continuing retinal detachments (a.k.a. proliferative vitreoretinopathy or PVR) together with oil that may never be removed from my eye, have challenged me.
My new glasses!
Following the fifth surgery in early December 2013 I’ve continued to feel frustrated, afraid, and helpless, not all at once, of course, but at various time and especially when double vision hampers my piano playing and writing activities.
During the winter months I began to feel a bit better. I made an appointment with a low vision specialist, an optometrist with advanced training in the treatment for people with sight limitations. Almost every eye clinic at a hospital or medical center has a low vision section. On the day in early February when I visited the specialist I entered the office feeling terribly sorry for myself, and within the hour I emerged feeling more positive and hopeful. Something wonderful happened at that appointment.
Take a look at an article, George Mason Professor Champions Shoes with GPS Tracking, that describes how Professor Andrew Carle developed the idea of using GPS chips in the shoes of older adults who tend to wander because of brain diseases. According to the Washington Post report Professor Carle contacted a shoe company that produces GPS children’s shoes and proposed using the same technology in shoes for elders who have Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Visit a company that sells GPS echoes.
The February 25, 2014 article, by Tom Jackman, describes how the shoes, which cost around $299, can help families, caregivers, and police locate an older adult who has wandered away from home or is lost. The newest technology puts the GPS device into the insole of a shoe, allowing it to work in different pairs of shoes.
To be used successfully by an individual with dementia, a family needs to arrange for a cell phone plan and a way to charge the GPS device each day. The cost of the shoe combined with these extra expenses puts the shoes out of reach of many family budgets. However, the advantages of the device combined with technical advances and the sheer number of patients who will suffer from brain diseases in the coming years may make this technology more affordable to greater numbers of people.
Check out the article and take a look at a website that sells the shoes.
Other Links on GPS Technology and Shoes
When we look around at elders, it’s interesting (and a bit awesome) to observe many engaged and committed people leading rich lives for as long as they live — and often despite fairly daunting physical difficulties. I usually think of my parents who use their energy to help others and solve problems in the world, despite sometimes frustrating aging concerns and occasional physical roadblocks. Participating in these activities energizes them. My mother describes it as, “living the Sermon on the Mount.”
One of my favorite folk song books.
I’ve been thinking about Pete Seeger, the activist folksinger who died at age 94 about a month ago. An amazing and prolific musician — I’ve sung his songs since I was a baby — he taught us a lot about music and singing and, more importantly, how to sing along with others. Seeger also combined his music with a strong social conscience, using the songs to demonstrate the importance of helping others and improving the world, and he did these things it right up to the end of his life.
Pete — just about everyone I talk with thinks of him as Pete, whether they’ve ever met him or not — also demonstrated how well a determined and engaged person can overcome daunting problems and continue to live a successful life right through the late elderhood years.
We hear a lot about assisted living communities these days. If we need to learn more, we check out glossy brochures that describe each place in considerable and colorful detail. Sometimes we visit the community for a meal or to participate in a special event.
What we don’t see when we help a family member consider whether or not to move into an assisted living residence are the small details — the daily interactions of various personalities, the stories of individual community residents, and the ongoing narrative or body politic of daily life.
On her blog, Assisted Living: An Insider’s View, Carol Netzer, a four-year resident of an assisted living community, shares stories, experiences, and observations. A psychologist by training, Netzer possesses a keen eye for detail and a knack for storytelling. Each post describes a situation, a person, or an event, providing readers with a window through which to observe the successes and challenges of the day-to-day assisted living experience.