Everyone has to face growing old and grey, but with the right preparations it can be a satisfying, productive phase of life.
Whether the colour of our skin is vanilla, caramel, toffee or chocolate, we all have something in common: as we grow older our hair turns silver. Spiky silver, curly silver, coiled silver or straight silver… No matter, our hair becomes silver. So welcome to the silver rollers brigade.
Growing old is not for sissies. Growing old is for the strong of heart, the strong of mind and the strong of faith. The fourth strong – strong of body – must have gone fishing because when we need it, it is no longer there. Especially so for persons with mobility impairment…
We all age, though. And if we are aware of the challenges, plan for them and face up to them, growing old can be a satisfying, productive and even enjoyable final phase of our lives. Let’s explore and tackle the challenges of ageing.
Death first – the great inevitable. Research and experience tell us that people with spinal cord injuries and afflictions on average die younger than their able-bodied peers. However, as with everything in life, there are many variables that influence when we die. If we manage those variables, we not only delay death but we also improve our quality of life.
Having said that, I believe that the philosophy of “death isn’t an option” is a load of bull. I advocate a balance: look after your body, mind and soul so that you can enjoy your old age while also having fun and eating lots of cheesecake so that you die when you can still afford to live!
What are the things we should look out for so that we live long and happily ever after? Medical professionals talk about mortality and morbidity: mortality are things that kill you and morbidity are things that make you miserable while you are still alive. Often things happen to us that first make us miserable and then we die, so we become morbidly mortal…
Major causes of mortality in people with mobility impairments include pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTIs), pressure sores, and obesity, which relates to strokes, heart attacks and diabetes. The things that make us miserable (morbid) include constipation, neurogenic bladders, spasticity and spasms, temperature regulation, autonomic dysreflexia and the complications associated with thinning bones.
It stands to reason that if we want to live longer and happier, we need to look after our hearts, lungs, bladders, bowels, bones, muscles, skin and temperature. That is really all there is to it – finish and klaar.
Yet caring for the wellbeing of our bodies is not the only solution to ensure a happy and fulfilling silver roller life. Our minds and emotions have a tendency to take us on rollercoaster rides and it is our spirituality that keeps our rollercoaster buggy attached to the track and prevent us from flying off into the terror of stressing about things over which we have no control.
While caring for our bodies is important and much is written about it, keeping together the trinity of mind, emotions and spirit is the real secret to a fulfilled and joyful winter-of-life.
I could continue this article with do’s and don’ts of friendship promotion, applying our minds to add value, and becoming involved in peer support activities, but these topics have been written and talked about so much and by so many different people all punting their own little pet theories that another attempt would just make you nauseous enough to toss aside the magazine. I’ll rather illustrate with an example.
Joshua (not his real name) is in his early thirties – so still well away from a being a silver roller. He is happily married and has two children: a three-year-old son and a daughter of eight months. Yet his life is not moonshine and roses. About a year ago he was diagnosed with an adenoma of his pituitary gland – the gland that sits below the brain, between the eyes.
It is not cancerous, but as it grows it presses on the nerves of his eyes and can cause blindness. He had an operation, but they weren’t able to remove all of the tumour and now it is bigger than ever. At the end of the month, he is being retrenched from his job. He is in a total panic but sought help from a doctor and joined a pituitary support group where he met a woman with the same type of tumour, but more advanced.
She is partially blinded by the tumour and cannot drive any more. She has been invited to represent the South African support group at a conference in Florida in the United States, but because of her blindness she asked Joshua to go in her place. Joshua told our church group his story and, in the telling and discussion, the thought came up that perhaps his energy is being channelled.
The door of employment has closed, but the door of involvement in an international organisation that aims to support people who have been knocked down by this terrible condition has opened. Joshua was not yet enthused by the concept, but the thought has lifted him and given him new direction.
The point is we shouldn’t wallow in our own misery. It is pointless. Let us silver rollers take our cue from this ordinary thirty-something young man who is prepared to harness his own ordeal to the benefit of others. Our silver roller life allows us more free time. Using it by opening up and dedicating ourselves to the needs of others takes our attention away from ourselves and our own difficulties.
If our own disabilities prevent us from being human doings, we remain human beings. A smile, a kind word, seeing a need and facilitating a solution: we may not be able to do, but we can be to the best of our God-created being.
Ida’s Corner is a regular column by George Louw, who qualified as a medical doctor, but, due to a progressing spastic paralysis, he chose a career in health administration. The column is named after Ida Hlongwa, who worked as caregiver for Ari Seirlis for 20 years. Her charm, smile, commitment, quality care and sacrifice set the bar incredibly high for the caregiving fraternity.