Monday, January 25, 2010

Snow by Aukje de Vries

Hi, I am back as blogger for Global Action on Aging. Maybe you remember that last year I shared with you my experiences as an active older person, living in The Netherlands. I stopped by the time spring came and I was about to go to some conferences abroad and had quite a few travel plans, so I knew I would not be in a position to keep writing for GAA. I still do not have a laptop and even if I had had one, I would not have taken it with me while travelling or on holidays. But the first few months of 2010 seem fairly quiet so I will be glad to have a go at some more weeks of writing about my life here in The Hague.

It is a cold city, I am writing from. We have had an unusually long cold spell, and right now it continues to be around 0 degrees Centigrade, light frost during the night and sometimes a little bit above zero during the day. There has also been snow and rain and a lot of streets are very slippery, covered with snow or ice. My friend and neighbour Esther and I are determined to try our best not to break our bones while going out. Last Friday, when the streets looked a bit better, we did a lot of food shopping, so we don’t have to go out the coming few days.

Yesterday I stayed inside all day because it was snowing, but today I want to go out. I am used to walking or biking about an hour a day. This is a rule of life, which my mother already taught me and I have experienced that I feel better when I get sufficient exercise. Right now I also want to escape from the very dry air in my house, caused by the central heating.

The street is too slippery to walk on so I use a contraption, which I bought years ago. It consists of broad elastic bands to be put around my shoes with iron spikes under the forefoot. Indeed, this works very well when I walk on snow, but on the bare pavement it feels horrible.

Therefore I decide to go to a small park not far from my house, where I usually do not walk, but this time it is nice to go there, the snow is still on the paths and grounds.

Over the weekend there was an article in the newspaper about older people who live in neigbourhoods where the snow is not removed so that older people do not dare go out and are completely dependent on help from neighbours or others, which can be problematic.

Fortunately Esther and I can still manage, even though our street is not cleaned.

Dear Reader, Do you, like me, turn to old but useful tools or “contraptions” to keep you safe outdoors or help you in the home? Please tell me about them. And I am also wondering if you find yourself snowbound and isolated because the authorities have not cleared the streets or roads? How does this make you feel?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sex and Aging: A Series of Articles from the National Sexuality Resource Center

As part of its mission to promote life-long healthy sexuality, the National Sexuality Resource Center (NSRC), with RH Reality Check, has co-produced a series of four articles that address aging and sexuality:

The first article, “How Are Your Orgasms, Mom?” introduces the series and some of the NSRC's other work surrounding sex and aging. Practicing safe sex, being aware of HIV risks, learning how our bodily changes affect sex and the health benefits of sex are some of the topics. The NSRC is also working on a research project that investigates the sexual needs of people in nursing homes and how they are or are not being met.

In the second article, “Older, Wiser, Sexually Smarter,” the author explains how to prepare for an active, healthy and pleasurable sex life as an older person. She recommends seeing counselors and doing your own research on how your sex life will transform when you reach mid- to late-life. She advocates embracing change in our bodies and relationships as we age and encourages readers to be open and honest about their questions and concerns for their own sexual activity later in life.

In “Viagra, Erections… and Vulnerability,” the author writes about not only the positive effects of Viagra, but of the missed opportunity for older men to redefine their sexual image. Viagra brought a surge of public honesty about the aging process and men's sexual activity, and with it an increased vulnerability of aging men to the expectation of being able to have an erection. Rather than learning to communicate about their insecurities in a relationship, men take Viagra instead, with no added dialogue. She supports men embracing the physiological changes of older age and using “the Viagra era as an opportunity to explore what manhood and aging means to them.”

How do you react when immediately after having sex your lover forgets it ever happened? In this article, “Sex That Mind Forgot,” the author addresses this issue and many others surrounding sex and Alzheimer's disease. Beyond Alzheimer's, the author also discusses sexual activity in nursing homes and sex as a type of therapy to enhance the quality of life.

By Isabel Nicholson, Global Action on Aging
July-September 2009

Friday, January 22, 2010

Intern's Voice, Martiria Monteiro

At GAA everybody has a job title, but the interesting thing about working here is that your days are never the same. During my daily 10 minutes walk from Grand Central every morning, I wonder what my day will be like and which task I should prioritize that day. For someone who gets bored easily, GAA was perfect for me. There's always something new and lots of fun.

My name is Martiria Monteiro; I have been an intern at GAA since July 1, 2009. Initially I signed on for 3 month length internship, but when it came close to ending I didn't feel ready to leave so I extended my internship for another 3 months. Unfortunately that time has come again. Although I am sad to be leaving GAA, I'm extremely fortunate for the opportunity I had to work for such as amazing organization. And my departure will give another lucky person the wonderful chance to experience some of the great things that I've encountered.

I learned of GAA's internship opportunity from my career counselor at Berkeley College where I am currently finishing my Bachelor's degree in International Business. When I first read about GAA's mission and work I was definitely impressed and had an immediate interest on the topic of older persons. I was working at a nursing home at that moment, but I wasn't sure how I could be of any help to GAA. Shortly after my interview and training session, I was excited to be part of this team and the movement to help make a difference.

As the administrative assistant at GAA, I am in charge of most of the secretarial tasks, for example, scanning and filing donation checks, preparing thank you letters, and creating the weekly web statistics reports.

I am also in charge of our mid-week newsletter. After I mentioned to Susanne and Magali that I would like to have more work, I was granted the opportunity to work on the Spanish section of our website: I would research articles about healthin English and pension world in Spanish and then post them.

This was great because it gave me the chance to continue to improve my Spanish language skills, which by the way was not my primary language.

The great thing about GAA is that there are constant tasks and challenges that help expand one's technical and interpersonal skills as well. During my 6 months at GAA I took part in the Sub-committee to Promote a Human Rights Convention on Aging. The Sub-committee mission is to inform others on the need for a convention on the rights of older persons. Aside from composing the monthly meeting procedural minutes, I have also been in charge of putting together an excel sheet with the names and contact information of all the NGOs with an interest in the topic of older persons so that the committee can reach out to them and encourage them to join the movement toward a convention. This has been a lengthy project because there are about 2,300 NGOs to search for, but the thought of how my work will help the committee is just absolutely amazing. By helping the committee I will aid NGOs worldwide, which then will help governments, that will help older persons and help make this world a safe and better place for everyone. So therefore I will have made a difference.

I will forever be grateful to GAA for the knowledge and experiences I have gained, for the friendships I have made and for opening my eyes up to the importance of human rights and for the different perspective I have on life now. Although I am leaving GAA, I know that my relationship with GAA is not over. I will carry this experience with me forever and I will always have GAA and the issue of older persons in mind.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Older Persons in India

As a kid growing up in India, I remember spending more time with my grandparents than my parents. We lived in a big house, with five families in it. These were not just husband-wife families, but husband-wife, kids and grandkids type of families. In the house where I grew up with my sisters, we fit a total of 25 people, with about four to five people in one room.

Even as I was growing up, I never realized what a profound effect this setting would have on my life. Now that I am grown up and have lived in different countries, sometimes on my own and sometimes with friends, I realize that my grandparents played a major part in my formation.

In India, the concept of nuclear families has just started setting in during this decade. Joint families are still the prevalent norm, especially in rural India. Looking back, I think my house was like the community centre of the neighborhood. Every afternoon I remember coming home from school, I would see at least ten women sitting in our big front garden, knitting, sewing, talking about the neighborhood, basking in the sun and enjoying endless cups of chai.

My grandmother was what you would call the chieftain of this tribe of women. I would always see her, seated in the best chair, the white cane chair, with all the women surrounding her. The other women appeared in awe of my grandmother as she was dreadfully good looking. Before the partition of India and Pakistan, my grandparents lived in Lahore (now in Pakistan) and my grandmother’s family was one of the wealthiest in Pakistan. When they moved to India, however, they lost all their property and wealth. The only thing my grandmother brought to India was her beauty and her fascinating stories of wealth, grandeur and glory in Pakistan. Every day I would hear her talk to the other women about this diamond that she owned or that emerald that she wore. I knew that my grandmother was the talk of her town in Lahore and she effortlessly maintained this image in India, in my little town of Chandigarh, as well.

Looking back, I realize how much that joint family structure and my grandparents changed my life. Both my parents were working, so my sisters and I would spend the remainder of our days, after school, with our grandparents. My grandmother instilled something in me that makes me feel hugely indebted to her- a belief in a superpower. She was a firm believer in God. To me interested in God and religion she would sit with me and write songs and poems about Indian Gods and Goddesses and then she would ask me to think of a nice melody for them. After that, my grandmother would sit for hours singing the song and I would sit and listen to her and imagine her singing the same song in her big mansion in Lahore. The songs were very simple but powerful in their message. Songs of Gods’ glory, the virtues of doing right, the benefits of prayer and meditation, were all things that I heard and learned from those songs. Although my parents were both working, I never felt their absence and grew with immense love and care and a profound sense of security that no matter what happened, my grand mom’s love and devotion to God would always protect me.

Even today, when I am distressed I think of the powerful message of those songs and it empowers me in a way that nothing else can. This is when I realize the deep impact grandparents have on our lives. Our grandparents are from a different and older generation. They help to remind us of the simple rules of life that we often forget while trying to make a living. Simple things that our grandparents taught us are the most precious means of living a fulfilling life- respecting our elders, being kind to other people, loving our neighbors, being helpful, praying and meditating are just a few things that I learned from my grandparents.

One of the hardest times, however, in my life was when my grandmother was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. Even more difficult was the shock that my grandmother felt when she learned that she was sick. The biggest shock, however, for her was finding out that she would stop having a normal lifestyle after that diagnosis. My grandmother had to undergo surgery and after that surgery, she never had the same life. One of the reasons that she had such a hard time in post-surgery was because the doctors failed to provide her with adequate information on what her life would be after the surgery. This is where India’s health system reveals its weaknesses. In India few post-surgery treatment facilities exist for patients. Due to the large population and high number of patients, not every patient gets the treatment that they deserve. Moreover, psychological assistance is not so readily available for patients who go through life changing operations.

My grandmother was a very social woman, she used to go out everyday to meet her friends, go for weekly community gatherings, etc, but after her operation she was attached to a device that did not permit her too much mobility. This immobility paralyzed her more than the disease, more than the surgery and more than the lack of post-surgery treatment. In India, the people in the health system give no information to assist older patients before and after surgery. The information that my parents had was similarly qualified and inadequate. A lot of times, doctors forced procedures and treatments without providing them essential information about the complications associated with such major surgeries.

The direct effect of this immobility gave rise to depression and loneliness for my grandmother. Even with us around her, she longed for her social and active life. After her surgery, she felt trapped and disappointed. She would often cry and wish that she had never had the surgery. Seeing her unhappy made these days some of the most trying periods for my entire family. The sedentary lifestyle and the ensuing depression eventually got the better of her. She developed Alzheimer’s disease. My grandmother started forgetting names and places, she would forget to eat, and she started to slowly wither away.

The surgery began the end of my grandmother’s life; instead of making her better, it took the very life out of her. For a woman who was used to a life of comfort as a child and then of a social and active lifestyle as a young woman, the change was much too big and she was completely unprepared for it. A lack of information from the doctors complemented with a lack of any kind of professional psychological assistance, took away any hope for a decent and respected old age for my grandmother.

In a country that is increasing its power every year and boasts of leading medical and technological advancements, such discrepancies in the care of elders is inexcusable. India has some of the smartest doctors in the world. It also exports some of its smartest doctors to the world. But this progress fails when it comes to dealing with the health issues of older people living in its own borders. My grandmother’s case is just one example. Many challenges and abuses face older Indians but the medical doctors and other health workers completely ignored them. India must work on providing mental and psychological help to older people who undergo life-changing treatments. Besides this issue, other problems demand attention: abandonment of older persons, lack of access to some form of social security as well as deficient medical and health facilities for older people.

In the Indian culture, most people consider elders responsible for holding values and protecting wisdom, earning them great respect. The new generation however, caught up in its frenzy for advancement and fast progress is slowly eroding this bedrock of the Indian family system. In the joint family structure that is still prevalent in many parts in India, grandparents still give very strong support system to families, especially in families where both parents are working. The majority of grandparents spend their entire older lives caring and providing for grandchildren and their parents. In such a scenario, to think of older people going through a frightful and painful older life is ethically wrong. India must change its policy decisions to ensure that more research is done on various issues affecting the older persons in the country. More importantly, India’s citizens must create solutions to these problems as soon as possible. Older people spend their entire lives making lives better for others. It is only fair that they are taken care of in their old age.

By Pia Malhotra, for Global Action on Aging