Saturday, 16 December 2017

What Grandma Really Wants for Christmas

CLUE:  It Won't Cost You a Cent!  

(Well, maybe a packet of shortbreads...)

Coming up with the perfect Chrissie gift for your elderly family member can be quite the headache - especially once you throw in the guilt factor associated with long-overdue visits or forgotten phone calls because you just couldn't spare the time.

So to compensate, we take the easy way out and fob off dear old Mum, great aunt Millie, or beloved grand-pappy Bart with yet another expensive ornamental crystal Thingamajig, a posh pair of pewter Whatchamacallits or a ridiculously-scented, pre-packaged set of Eau de Toiletries (that they'll never use because it will most likely aggravate the nasty skin rash they can't seem to shake).

How about this year, we think outside the pretentious Silly Season square by bestowing our elders with the one true present they REALLY crave?

Presents for elderly who alreay have everything

A 'toast' to the WORST gift ever! 

Let's face it, an ageing parent or grandparent already has more 'stuff' than you can shake a stick of proverbial misteltoe at.  Their China cabinets are chockers with a lifetimes worth of ornaments, mementos, nifty collectibles and knick-knacks - all of varying worth and many of them representing significant family milestones or celebration of somebody's achievements.

Yet, because we want the very best for our housebound loved one, we insist on fronting up on Christmas day with still more meaningless paraphernalia - another pricey piece of superbly-wrapped Royal Doulton or a fancy schmancy glass figurine (in a nice box) to add to the already cluttered glass-front showcase.

Splashing out extravgantly on their pressie surely proves how much we love them though, doesn't it?

Well, I'm sorry... BUT IT'S NOT REALLY TRYING!

Waiting in the queue at the post office recently, I managed to listen in on two older ladies chatting in front of me.  Dolled-up beautifully in their red and green 'festive finest', it was an insightful convo; one that has given me a whole new angle on my gift-giving dangle this Christmas.

Ho-Ho-Hopefully, it might do the same for you!

"... and if they give me one more China plate on a stand - I'll scream!"

"Well, from my lot, it's flamin' beauty products!  For goodness sake, my bathroom cupboard is loaded with stinky soaps, bath salts and lotions galore.  If I lived to 150, I'd never use it all!"

"Oh, I knowwwww.  Course, it's the daughter-in-law I blame.  Feel like telling her, if you're gonna give me another pretty vase - at least come round and look at the dam thing with me!"

"And bring a big bunch of fresh gladdies to stick in it, while you're at it!."

"Yes, all very well dishing out the expensive crockery. All I want is a bit of company, a game of cards or just a good chin wag over a cuppa.  You know, something to break up the day?"

"Oh, yes... something to look forward to."

"My legs aren't going to hold out much longer... wish they'd get a wriggle on.  Typical post office."

"I thought your son was going to come and give you a hand?"

"Oh, I don't like to pester him.  He's so busy with the kids this time of year... and they've got a lot on.  I feel such a bother asking him to run me round."

"Nothing like being taken out in the car though, is there?  Honestly, going on a nice long drive would do me for Christmas - I'd be a pig in flamin' mud!"

"Oooo yes, stop off on the way... get afternoon tea somewhere..."

"Mmm fish 'n' chips on the beach?"


Taking elderly out for a drive

Giz  a chip, mate?

"You know, Maureen's daughter takes her to the pictures every Tuesday.  Half price, apparently.  Still, at least she gets an outing.  I'd swap that for one flamin' day of Christmas, in a flash!"

"Oh, I knowwww.  I'd love to go to that 'Carols in the Domain' thing this year.  You know, the sing-song in the park?"

"Oooo yes, love a good sing-a-long."

"But I can't do it on my own - I'm too wobbly!  I need Cheryl to take me but they've gone away up the lake for the holidays."

"Just give me a couple of bags of cat food... now that would save me a few bob.  I'd be fine with that.  Lucky and me could skip flamin' Christmas altogether then!"

"And you wouldn't have to find more space for another bunch of useless knick-knacks!"

"You know what we should do?  We should set up down the market... sell off all our prezzies to all the other flamin' suckers."

"Oooo yes!  Get Wilma to bring along the silver napkin rings and salt'n'pepper sets her family keep shoving on her..."

"... and Celia can wheel out all her ugly ceramic ducks - WE'D MAKE A FLAMIN' FORTUNE!"

Elderly gfits for Christmas
Quackity, Quack? 


By this stage the line had started to move and the girls had trundled out of range. It was amusing to hear their candid thoughts on the crappy materialistic gifts of Christmas Past.  But also a reality check, that maybe we could all put a bit more consideration into what we offer our ageing loved ones in the future.

Appreciating the little things, showing how much we enjoy their company.

Simply sharing a meal, or even just a good natter and a laugh over some boozy eggnog and a warm mince tart.

Bringing the kids round to decorate grandad's tree, or watching a funny movie together while you help write out great-aunt Betty's 2,387 Christmas cards.

Better still, turn the telly off and throw yourselves into a hearty game of Scrabble or Monopoly (if they can bear the arguments that is!)

Remind yourself that your treasured elder won't be around forever; better to spend the time you have creating experiences and making sweet or silly memories you can all cherish.

Something money will never buy.

Yes indeedy, 'tis the season to say "Bah, humbug!" to spending big dollars on superfluous dust-collecting frippery for your elderly relatives this festive season!

Because it couldn't be more easy flamin' peasy.

<Sing it to us, Mariah!>

All your dear ol' Mum ever wants for Christmas is...YOU!
(But you knew that already, didn't you?)

Tattooes for old people ROCK

Finally... the GREATEST gift ever! 


Thursday, 30 November 2017

Look out, Lucky's on the Loose!

PETS:  Keeping Elderly Peeps Perky

Elderly people love cats!


Don't get me wrong, I'm all for my elderly clients having pets.

In fact, the companionship a domesticated animal provides for a senior living by themselves can quite literally, be life-saving.  To receive great dollops of unconditional love from a four-legged friend works wonders in filling the hole in a heart of a lonely older adult who often feels forgotten about by family or friends.

Having to feed'n'water and be responsible carers of a Rover, a Whiskers, or a Bluey-the-obese-budgerigar can mean adding much-needed structure and purpose to an otherwise dull empty day. 

Plus, it motivates an isolated pensioner to get out and about, to unwittingly keep fit by having to walk the flamin' dog every day; to socialise and drink cups of tea with regulars at the canary club or just interacting with like-minded people at the vet's when the cat needs treatment for it's sunburnt nose.

It's all good-for-the-soul kind of stuff and absolute proof that the healing power of pets should never be underestimated.

My only concern is when these elders have become frail or so unwell that they are unable to continue the required upkeep of their once-cherished animal.

Their health status has changed and they no longer have the strength in their arms to brush a moulting long-haired Siamese puss-puss.

Or clean out the towering pile of excrement in the bird cage.

Or replace the brown stinky sludge in the fish bowl for a fresh bit of aqua... ugh!

Elderly people love pet budgies

Who's a pretty boy then?

Or... as in the case of 89 year old Jack Barkworth who, due to the recent advancement of his Parkinson's symptoms, no longer has spare energy available for frolicking with his dog, Lucky.

These days Jack, desperate to remain living in his own home, understandably now needs to conserve his strength and devote all his attention into maintaining his own wellness instead.

Which means Lucky, a bouncy little white Maltese and Jack's best mate for over 10 years, doesn't get to enjoy a daily stroll like he used to.

It also means that as soon as I arrive for my weekly visit, Lucky transforms into a crazed mini-beast thanks to spending too long cooped up inside.

And Lucky wants to play!

Not only does Lucky want to play, but he also wants to RUN. And, as I learnt today much to my horror as he slipped through my legs and off outside into the garden, once Lucky starts to run... HE JUST DOESN'T STOP!

And being that it was my fault for letting the dog out, the onus was therefore on ME to go get him back.   

For starters it was dodge 'ems round the clothesline with Mr Barkworth bellowing from the top of the back steps, “Get in ere, Lucky” as I ducked and wove around the lemon tree and down along the concrete path towards the front gate.


Dogs make great companions for elderly

Ain't nothin' LUCKY 'bout you, Lucky!

Through the open gate fired Lucky at warp speed, straight out onto the street heading directly towards the park like a canine possessed.

Clearly, Lucky couldn't believe his... luck!

Trudging along behind (at far lesser warp speed) I prayed some more in my head...

This loathsome park with it's luscious long grass, enticing trees, kid's play areas, a whopping great footy oval and room for at least a million ponies.


I lost sight of Lucky behind a neighbour’s shed and I fleetingly wondered that perhaps he’d got sick of the ‘game’ we were playing and had headed back home like a good doggie.

I should be so....ahem, lucky?

A flash of white fluff, a couple of rollicking yaps (“chase me, chase me, chase me”) and I spun round as Lucky bolted past in a beeline straight to the park entrance.

It was several minutes later, after many mad dashes and trampling through of bushes and muddy grass (with promises from me of all sorts of foodie treats), when I noticed that the far end of the park, the end where Lucky was heading, backed directly onto what looked like quite a busy main road.



If Lucky made it there (and it was looking good) there was a fair chance of the wretched pooch running onto the road and straight into traffic.

Bloody hell, not only would I be returning a Lucky that was mucky... but I could very well end up bringing back a LUCKY-WHAT-GOT-HIT-BY-A-TRUCKY!

dogs that chase trucks

You'd never be THAT lucky, Lucky 

The responsibility was just too much to bear. There was no way I could lose this dam stupid dog!

By this stage however, a gaggle of young children emerged from over the turn-style which of course made Lucky the lunatic dog, turn to go join in the fun. I could see the wheels in his little puppy head spinning:

"Woo hoo!  Little people... they'll play with me!!!"

As Lucky rushed himself over to the group and accompanying adult supervisor, I took it wide so it looked like I'd forgotten about the mad mutt by pretending to turn and leave (hard to believe it required such full-on military tactics).

Amidst the squeals of kiddie glee and while Lucky lapped up the abundance of pint-sized attention, I launched my final assault and managed to creep in from another angle to strategically scoop him up from within the clump of kindy-goers in one foul swoop.

“Got ya! You naughty little boy!”

The children were sad their new playmate had been wrenched away but it wasn’t about them – I had to return this devious Canis familiaris to its master and then get going to my next job.

Hang on, didn't Lucky have a red collar?

Dam, must've lost it during our wrangle in the bushes. Never mind, not important.

It was with much vigour, and with bits of twig and leaves in my hair, I marched back to Mr Barkworth's house to present my prize: the exhausted and still bewildered looking Lucky (or in this case, Unlucky!) to his owner.

HERE, TAKE THE BLOODY THING I wanted to shout, but of course slapped on the charm as I whipped open my elderly client's sliding door where I discovered Jack Barkworth sitting in his big armchair doing the crossword.

(Obviously he'd forgotten all about the matter at hand - par for the course in this industry)

Who are you again?

So, standing outside on the top step and in trophy-like fashion, I lifted up the now limp Lucky for my client to catch up with the play and admire my work.

“I got there in the end Mr Barkworth, sorry it took so long. He got to the park so I had to wait 'til he got distracted before I could catch him”

It was then I saw, on the small rug in front of the heater... a white ball of fur not even flinching as it snoozed soundly soaking in the cosiness.

The realisation of my mistake then dawning on me as I also then noticed the red collar round it's neck made me want to scream out loud:


As I collected my wits and scrambled to recover from the embarrassment, Mr Barkworth made me a cup of tea while I sponged the mud from my work pants.

We then had a good laugh when the doorbell rang and I handed over Fake Lucky to Mr Barkworth's neighbour at the front door...

"Just wondering if I can I have my dog back please?"

Elderly people and pets

You tell it, Snoopy



Sunday, 5 November 2017

The Lighter Side of Caring for Elderly People

Are We Having Fun Yet,  Mrs Stoatgobbler?

Laughing so hard you pee your pants


- both easier to do, the older you get!

I’ve noticed lately that a lot of job vacancies advertised in the Aged-Care sector are now listing 'sense of humour' as one of the more desirable personal characteristics required from potential applicants.

Right up there alongside the usual skill-set buzzwords: compassion, empathy, time management, communication etc etc etc... it seems that a lot of care providers are recognising value in employing support workers who are capable of seeing the lighter side of their roles.

Not that we 'funny-bunnies' don’t consider our work with older adults as meaningful or important; no, quite the opposite.  In fact, more is the case where those who CAN take a joke (and don’t feel they have to take themselves so seriously all the time), end up with far greater job satisfaction as a consequence of receiving copious amounts of positive feedback from their much-amused clients!  

Because there’s definitely no doubting how beneficial humour can be when meeting an elderly client at their front door - especially for that harrowing first time.  Not meaning you need to perform party tricks and act the clown - more just in listening to your client, seizing the unexpected instances as they happen and utilising them to create a good positive bond.

You know... tell them the silly story about your wheelbarrow at home with the wobbly wheel or how your new kitten shredded the wooden legs off the sofa, and then let them share similar anecdotes with you.

We all know that there’s nothing like a good ol' laugh to improve overall wellbeing or to promote a good mood.

So as a carer working in your client's home, merely being observant and discovering what interests your client has, understanding what makes them tick... can make it a heck of a lot easier for you to angle your game plan accordingly.

Elderly with a sense of Humour

Laugh at yourself 

- is it keeping you SANE?

As a coping strategy, too, an intuitive carer should also understand the benefits of how a funny story or a witty one-liner can be tactfully used to distract a client who may be agitated that you have come and initially resistant to your charms.... "I DON'T NEED YOUR HELP, MISSY!"

In my experience, discretely changing the subject or injecting a fresh perspective into the conversation can diffuse most potential challenging behaviour before it gets a chance to gather momentum.

Just by sharing a refreshingly waggish viewpoint in an elder's mundane existence can be enough to crack even the hardest of old nuts (yes, a lukewarm smile still counts).  Achieve this and you'll gain trust and win them over before they've had a chance to realise how much they actually do like you!

The awkwardness of nudity at shower time is always a good test of a careworker’s inter-personal communication skills. But be brave, just chat away and show how you thoroughly enjoy the company of your new nude client, ever so much!

In fact, I'm often surprised, how even the most insignificant occurrence or ridiculous absurdity, can turn a stilted situation into a side-splitting giggle feast in an instant.

Take my new client from yesterday morning Mrs Gladys Liverspot, a frail and reluctant elderly lady who clearly felt annoyed that 'regular-girl-Angie' was not available to help her shower - and that she was ‘stuck' with me instead.

Oh, I'd attempted to initialise conversation for sure... I was bubbly... yet professional. I showed genuine interest in the new kitchen she'd just had installed... plus I'd admired the heck out of her grandson's never-ending pile of wedding photos.

But as we progressed through her showering regime I got nothing back from Gladys.  Instead, she seemed determined to remain cool and aloof.

That is, until it came time to wash her 'lady bits' and, as I do, I asked Gladys if she wanted help with that.

“Oh, you mean my Fanny-by-Gaslight!” 

Well, that was it!  Such a randomly unexpected thing to hear a little old lady say - I cracked up big time.

And blow me down... Gladys clearly LOVED me for it!  In fact she joined in too!

Seemingly, my hysterical response to her quirky turn of phrase was just the reaction Glad needed to accept me into her world.  It showed her that I understood her; that I was on her wave-length.  I could appreciate her out-dated comment and therefore I was worthy of being part of her day.

Before I left (and still giggling like school girls), I was rewarded with a nice cuppa and the ginger crunch slice that Gladys usually reserved for her special visitors.

So to you, 'regular-girl-Angie'...TAKE THAT!

Funny how people tick, don't you think?

Sharing a cuppa with elderly client

Big laughs

(and even bigger hair!!!) 

Ironically too, there are days where laughing at yourself can be all that keeps you sane.  Nothing like putting your foot in it with a slip of the ol' verbal faux-pas; those unintentional moments when you haven't thunk before you open your gob.  Ahhh, I know them well.

Here's a couple of my finest whoopsie-daisies:

Offering lovely Mrs Greensleeves (a left-arm amputee) to wipe down her bench top… 
“Can I give you a hand with that?”

Or saying “Gee that IS a big one!” …  the exact same moment Mr Wang drops his tweeds at shower time (I was actually referring to the giant mutant cactus plant towering outside his bathroom window, truly I was)

And just out of habit, to my new and totally bald-headed client…
Are we washing your hair today, Mr Wiggington?”

As soon as I pop these doozies out - I kick myself.  But at the same time, it shows I’m only human and, as unbelievable as it may seem, I make mistakes too!  Thankfully, all my clients (thus far) have forgiven me whenever I’ve let slip and more often than not, we end up having a bit of a cackle about it as well.

It’s all in the way you handle the situation and anyway, they know it was not intended.  I’m just happy that they can relax enough and feel at ease around me to have a laugh in the first place.

“Oh Dollie, you are a ONE”, they say.

And I guess I am.

Vicky-versa, I love those unexpected humorous one-offs that my clients can spring on me, too!

Incidental quips they throw in along the way like an out-of-the-blue remark that takes you by surprise and makes you realise that being old, doesn’t mean you are any less witty or wacky than the rest of us smarty-pant types!

And you are most certainly not laughing AT your clients; you are laughing either with them or it’s just the situation at the time when something comical has occurred.

Like the time I was applying lotion to the legs of a very fragile and diminutive, Mr Eddie Shuffleboard.

Sitting patiently on his bed one morning, I squatted in front of Eddie fiddling about with his unyielding compression stockings versus his clammy moisturised skin (the bloody things never want to play nice).  After battling away I finally managed to wrench the stockings into position on Eddie's legs and, from the sheer exhaustion of it all, I then went to plonk myself on the bed beside him.

As I landed on what had to be the world’s most springiest mattress, like something out of Cirque du Soleil... poor old Eddie went BOING!  Catapulted directly up into the air he ended up falling squarely onto my knee in a position similar to a toddler sitting on his mother’s lap.

Then, without missing a beat, he announced with the cheekiest smile on his face:

We really have to stop meeting like this, Dollie!” 

Surely one of the most hilarious moments I've experienced on the job and after chuckling our way through the rest of the shift, Eddie and I were most definitely from then on, the bestest of buddies.

Enjoy spending time with your elderly client

Just don't get sand in your crack!

(tee hee)

So don’t feel guilty about enjoying the funny side of your client’s antics or feel that you’re being disrespectful or insensitive to their needs...OH MY GOD, YOU DON’T CARRRRRE!

Because of course you do.

And besides, encouraging laughter during a tense or delicate moment can actually offer relief to a fraught pensioner who may find solace in seeing you appear so calm and unflappable.

Embarrassing little interludes too, can have the edge sliced off them with a nifty bit of light relief.

Like the time I went to assist the delightful Mr Reggie Windbottom out of his armchair, just as he let rip an extremely loud FART that startled us both and made his trusty border collie leap up onto the couch.

“Outside, Wally!” Reg and I both bellowed at the same time.  If in doubt, blame the dog.

Oh, how we laughed!

But most of all, and because it reminds me a lot of my own grandfather and the funny stories he used to tell us growing up... I love it how some of my elderly gents (never the ladies it seems) have a wide-ranging repertoire of good old-fashioned jokes that they love to rattle off whenever you visit.

For example, here’s a couple of pearlers from 92 year old Harry Jollywood, one of my favourite yarn-spinners.  Of course the Irish accent makes them that much funnier - even better when he has his teeth in!

Did you hear about Bruce who lost his whole left side?
- He’s al-RIGHT now.

What do you call a fly with no wings?
- A walk.

What time did Bob go to the dentist?
- Tooth hurt-y.

A mushroom walks into a bar and orders a drink. The bartender tells him to get out.  
The mushroom says, “But why? I’m a fun-guy!”

A blind man walks into a bar….and a table... and a chair… and a door... and and and...

To conclude folks, laughter may not be the best (and only) medicine your elderly client has to take,  but if you can lift spirits by slipping a bit of jocularity into their day, it’s a grand way to start.

As the irrepressible Mr Jollywood so eloquently likes to put it:

"If you can’t have a good laugh in life - then you’re just a miserable old sod!"

Adding some humour to an elderly persons day

It's all in the way ya tell it, Harry!


Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Cranky Old Man

A Poem To Make Us Think About Ageing

(and that old people are people, too...)

I have to say, it's demoralising the number of my elderly clients who share with me that they can sometimes feel forgotten about in today's society.  To the point of actually being 'invisible' in the eyes of others as they potter along doing their thing, out and about in the community.

How at the supermarket where the checkout girl, even though she does her How-are-you-today spiel, makes no eye contact and nearly misses as she randomly plonks the change into yet another arthritic hand of some confused old bloke who's moving far too slowly and holding up her queue. 

Elderly at the shops

And how so many of the dear ladies I visit suffer feelings of low self-worth (verging on depression in some instances) from attending social events where they've come away believing they're not young or attractive enough to be acknowledged.  That they're no longer appealing to others and certainly not capable of ‘turning a man’s head’ as they once did when they walked into a room.  

Oh, they know they shouldn't base their entire emotional state on something so fickle as physical appearance, of course they do... but it still picks a hole in their confidence as a woman, regardless.

Or how in the midst of a treasured family gathering... it's easy to go ignored as the conversation heats up and, unintentional as it may be, silly old Mum is dismissed yet again for having any opinion of value to contribute or one that is worthy of being listened to. 

So she smiles and nods because she tells herself she’s so lucky at least, just to be there, surrounded by the people she loves. 

Nobody sees how the life that once defined who their mother was when she was young, has slipped further and further away.

I have always appreciated this poem - and I tear-up every time I read the dam thing!  

I love how simple it is and how it hits you with the realisation that our elders were once battling their way through this same journey called Life... with its highs and its lows; the good times and the not so good.  Ironing shirts... making lists... rushing off to work... shouting at the kids and paying the bills...

... just like us.

And it’s interesting that nobody seems very sure where it came from; or whether it was written originally about a cranky old MAN or a ‘crabbity’ old LADY. 

Some say it was written by a wise and empathetic nurse working in a care home. Others tell how a pensioner living, and then dying in the same facility, wrote it to be discovered by the staff after he’d gone.

I suppose in the end it doesn't really matter who wrote this most poignant ode about how the world perceives you once you are 'old'.  Just as long as we keep reading it (or in my case, crying at it) and perhaps if we are lucky, being inspired enough to learn from it too?

The very least you can do is pop round to Grandpop’s this afternoon for a hot milo and a chat about life... while he thrashes the pants off you in a few rounds of gin rummy!

But please have a read, whatever you do. 

Can't do any harm.

Look Closer   (The Cranky Old Man)   

What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you're looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food .. . ... . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . .'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not . . . ... lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill.
Is that what you're thinking?. .Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse .you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast.
Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me . . to see I don't mourn.
At Fifty, once more, .. ...Babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future ... . . . . I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . And the love that I've known.
I'm now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It's jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigour, depart.
There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
Not a cranky old man.
Look closer . . . . 

..see ME!!

 - Author Unknown

Young Boys become Old Men

He wasn't always an old boy...


Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Hard & Dry Facts of Elderly Skin

"It seems the SKIN... that I'm IN... is terribly, terribly... THIN!"

Ever wondered why you never see a loofah brush, exfoliating mitt, nor any other type of abrasive body-scrubbing device in an old person's bathroom?  (That's not counting the mandatory piece of dried up pumice stone once used to file corns and callouses from feet ie: back when ones feet needed it).

Well, there's good reason for it.  Summed up perfectly by 89 year old Lizzy as I chatted to her during her shower last week:  

“At my age? Crikey, I'd end up skinned alive like a Chinese dog if I used one of those now!”

Old people dislike using SOAP

Prettier than what, I wonder?

Understandably, for most of the older adults I visit, their skin is a fairly pertinent issue.  They know only too well that if something new or unusual appears on their outer - there's a blimmen good chance that something more threatening may be happening on their inner.

Physiological changes such as connective tissue breakdown, the lessening of elastin and collagen production, a limited ability to retain moisture, plus an increasingly slower metabolism in general - all contribute to the breakdown of our skin's integrity as we age.  

And as a consequence of this dermal deterioration, we then get to watch in despair as the inevitable creases, folds and ridges creep leisurely onto our skin's surface to create that familiar 'old person' look... Come on, sing it with me now:  WRINKLES!

Throw in the exhaustion of the juicy subcutaneous fat layer beneath, too, means the natural oils which once protectedus from damage and gave skin it's firm, voluptuous appearance - are depleted.  Leaving elders with a moisture-less, thinned barrier that's vulnerable to anything untoward.

Oh yes, defenses by this stage, are most definitely down!  

Understandably, with skin that's this delicate and translucent, the absolute last thing a dear old soul like our Lizzy would ever consider doing as part of her shower routine, even if she might have done regularly in her decadent middle-aged years... is to slough off yet another (possibly the last?) layer from her precious epidermal.

Wrinkley old people

Of course, other contributing factors such as lifestyle, genetics and diet can also throw a pensioner's skin balance out of whack.  Interestingly, one of the major roles of our outer dermis is to maintain the body's natural thermostat.  Which explains why so many seniors seem to spend most of their days grumbling how cold they are, even in the height of a summer heatwave.

“Brrrr... shut the dam door, girlie!”

Progressing into our 'twilight' years, means we might also get to grow some unsightly skin tags, unflattering strangely-shaped moles and, prevalent on the backs of hands, balding heads, ears, arm, noses and necks... are the browny-coloured 'liver' or sun spots we immediately associate with 'being old'. 

These annoying tell-tale blemishes are a result of spending entire lives being hat-less and factor-less for long periods exposed to the outside elements.  And declaring “but we didn't know any better”, does nothing to fix the skin damage already caused.  

Sadly, it doesn't matter how much sunscreen Grandad coats himself in now, it's a case of too-little-too-late for these old timers.

Ahhh good times!

Good SKIN-DESTROYING times... 

And there are other less than delightful skin conditions we become more predisposed to as we age.   Dermatitis, eczema and pruritis are afflictions which are all identifiable with dry, ageing skin and will continue to drive itchy, older folk to reach for the tried-and-true camomile lotion by the gallon.

But flaky, scaly skin is a bad thing when you're an older peep because when skin has become so dry that it's now irritated and cracking open, there is opportunity galore for serious infection to enter and thrive it's head off.

With immunity already compromised in sick or frail seniors or those suffering with pre-existing health complaints, the skin, whose job as the built-in protection layer stopping the big bad germ-laden world from entering our bodies and making us unwell, becomes weakened and unable to hold ground when it's really needed most.

A seemingly small injury to a mature-ager's cutaneal areas (even the slightest scratch), if not treated appropriately, can easily lead to serious complications and a much longer recovery time leaving an elder either in hospital... or in a very, very bad mood!

Indeed, depending on the state of it - our skin can quite literally mean the difference between life and death!  

More significantly for an anxious pensioner, it can also mean the difference between remaining at home or being despatched to live in an aged-care facility... or the dreaded nursing home.

I get to observe a lot of elderly skin when I visit my clients at this stage of their lives. Assisting them to shower and maintain regular hygiene habits is integral to self-esteem, dignity and indicative to the rest of the world (ie: suspicious adult children) that they're still capable of living independently.

And although not medically trained, an experienced carer can become quite astute in recognising symptoms of potential health issues, merely by observing the condition or noting even slight changes in a naked senior's skin - especially at shower time.

Bruises, for example, can be discovered during Personal Care shifts and might be the result of a fall, walking into the coffee table – or possibly from something more sinister? A quick mention here regarding Elder Abuse and that ALL suspicions of such should be reported immediately and without hesitation.

Haematoma (bruising) can look dreadful on pale elderly skin and thanks to sluggish metabolisms, may take months to totally heal and fade. Not helped by certain medications used to control inflammatory conditions so common in old age (stiff joints, arthritis, COPD, diabetes etc) which, as a pesky side-effect, can leave seniors exceptionally prone to bruising.  

Such as one of my clients, 75 year old Hilary who relies on steroidal drugs to control symptoms of her advancing emphysema.  These powerful meds offer a fabulous quality of life and are literally life-saving for someone like Hilary.  

More importantly (she informs me), they allow her to be top of her game on the golf course!  

BUT... it was discovered recently, that Hilary's skin had in fact become so thinned and susceptible to even the slightest touch that something as silly as the seam on her new golf slacks is enough to cause extensive black and blue marks down both her shins.  

I mean, did you EVER?

elderly skin is thin

Another shin, another bruise for Hil


For obvious reasons, assisting a senior to wash their outer body involves common sense, a good bit of empathy and patience... plus a WHOLE LOTTA care and attention.  Jagged fingernails or solid objects such as jewellery, rings etc can inflict catastrophic damage to paper-thin skin – and often with very minimal force applied.

Cringe-worthy is the story about a carer once who, worrying about getting to her next job on time, ripped an enormous gash in her client's calf while attempting to yank up his support hose (commonly used to control circulation probs in the lower limbs). In her haste, she hadn't realised the tag on the garment had accidentally embedded itself into the poor old gent's skin which then sliced deeply all the way up his leg as she pulled.

Ooooo... I FELT THAT!

Which explains why some of my more delicate ladies fear using a standard flannel or wash cloth that the rest of us ruffians take for granted.  Instead, they prefer to wash with a tiny square of baby muslin or light-weight sponge, both of which seem so floaty and flimsy - you wonder if it's worth bothering! 

There's certainly no RUBBING or SCRUBBING involved.  Just a lot of gentle circles and tender dabbing to ensure their sensitive aged skin is left suitably cleansed, and more importantly - unbroken.

Thankfully, it turns out that the older you get, the less cleansing your skin actually requires.  With retirement marking an inevitable slump in physical activity, there are now far less occasions to get a big 'sweat-up' like we once might have.  Common thought now is that it's more than adequate for a senior to instead shower every other day (or less), thereby allowing natural oils in the skin a chance to replenish and build resistance against all the nasties.

"And so I can get my GLOW on!" as one of my lovely ladies, Gladys, puts it.

Funnily enough, Gladys swears by sweet almond oil as her choice of showertime lather – and NEVER soap. 

"Because soap is too harsh and leaves me dry and rashy and itchier than an old woollen jumper".  

Which is fair enough when you're 95 years old and you've been doing it long enough to know! Admittedly, the almond oil (which smells devinely like christmas pudding) does leave Gladys' skin noticeably well-nourished and moist.  

Although, as she holds my arm stepping out of the shower, I have to plant my feet firmly to keep us both steady... she's as shiny and slippery as an eel!

Wrinkles a common sign of ageing

(...but not too hard)