What makes us unique as individuals is our backgrounds, traditions, cultures, and customs. Our aging population makes up a large portion of first and second generation immigrants that hold stories of their ancestors and cultural traditions close to their hearts. Our life experiences are what shapes us and they should not be ignored as we age but rather maintained and cherished. Some elderly are lucky enough to be physically and mentally able to sustain independence as they age. For many, illness takes control of day to day life and the ability to sustain customs and traditions that shaped who they are becomes difficult.
For those that develop a need for assistance, unfortunately a loss of individuality may follow. The physical and/or mental ailment many times becomes the person’s new identity. They become the grandmother with Alzheimer’s, the family friend with cancer, or the client with a bad hip. It is important for the caregiver, whether it be family, friend, private, home care, hospice, or facility to remember that every person has a story to tell and deserves to express themselves through their entire life. They shouldn’t have to stop practicing customs because of inability to drive, cook, or perform activities of daily living. More importantly, no person should be categorized by their ailment or case number but have their individuality acknowledged and heard.
In a world where everything is fast paced and technology driven, let’s not forget to slow down and hear what our elders have to say. Stories of what life was like before reality TV, cell phones, and computers. When you talked to people face to face, took your time to make sure things were done right, and asked questions and read books to learn new information.
Music has been proven to comfort and bring back memories, take the time to find music that person resonates with. Write down recipes, ask questions about special diets. If someone has a special diet whether it be religious, health, or personal choice restrictions, learn as much as you can in order to respect their diet. Ask questions about holiday traditions and help them celebrate in a way that comforts them. You may be the only person they have to help them rekindle old family traditions that date back for centuries.
Cultural or religious differences should not hinder the learning process but rather ignite it. It is our duty to not categorize our elders by their age or ailments but to preserve their stories, customs and traditions to help shape our futures.