“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands — one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” — Audrey Hepburn
From a woebegone 'what if I could' to an excited 'could I?' is a miraculous journey that many a senior adult has taken over the lockdown, present company included. Much of it has been achieved with a great deal of egging on from friends and family, all of whom have suddenly been brought together by the pandemic. People have found time for each other, even under distanced circumstances.
Behind many minds is the lingering fear –not necessarily correct – that old age coupled with solitude could be a tad depressing. While seniors have been known to suffer pangs of agony over the months of confinement, a great many have jumped into making the most of the lockdown and followed their passions with great gusto, many of our members included.
From exhausting encounters with coming to terms with technology, Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Skype, Google Duo and what have you, to the sheer delight of being able to see and speak to one's grandchildren or enjoying seminars and programmes, music or poetry sessions, many seniors have totally animated their existence.
There are also those who have ventured into entirely new pursuits, probably pulled out of the deep recesses of their minds into the present, which they are now going for with all the ebullience that their mind, body, heart and limbs can muster.
For many, technology is power that they have mastered, a gift of modernity that disperses any sense of isolation and presents them with tools to engage in creative excellence.
Oh! what did they do before, without laptops and smartphones?
Music is just one pursuit over karaoke or simply sing-and-record software that is shared to critical acclaim amongst one's peers; or writing memoirs; or simply reminiscing, sometimes with a sophisticated touch with words that would put accomplished writers or speakers to shame.
Such activities amount to non-pharmacologic interventions, sometimes self-organised and sometimes courtesy children or relatives or friends, which help manage depressive thoughts. More than anything else they help senior citizens plumb the depths of their minds to recapture youthful fantasies perhaps, or even suppressed desires, those that had to be forsaken for loaves and fishes of office. Fair enough.
There is yet another lot that has rediscovered its power to do good. Whether it is teaching the child of the hired help, who cannot go to school or just connecting friends in positions of power to young job seekers, starting a neighbourhood cleaning club or organising remote games... With all the authority that age gives them, with the capabilities that years of experience have invested them with; their erudition, their scholarship and sheer organisational skills that they have under their belts, they have just switched on the magic and taken over the world of volunteerism. The results are quite miraculous for self and society.
This rediscovery of the self that has power to do good has invested senior citizens with a revitalising sense of purpose and not just in the time of Covid-19. The Center for Health and Happiness at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health , which has been studying this phenomenon for close to a decade now, has statistical evidence to support the theory that people who volunteered their time experience a 44 per cent reduced risk for mortality and a 17 per cent reduced risk of impaired physical functioning compared to their counterparts who did not volunteer.
Covid-19 with all its debilitating connotations can and has stoked the dying embers in many minds.
Let me quote from a letter that Darlene Corbett wrote in the August 16, 2020 issue of Lifestyle. "I invite you to consider “What if you could,” and watch what may happen. Have you tried volunteering in any form in the past few months? What did you choose to do? How did you do it? What benefits did you notice for your well-being that you can connect to your volunteering?"
Share your story with us at Support Elders. Now is the time to talk.