UK Older People's Day (Part 3)

06 May 2014

For UK Older People’s Day 2014, as well as the theme of ‘Full of Life’, each month has been designated with a particular theme.  For May, the theme is ‘Full of Bloom’.

Do you think you’re too old to make a difference? Well, take a look at the achievements of these people:

  • At age 80, actor George Burns won an Oscar for his role in the movie “The Sunshine Boys”.
  • At age 90, “Banana George” Blair went barefoot waterskiing – he became the oldest person to do so.
  • At age 121, Jeanne Louise Clement recorded a rap CD

(inspiremykids.com)

Sonia says:

It is interesting to reflect on why some people think that age is a determinant to whether or not we can learn or do something new or indeed make a contribution to society. Why do we believe that, because people are past a certain age, they should automatically become recipients of services? How many times do we hear people say to someone past a certain age – sit back and let someone else do it for you, you have earned this time?

Communities have a long and rich history of providing for those who need support in their daily lives, but if we are honest we often make the decision for the person about what we feel they need and how we feel they should spend their time. The programmes we run are, more often than not, devised by ‘professionals’ and have a therapeutic input so that people are not only engaged in activity but gain ‘therapeutic benefit’ from that activity.

When we are young, the fact that we put crayon or paint to paper and enjoy the experience is deemed enough, but when we are older we seem to have to analyse the benefit to the older person. Children are encouraged to plant and play with soil, whereas my internet search on gardening for older people extols the health benefits of gardening and says little about the pure enjoyment of doing something that gives pleasure, and if you are lucky, produce an end result you can share with others.

What really makes us blossom as people? For me it is the relationships I have with others, the happy times I share with people as well as the support we share with one another when times are not so good. It is also the pure enjoyment of listening to music, having a ‘bop’ around my living room, or enjoying a film or piece of theatre. I don’t analyse the therapeutic effect on me, I simply reflect on how it makes me feel to engage in activity I enjoy.

Livability have captured this in their Happiness Course which concentrates on how and what makes people happy. Apparently, according to the promotional literature for the course, if you are happy you could be increasing the happiness of your neighbours by 25%. The relationship between people’s happiness levels extends up to three degrees of separation – to the friend of a friend of a friend (www.livability.org.uk/church/happiness)

If this is true, then our aim for those older people we work, live or simply interact with, should be to find what makes them or would make them happy (this is not to say we just jolly them along), find what is it that will give them pleasure and make them blossom. Once we have identified this our role should be to act as the facilitators, or provide the encouragement if needed, and simply sit back, watch them bloom.

Sonia Douek is Head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care and has developed a strategy for the organisation that has seen the growth of volunteers in the organisation reach 3,000 people.

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