My dad is gradually recovering from his recent hospital stay, and the recreation department at his nursing home and I are once again frantically trying to figure out what we can do to keep him engaged both in social activities and in anything that will keep him using, in particular, his hands and his mind in ways he’s not used to.
We understand the therapeutic importance of stretching his abilities, but Dad doesn’t. Not one bit of it. When activities are suggested, said one person, he refuses almost arrogantly, as if they are beneath him. She wasn’t being disparaging; she was reporting an observation, not labeling my dad.
My dad has his moments, but that kind of arrogance isn’t really part of his personality. As a result, her comment made me think a lot more seriously about what might be going on with him.
“Seriously” turned out to be a clue.
There are many more women than men at my dad’s nursing home. Most of things they’re doing now are similar to what many of them did before they came to the nursing home. As part of the horticultural therapy program, the residents spend part of every Friday making the floral arrangements that are displayed during the week at the home.
There are regular baking activities, and decorative craft activities themed according to various holidays. There is an art therapy program that involves fabric, ceramics and painting. For the women who participate, these are familiar, and desirable, activities. They are enjoyable, even fun.
Dad never did any of these things, nor anything like them. For him, it’s not that ‘fun’ isn’t the point — it’s not even part of the vernacular. His working life was driven by the need to make a living. His approach to his hobbies was driven by the same traits that made him successful at work — competition, study, goal-orientation. The casual pursuit of interesting and satisfying activities for their own sake wasn’t really a consideration, either when he worked or in retirement.
For my dad, life has been a serious business.
Now he’s reached the point when his capacities, both physical and mental, are diminishing. He’s arrived here without habits of practice and mind that would allow him to be receptive to expanding his world in ways he hasn’t considered before.
He does not want to paint because he has never done it before, and because he doesn’t see any point to painting. He isn’t interested in cooking because it has always been a nuisance, something to get out of the way. He can’t use a darkroom, so, in his mind, there is no point to photography — and, in any case, he’s done that already. He sees no reason to do it anymore.
He does go to the music events at his home; he watches the Discovery Channel, the History Channel and Animal Planet. He listens to his extensive collection of CDs, and he reads. For the most part, though, he moves less and less, and he uses, less and less, his all-important hands — the part of his body least affected by his illnesses.
The less he uses his hands, the more rapidly he loses coordination and the less his mind is stimulated. As his mind is less stimulated, his hands work more poorly. And so it goes.
The challenge for those of us who care for my dad is huge. It’s a challenge that I suspect will assume increasing importance in the future for those who care for other men, and perhaps professional women, whose lives, like my dad’s, never encompassed the casual forms of recreation that help to keep bodies and minds in sync when the pressures of professional lives are no longer omnipresent.
It’s a daunting challenge, and one assisted living and nursing homes may find increasingly pressing over the next decade as their populations change.
Holding hands from wendydqm on flickr
Hand-Tied roses from imedagoze on flickr
Sketched hand from boxed13 on flickr
Hand photo from richard sweeney on flickr
Escher hands from Fondazione San Raffaele del Monte Tabor
Waiting hands from ivan on flickr