It was the first Sunday afternoon in June when I got a call from my mother letting me know that my dad had fallen off his bicycle and was at the hospital with a fractured pelvis. It feels like only yesterday that I was a child on a bike trying to keep up with my dad. I thought I would never be able to catch him.
It took three weeks in hospital to manage the pain and other subsequent health concerns. Meanwhile, my dad lost so much body mass that he could barely sit up in bed, let alone perform common personal care tasks. It was decided that he would have the best chance for recovery in a rehabilitative facility, where he spent six weeks as an inpatient.
My ability to visit my father and support my mother is limited because I have two young children and a full-time job. This is what defines the sandwich generation – and I know that my position is not unique. With the aging of baby boomers and postponed family formation, more Gen X and Gen Y parents are finding themselves raising young children at home, with senior parents in varying states of health.
Since my father’s injury, and during this reflective time of year, I find myself thinking about the meaning of health, and how maintaining good health might differ for younger versus older people. In either case, health status can change virtually overnight. For the elderly, however, recovery speed tends to be much slower.
With modern technological and pharmaceutical advances, we’ve become reliant on medical interventions in times of poor health. We want a magic bullet to cure us, or at least have our doctors write us a prescription. Band-Aid solutions to health problems are unsustainable and may even cause more harm than good.
Social factors like education and income have been shown to have a very big influence on health and well-being over the entire life course. We know, for example, that every dollar invested in early childhood development can result in a savings of nine dollars down the road on health, social and justice issues. On the flipside, social isolation and alienation can lead to negative health outcomes. Sadly, this defines the position of many seniors.
I am fortunate to live in the same city as my parents. Living in different city than your parents makes a challenging situation even more difficult, not to mention the seniors who don’t have any children or a partner. I think it is crucial that, as a community, we look out for our seniors to prolong their sense of dignity and belonging.
Ranit Braun, program coordinator of the Thelma Steinman Seniors Services at Jewish Family Services of Ottawa, is doing incredible work with seniors. Since becoming a mother less than a year ago, she started a new J-baby volunteering program that brings babies together with senior residents at Hillel Lodge, which I think is an excellent example of how caring for these two groups can be aligned and take some of the burden off the caregivers in the middle.
The results of the monthly baby visits to the Lodge are promising.
“There seems to be a vibe in the room between the babies and seniors,” says Ranit. “Even seniors who are not very aware, who were half-asleep, become very engaged once they see a baby. Babies respond well to this energy from the seniors.”
Honouring our elders and fulfilling our caregiver responsibilities to our children can sometimes be done in concert. The health of our youngest and oldest have the greatest to gain.