I have been wanting to write this editorial ever since I attended several weddings recently and found excellent examples of gerontological theory in action. I could see a role for gerontological nurses to promote intergenerational activities among the elderly for whom they care, as well as among the nurses' families.
There was one wedding in particular that will always stand out in my memory, not only because the child of one of my nursing school classmates was getting married, but because I could see beautiful expressions of well-established social gerontological theory and principles.
It all started with the startled exclamation of a middle-aged woman. "I would think the young people would be in the ballroom dancing instead of being out here with us older folks talking about the "used to be'sl" She was looking at two tables at which were seated grandmothers and great-grandmothers dressed in wedding guest finery. These charming old women were holding court for groups of young people - from preschoolers to college age. These young people were solicitous, making sure the elderly women had plenty of the food and drink from the buffets. The young people vied for a chair next to Gran" and for a chance to hold a gnarled hand. Their expressions were rapt as their smiling grandmothers recounted stories of past weddings. "Tell me again about my mother's wedding," one young person begged.
The women who made the remark about the "used to be's" continued her comments. "Just look at that!" You know, we never take Gran out in public, but we thought we would give it a try today. She's just too old, and all this activity doesn't interest her anymore. I can't believe she is enjoying herself so muchi"
The above story illustrates how well-meaning relatives unintentionally disengage older family members. It is tragic that younger persons make the assumption that older persons do not want to be an active participant in family gatherings.
As gerontological nurses we can be the advocate for older persons in our care to help them participate in and enjoy family events. Here are some tips on how to do this.
Encourage families to include older relatives in family events and affairs, such as weddings. Hold a family conference and help the various families create a "care" plan for older relatives at the events. This plan should be as important as any other part of the plans for the day Certainly care of one's relatives should be as important as scheduling people to cut the groom's cake.
Help older persons under your care to select clothes to wear that are flattering, comfortable, and easy to manipulate. Make a trip to the stores yourself to know what is available, and check out the pattern books if dresses will be made at home. Then you can more readily help families and your older clients to make wiser choices of clothing within their price range.
Encourage families to assign members to anticipate and meet older family member's needs. For example, one hour shifts could be arranged. Plan to take the older relatives to the toilet every two hours. The activity and movement will be benficial. If the family is anything like the one I have described above, relatives will be vying with one another for the honor of being with "Gran."
If an all-day event is being held in a hotel, obtain a room there for older relatives who may need short rest periods. If necessary assign a family member to drive older persons home early if they so desire.
Encourage the photographer (if there is onej to take intergenerational pictures. If possible, make audio and/or videotapes of older family members with their younger relatives. Record the oral histories these older people provide.
By helping older persons to stay engaged in family activities, gerontological nurses can promote a more satisfying life for older persons for whom they care. Most of all, by helping older persons to be an integral part of their families, the families themselves become enriched through the knowledge and appreciation of their heritage, something which only older family members can provide.