Helping the elderly doesn't have to be hard. Here are 5 ideas you may not have considered.

Being a caretaker for an elderly loved one is a full-time job. It's tough. It's rewarding. It's life-changing.

So let's take a second to give it up for all the people who are taking care of their elderly loved ones and friends today.

The happiness and love these caregivers bring to the lives of the elderly can't be overstated. But it's not just transformative for the senior who's getting the help that they need — it impacts the caregiver's lives in a big way as well.


Photo by AP X 90 on Unsplash.

Unfortunately, however, there are many seniors who aren't lucky enough to have that compassion in their lives.

As life expectancy continues to rise, many of us can look forward to living well into our 80s, but that can also lead to new stresses, especially for those who don't have loved ones around to help when everyday tasks become difficult. For example, what happens to the senior who doesn't have children to take care of them? Or perhaps their spouse who carried out most of the day-to-day chores suddenly passes away? That's why it's important for community members not to forget the senior citizens who might need a little help, kindness, compassion and emotional support.

You may have already thought about wanting to lend a hand to the aging population, but perhaps you don't know where to start. You might also be familiar with the hard work caregivers do, and feel like you're not exactly cut out for something like that.

Here's some good news though: despite what you might think, you do have what it takes to help. And you don't have to be a full-time caregiver in order to make a real change in a senior's life.

Here are just five ways that you can give back to your elders and enrich your own life as well.

1. Volunteer in your community, even if it's unstructured.

Photo by Jack Finnigan/Unsplash.

No matter where you live, there are senior citizens who need your help. A great way to get started giving back is to simply be mindful of opportunities that appear in the moment. Do you see an elderly person struggling to get their groceries to the door? Ask if you can help. Is there someone in your building who may be delighted by a short visit or an invitation for a walk? Spend some time with them. Offer to mow their lawn or water their plants. See if they need some help washing the car. Make and share a meal with them.

It's often hard for older people to ask for help themselves. But if you just show up and say, "I'm here if you need me," it takes the onus off of them. Even something as small as giving an elderly person a ride to the store or bringing a them their mail makes an impact.

2. Spend time at a senior center or a care home.

Photo by Oren Atias/Unsplash

Did you know that many folks who live in senior care facilities have very few visitors? In fact, recent research suggests that approximately 6o percent of residents may have no visitors at all. The reasons why are far too many to enumerate here, but the reality is that the seniors who live in such residences may feel lonely or out of place, which can certainly take a toll on both their mental and physical health.

That's where you come in.

Most senior living facilities welcome volunteers. And there are so many things you can do, though just spending time with residents is an excellent first step.

Do you have a skill that you could teach or a service you could offer? You can turn a few hours a week into an experience that both you and the seniors you bond with will remember forever. In Raleigh, North Carolina, for example, a group called Senior TechEd teaches the elderly how to master the latest technology.

If you're frustrated by the fact that your own grandparents didn't get how to use a smartphone before you came along with a tutorial, consider reaching out to a care facility to see if you can provide the same service to other seniors in the area. Not only will they thank you for it, they'll probably stop using "lol" to mean "lots of love."

3. Support your elders by listening to them. You might learn a thing or two.

Photo by Corey Theiss via Flickr.

It may feel like people who are older don't have to worry about the same things you do. But once you hit retirement, life isn't just a pleasant existence of taking walks, watching TV, and getting the best deals at restaurants. Older folks worry about the same things anyone under the age of 65 do — money, friendships, the stress of day-to-day life. They just might not have anyone to discuss their concerns with.

One way to help is by looking for opportunities to be that obliging ear for them. Believe it or not, there are actually organizations, like The Friendship Line at The Institute on Aging in San Francisco, that help you do just that. The program connects volunteers with seniors who need someone to talk to. In some cases, these volunteers may be the senior's only point of social contact, so the service they provide is invaluable.

You don't have to live in San Francisco or even be a member of an organization like The Friendship Line to help, though. Consider doing your own outreach. There's likely a senior in your community who would love to hear from you. Pick up the phone, dial their number, and ask how they're really doing. You might be surprised by the bond that forms out of it.

4. Seniors love having fun. Join them.

Photo by John Moeses Bauan/Unsplash.

Kindness is important, but so is fun. Sometimes, we forget that older people like doing fun things just as much as anyone else. Sure, they may not be able to ride as many roller coasters (so maybe put the Six Flags excursion on hold), but if you're thinking of volunteering, don't mistake "helping" for "just sitting there quietly and doing nothing except drinking tea."

Here are some other, less traditional ideas: organize a nature walk for the seniors at a local center, lead a 45-minute-dance club for seniors once a week, teach a craft class, or start a drama group or book club. Whatever your passion is in life, why not see if you could turn it into an opportunity to brighten the lives of the seniors in your community? (Except if your passion is riding rollercoasters. The inner ear isn't what it used to be at 70!)

5. Send in the animals (but only the chill, safe ones)!

Photo by Jari Hytönen/Unsplash.

Did you know that animals can help reduce stress? Just stroking the soft fur of a dog, cat or even guinea pig can make people feel a little bit better. Not every senior citizen can take care of a pet full-time, but that doesn't mean that they can't or shouldn't enjoy the benefits that being with one provides. In fact, some care facilities have joined forces with local animal organizations to connect seniors with valuable animal time. Not only can this help seniors feel more connected, it allows those who have a hard time interacting with people experience an important bond.

If this sounds up your ally, see if you can bring some animals to seniors who live in a local facility. Do you have an chill animal of your own? Call up one of the local organizations that help seniors and arrange for some time for your pet to visit (but make sure it's okay with the facility first).

Many of us believe that for kindness to be effective, it has to be all sacrifice and grand gestures.

But that's not true at all. Spend a few minutes a day or an hour a week helping the people around you. It can be as little a gesture as just say "hi," to your elderly neighbor when they go out to water their garden. The act may be small — the difference you'll be making won't be.

Hello Humankindness




Tyler Perry says instead of fighting for a seat at the table, build your own

There's a lot to be said for paving your own path, and Tyler Perry said it all when he accepted the Ultimate Icon Award at the BET Awards. Perry received his award for making movies that were, Perry feels, subconsciously about "wanting her [his mother] to know that she was worthy—wanting black women to know you're worthy, you're special, you're powerful, you're amazing." Perry's inspirational acceptance speech has enough motivation to get you going for years. He spoke to the power of helping others while simultaneously carving out your own destiny.

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Inclusivity

Anyone who's done yard work on a hot day can tell you that it can be just as good of a workout as playing a team sport.

You're down on your knees pulling weeds, up on a ladder lopping off errant tree branches, and pushing a heavy lawnmower that never seems to start on the first try.

Unfortunately, because lawn work is so physically intense and not everyone can afford a gardner, the elderly and disabled sometimes have to let their lawns and backyards grow wild.

An alternative learning center in Dubuque, Iowa is helping its kids stay physically fit while helping out their community with a new program that gives them high school PE credit for doing yard work for the elderly and disabled.

The Alternative Learning Center is for high school juniors and seniors who are at risk of dropping out of school.
As part of the program, the teens visit homes of the elderly and disabled and help out by raking leaves, pulling weeds, cutting grass, and cleaning gutters.



Teacher Tim Hitzler created the program because it helps the students get involved in the community while helping those who need it most.

"The students aren't typically too excited at the beginning but once they get involved and start doing the yard work they become more motivated," Hitzler told KWWL. "What they really like is A: helping people. They really like giving back to people and meeting the person."

Nick Colsn, a 17-year-old student at the learning center, told NPR that the program allows him to meet people he wouldn't have otherwise. "I'm more of like go-to-school-go-to-work-home-repeat kind of guy," he said. "So to me, I probably would not have met any of these people."

The end-of-year program has been so successful, Hitzler hopes to expand it next year. "You know, in education, a lot of times, there's so many different gimmicks and curriculum packages you can buy and things like that," he told NPR. "And something like this all you need is a few garden tools. You know, I mean, it just makes sense. It's so simple. And it works."

Recommended

If you're a white supremacist, I imagine drinking beer (or any other alcoholic beverage) is a nice way to relax and tune out the fact that you're a terrible person who's helping set human progress back at a rate the bubonic plague would be proud of. But for some self-professed white supremacists, it wasn't quite so easy on a June weekend in Germany.

According to Newsweek, the hundreds of neo-nazis who flocked to the "Shield and Sword Festival" in Ostritz found themselves uncomfortably dry when a court imposed a liquor ban at their gathering of hateful bigots who also like to listen to awful music together. The ban's aim was to prevent any violence that might erupt (you know it would...) and the police confiscated more than a thousand gallons of alcohol from those attending the weekend-long event. They even posted pictures on Twitter of the alcohol they'd removed from participants.



But that's only half the story.

Residents of the town of Ostritz, who've had to deal with the bigots before (they threw the same festival last year on Hitler's birthday), knew that the ban wouldn't stop the festival-goers from trying to obtain more alcohol while in town. So the townspeople got together a week before the festival and devised a plan which would truly make the white supremacists focus on how terrible neo-nazi music is: They bought up the entire town's beer supply.

"We wanted to dry the Nazis out," Georg Salditt, a local activist, told reporters. "We thought, if an alcohol ban is coming, we'll empty the shelves at the Penny [supermarket]."

"For us it's important to send the message from Ostritz that there are people here who won't tolerate this, who say 'we have different values here, we're setting an example..." an unidentified local woman told ZDF Television.

At the same time the festival was going on, residents also staged two counter-protests and put on a "Peace Festival" to drive home the point that bigotry wasn't welcome. If the festival is held in the same town again next year, ticket-buyers should be aware that Ostritz isn't playing around when it says that white supremacists aren't welcome.

There's some good news, too: Aside from the fact that residents aren't afraid to send the message that they're intolerant of intolerance, attendance to the far-right music festival has drastically decreased in the past year. In 2018, 1,200 people attended, according to the BBC. This year? Approximately 500-600. Here's hoping the festival won't have a return engagement next year.

Culture

I sent both of my children on a bus on Tuesday. I knew where they were going.

The morning started rainy, buggy, and too early. To be fair, it always feels too early.

My husband and I waved from across the street as the buses pulled away, our kids, along with a hundred or so others, behind tinted glass. We waved like we were excited. Our son was likely not looking. Our daughter may have been, but she also could have not been paying attention until the bus started into motion. We won't know for sure if she saw us waving until she returns.

Returns.

Every day when I leave the house, I expect to return.

That's the default.

It's so much the default that realizing it is actually stunning. We run our lives as though anything else other than what's in our head, our routine, our privilege, is what will take place. There's that little truism that a worrier shines like a pebble in the hand: you're more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash. Yet we are much more likely to be worried about flying because it is out of our routine. Being out of your routine awakens you to the precariousness we completely shut out in our day-to-day lives.

I put my children on a bus. My oldest will be gone four weeks, my youngest, two.

What should be normal: sending your kids to sleep away camp. What feels wholly unnatural: sending your Jewish kids to a Jewish sleep away camp in the world we're living in now. Even writing those words: JEWISH SLEEP AWAY CAMP make my fingers seize at the knuckles. I don't want you to know there are such things as Jewish sleep away camps. Even having others know that they exist feels like a danger.

I'm used to my feelings and my instincts seeming like hyperbole to others. I'm emotional. I'm tuned in. I'm hyperreactive. I have a hair trigger. I have anxiety and depression.

I also come from a genetic and cultural history of people who ended up in this country because we were hunted and pursued and needed to escape. Over and over and over again. The cells that have come to build the tissues and structures of my body and my brain have been organized by UNSAFETY.

In "normal" suburban upper-class life, this can be a huge detriment. A handicap. It can manifest in the most unhelpful and frankly, startlingly blind ways. I've spent so much of my life reacting and feeling and then trying to understand what makes me tick. I've spent so much time learning to train and control and ignore and channel.

I wasn't made for easy times. I was made for survival. I was made, like an animal, to intuit danger and get the hell out, fast. I was made in the image of fight or flight. I do both better than most people. It's not something I brag about, because it doesn't feel like a good thing most of the time.

I put my kids on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp. Because when my husband and I got married (I'm Jewish, he's not), our pact was this: if our children live in a world where historically they could be targeted and threatened because of their Jewishness (regardless of their actual observance of religion or customs), they deserved to know that being a Jew is not negative. We should give them every opportunity to be proud and happy about their Jewishness. Their belonging should help them to feel good about themselves and the world. It should help them seek connection and understanding of the human condition. They should know songs. They should sing full-throated. They should feel comfort in our traditions when they are useful to them, but never feel threatened or unnecessarily constrained by them.

Research funded by Jewish institutions and communities suggests that the number one way to help ground kids in their Jewish identity is to send them to Jewish sleep away camp. It's the glue.

And yet.

I put my kids on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp at a time when our government is putting migrant children into concentration camps.

I bought all the supplies on the list. I washed and labeled and sorted and packed. I zipped up those bags to accompany my children. And then I dropped my children off and couldn't see if they were waving back as the buses drove away.

Of course, the camp I'm sending them to has a stellar reputation. Every day they post updates on a special web site, along with hundreds of pictures of the kids in action. I send emails to the kids which are printed out and given to them. I send packages with stickers and trading cards and all sorts of goofiness so that they know they are loved.

Migrants from central America have made their way to our border with just what they could carry. (My children's bags were so heavy that neither of them could carry them. Likely at least 1/4 of what I sent will come back unused or untouched.) Migrants are following the rules of asylum seeking. They are fleeing violence and intimidation and abuse far greater than I will allow myself to imagine. They are separated from their children by a government that has no business doing so.

I, an upper-class white woman, expect my voice to be heard. I expect to be able to vote and call and hold my elected officials accountable. I know what to say to get my point across. I've given money to candidates and I know how to threaten that support in the future. I also have the privilege of time and energy with which to do it. My underlying expectation is that there are very few problems that I don't have some redress for.

Asylum-seekers, in good faith, and following the rules, have nothing left to lose. They are coming here seeking something less life-threatening than what they're fleeing. They're seeking some good will. Or, at the very least, safety. Or relative safety.

I put my children on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp knowing that in my daughter's cabin of 8 girls, there are 4 young adult counselors who are there to make sure that she's safe, happy, and her needs are being met.

I also know that last year, an asshole white supremacist antisemite decided to go to a synagogue on shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, and turn it into a bloodbath. Well before that ever happened, well before the era of mass shootings and Columbine, Jewish institutions like synagogues and preschools and JCCs have needed extra surveillance. We've had police guard our religious services and social gatherings. Even (and perhaps especially) seeking out Jewish belonging, Jewish joy, has always been a reckoning with danger and threat.

After I sent my children on that bus—the one I knew where it was going—the one where I'd shoveled their overpacked duffle bags into the bowels of the bus—I came home to a house strewn with the remnants from packing. Laundry bins with unneeded t-shirts and shorts and single socks. The cat—he normally comes to greet me when he hears the garage door open—was nowhere to be seen. I called for him. He still did not come. I came upstairs and looked in my son's room. No cat. I looked in my daughter's room—with its orange and pink somewhat darkened by the rainy skies—and there he was, tucked into a furry circle in an eddy of her duvet. I laid down next to him and lost control. The control I never really had.

Twitter this week has erupted in a jagged back-and-forth between politicians and pundits and opinion-havers about whether or not it is appropriate to call the migrant detention centers run by ICE and our government "concentration camps." I, and most other Jews I follow and know, agree they should be called exactly what they are.

Non-Jews (and, to be fair, some Jews as well), like to tiptoe around the Holocaust and any words or imagery which may in any way encroach upon the historical accuracy or singular legacy of that horrible period. To a degree, I might agree when the comparisons are used flippantly or improperly.

But the legacy of the Holocaust, we are all reminded, is NEVER AGAIN. And NEVER AGAIN means that we don't wait until something worse happens. What's happening RIGHT NOW in the United States shares that DNA.

In the same way I understood or had an inkling in my bones that the election might go a way I didn't want it to, I know this same thing: we are not ok. This is not just the start. This is halfway down the road to the place where we lose not just perceived control, but real control. For all the current administration's lies and purposeful incapabilities, know this: the cruelty that comes out of the mouth of our president and those who continue to support him in the government and in the populace is not a lie. It is predictive. They're telling us in advance what they intend to do. And then they are doing it.

In a world where I still have the ability to put my daughter and son on a bus with all their toiletries and know that they will likely arrive at their destination, I also know that our government argued for the legal right to deny soap and toothbrushes to migrant children. When anyone's children are denied such basics—human basics—no one is safe.

I know it will sound like hyperbole. I know that those who so easily dismissed my concerns early on—before this administration even took office—will still attempt to dismiss my warnings now. But do so at your own peril.

I was not built for normal times. I was built for times like these. And I haven't been wrong yet.

This post originally appeared on Outside Voice. You can read it here.

Inclusivity