In our Tafta blog, we write about anything and everything to do with active ageing, and promoting a life worth living, regardless of age
Giving Tuesday is a movement that began in America in 2012 and spread rapidly across the globe via social media platforms. It follows immediately after Black Friday and Cyber Monday – as an antidote to the mass consumerism of these shopping frenzies. This year, Giving Tuesday falls on 30 November.
So what exactly is it all about? And is it something you should be getting involved in?
Yes! If you feel it’s important to give back to your community, to uplift your less fortunate neighbours, and support charitable organisations that work tirelessly throughout the year to provide services and support for those in need.
While acts of generosity and kindness take place throughout the year, Giving Tuesday channels our need to help others into something bigger. It has become a day of hope, a day of optimism, a day of feeling that one is participating in something that has the power to transform communities across race, religion, and political views.
On 30 November 2021, we have the opportunity to come together to help, give, show kindness, and share what we have with those in need.
Tough two years
Over the past two years, it’s really been brought home to us that a little kindness goes a long way. Since the arrival of the pandemic and, more recently, the madness of looting and burning in our province, we’ve realised that the only thing that gets people through the tough times is the helping hand offered by other people – both those we know, and total strangers.
Simple things like picking up the phone to check on an elderly family member … handing a cooked meal or bag of groceries to a neighbour who is going short … helping the owner of a ruined business clean up the mess … and hundreds of other small acts of kindness all added up to a new wave of hope and gratitude.
It’s almost as if society is moving towards a time when generosity and giving are becoming more ingrained, as we discover the rewards – psychological, emotional and practical – that come from helping others in any way we can.
How can you be part of Giving Tuesday?
Participating in Giving Tuesday can be as simple as waking up in the morning and asking yourself, “What good can I do today? How can I help make the world a better place?”
You might decide to give a car guard a larger than usual ‘tip’ or buy him a chocolate or cool drink. You could give your time or talents by volunteering to help out at your favourite charity. Or hand out a loaf of bread or ready made sandwiches to a homeless person in your area.
You can give your voice – sign a petition or speak up for a cause, especially if you are a social media influencer. Flood your Instagram or Twitter feed with ideas to encourage others to get involved in GivingTuesday. If you’ve bought new appliances or clothes on Black Friday, give away the old ones to someone in need, or to a charity shop.
By far the easiest and most popular option is to make a cash donation to your favourite charity. Imagine the joy you could give simply by sponsoring a Christmas lunch for an elderly person at Tafta?
Our elders have borne the brunt of prolonged lockdowns . Being the most vulnerable population group means that they have spent more time in social isolation than most, and haven’t had many opportunities to get together and enjoy a good chat or giggle together. So our planned festive lunches really will make a huge difference.
Regardless of how you plan to make this day count, please remember: Giving Tuesday happens on 30 November 2021. It’s your chance to be part of the biggest global giving movement and celebrate all acts of giving. Everyone has something to give and every act of generosity counts.
[November 29, 2021]
So you’ve decided on a big family get together this Christmas to make up for the disappointment of last year. You’ll fetch mom from the old age home, organise an Uber for the in laws, and everyone will have the most wonderful time together.
Or will they?
If your kids and your parents haven’t seen each other in a while, they may struggle to connect. Granny simply has no idea what interests a 13-year old boy nowadays – while your teen may be so used to texting peers via WhatsApp that actually having a conversation with Granny seems not only ‘uncool’ but impossible. What would they talk about?
Older people can also seem frightening to youngsters. Elders who are hard of hearing may ignore comments made by a child, simply because they didn’t hear them. Or they may irritably demand that children ‘speak up’. Bushy eyebrows and deep frown lines can create a fierce expression that children interpret as dislike or bad temper.
Grandparents, on the other hand, may fear seeming old-fashioned. Especially if they don’t know anything about the latest gadgets used by their grandchildren. They may feel they have little to offer and that anything they have to say is no longer relevant. In fact, having a grandchild explain how their gadget works can be a great opportunity for bonding. Elders can learn something new, and kids can feel important.
Put the blame on the breakdown of the extended family.
Not so long ago, extended families often lived together in the same home or very close to each other. Everyone helped out when it came to caring for young, old and sick family members. Multi-generational families are still common in some cultures, e.g. Indian and African. But the general trend is towards nuclear families, with older adults preferring to live independently. As a result, children are less likely to know their grandparents well or visit them frequently.
Bridging the gap
It’s important to teach your children to accept people of all ages, capabilities and limitations, and to treat everyone with respect. The more you plan activities that include both children and grandparents, the more likely your kids are to form bonds with their elders. Shared activities and experiences create memories, and also provide opportunities to teach children that older adults may need extra care and consideration.
Kids who’ve developed close emotional bonds with grandparents or other elderly relatives are more understanding and patient with people who have disabilities. Such children know that they have to speak a little louder to grandpa, or that he may need help getting up from his chair, or climbing a staircase.
Get kids and grandparents involved in activities
Nothing gets the generations together like a common purpose. At Christmas time, there is usually food to be prepared. Instead of chasing everyone out of the kitchen, give kids and elders tasks that they can do together, such as peeling potatoes or mixing dough. The conversation should soon start to flow naturally.
Playing board or card games or charades is also a great ice-breaker. Kids can teach elders how to play new games, or learn some of the games from days gone by. Jigsaw puzzles are also great fun to do together, with everyone searching for difficult to fit pieces.
Many children, even older ones, love being read to, and this is an enjoyable activity for most elders. Elders, too, enjoy having older children read to them, especially if they are feeling tired or their eyesight is failing. Discussing the story, and why the characters in the book behave the way they do, or why certain things happen, can open the door to interesting conversations.
Older people who suffer from forgetfulness may struggle to remember what happened yesterday. But they often have crystal clear recollections of funny things their own children said or did. These stories are a hot favourite with kids, offering fascinating glimpses into what their parents were like as children. Children may also be interested in what the world was like before the internet and cellphones, video calling and YouTube.
Seniors need to be ready to listen as well as talk; grandchildren can offer a similarly fascinating insight into the world they live in, which is very different from what older adults experienced.
Some things never change
Hobbies like building model aeroplanes and dressing paper dolls haven’t changed much in the last 50 years. Neither have sports like tennis, soccer, cricket and ballet. Encourage children to discuss their hobbies with their grandparents, demonstrate their ballet steps or skills with a bat or ball. This can lead to lively discussions about shared passions. Watching a football match on TV together, or building a model helps older adults form strong bonds with their grandchildren.
Why is all this important?
Countless studies have proved that inter-generational bonding has a positive impact on both children and elders. Apart from promoting understanding and sensitivity to others’ needs and abilities, spending time together has physical, mental and emotional benefits.
For seniors, interaction with children helps alleviate symptoms of loneliness and isolation. It may also encourage physical activity by joining in games with the children. Seeing the world through the eyes of a child can rekindle a sense of wonder in nature. There is also a renewed sense of self-worth, as seniors enjoy the opportunity to share their knowledge, and serve as role models.
Because grandparents often have more time on their hands than busy parents, children benefit from extra attention and opportunities to learn. Those who enjoy close bonds with older adults have higher developmental scores, and display greater empathy and more advanced social skills.
What if your kids don’t have grandparents, or they live too far away?
You can still teach your children to care for older adults. Children learn kindness and caring by watching how you treat others. Encourage them to be respectful, empathetic and helpful by your own actions.
If you see an elderly person struggling to carry a heavy bag of groceries, ask if you can help, and encourage your child to join in. Consider volunteering to visit a lonely old person at your local old age home (check first to see if Covid-19 restrictions are in place), and take your child along with you. Suggest baking or buying a treat for the elder and letting your child be the one to hand over the gift. Even a friendly, “Hi,” when you see your elderly neighbour out walking their dog or watering their garden is an act of caring.
Every year we are humbled by the kindness of caring of so many people, young and old, who pop into our Tafta homes with Christmas gifts of toiletries, sweets, biscuits and other treats. Others contribute generously to our Festive lunch appeal. If you are among our generous supporters, be sure your children know about what you are doing and why. Let them see how important it is to reach out and bring a little joy into the lives of lonely elders.
[November 19, 2021]
While some elders continue to run marathons and play tennis well into their 70s and even 80s, most of us slow down as we age. That doesn’t mean we should give up exercising. Regular exercise remains vitally important throughout life.
Exercise for the over 60s helps improve both mental and physical health. It can prevent conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, which are more common among older adults. Even light exercise, such as walking is beneficial.
Apart from increasing strength and flexibility, exercise also improves balance and coordination. This can reduce the risk of falls. Impact exercise such as walking or slow jogging helps maintain bone density. So if we do suffer a fall, we are less likely to break a limb.
Combining exercise with social interaction, e.g. going to a fitness class with a friend or joining a dancing group, reduces the feelings of loneliness or isolation that so often affect seniors. It may even lower the risk of dementia and other degenerative cognitive diseases.
The key to maintaining an exercise regime into old age is to find a form of exercise that you really enjoy. Here are six ideas to try.
Walking – the ideal exercise for the over 60s
One of the most accessible forms of exercise, walking requires nothing more than a comfortable pair of shoes.
You can start by just walking to the end of the block and back, and build up gradually until you are comfortable walking for 15-30 minutes. A great way to motivate yourself to start moving is to invest in a fitness tracker or pedometer. These devices can be set to prompt you to take a certain number of steps every hour. The more sophisticated types also measure your heart rate, which is reassuring if you are just starting out and are afraid of overdoing things.
If you suffer from joint pain or arthritis, you may not be able to able to reach the optimum number of steps – 10 000 per day. Don’t be discouraged. Simply settle for fewer steps as your initial goal.
Another great advantage of taking a walk around your nearest park, or along the promenade is that you’ll get your daily dose of Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. This is essential for healthy bones and teeth, and may reduce the risk of colds and flu, hair loss, certain types of cancer and cardiovascular disease. If you plan to be outside for any length of time though, take a hat or sunscreen to avoid sunburn.
Another enjoyable form of exercise that gets you out into the sunlight is gardening. You don’t need a big garden – even tending pot plants on your balcony is beneficial. Digging, planting, weeding watering and harvesting all burn calories, helping you to maintain a healthy weight. These activities also build muscle, flexibility, strength and stamina.
If you find it difficult to stoop or bend down for prolonged periods, consider creating raised garden beds, or using vertical planters and hanging baskets. If you do need to get down on the ground, use protective knee pads or a thick foam mat to cushion your joints. Keep a chair and a bottle of water nearby in case you need to take a break, and garden early in the day to avoid sunburn.
Gardening offers huge benefits in terms of mental health. There’s something about feeling the soil between your fingers that literally puts you in touch with nature and melts away stress and depression. Watching plants you’ve nurtured grow and thrive creates a wonderful sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
If you have access to a pool, swimming or water aerobics is the ideal exercise for elders, especially if you suffer from arthritis or other forms of joint pain. The buoyancy of the water reduces any impact on joints. Yet the natural resistance of the water helps tone and strengthen muscles without the need for weight training.
Swimming improves cardiovascular health, endurance and flexibility. It’s also really refreshing, especially in summer when other forms of exercise might leave you feeling hot and bothered.
Surely one of the most enjoyable forms of exercise, dancing is a fun way for elders to keep fit and healthy. It doesn’t feel like a good, low impact aerobic workout, but that’s exactly what it is. And the more you ‘shake, rattle and roll’, the more you improve balance and co-ordination.
Many community centres, churches and schools offer dance classes for elderly people. Whether you join a line-dancing group or opt for ballroom, tap, hip hop or modern dance classes, you’ll not only get regular exercise, you’ll have the added benefit of social interaction.
Meeting other like-minded people your own age, and forming friendships based on a shared interest is so important. Humans are social beings, and having regular contact with others helps alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression.
Chair yoga is a low cost, high benefit form of yoga that has quickly become a favourite among seniors. It’s low-impact (no stress on joints) and focuses mainly on stretching exercises that can be done whilst seated. These exercises improve balance, muscle strength, circulation and flexibility.
All you need is a sturdy chair without arms, placed on a flat, level surface with enough space to fully extend your arms and legs. You can find instructions for simple exercises online to start with, and go at your own pace. Or join a class for added fun and opportunities for social interaction.
Resistance band workouts
Muscle loss is one of the effects of ageing, and strength (resistance) training can reverse this. This form of exercise is also ideal for strengthening your core, which improves posture, mobility, and balance.
If you don’t have access to a gym, consider investing in some resistance bands which you can use at home to enhance the effect of exercises like arm curls and leg raises. These inexpensive stretchy strips of rubber or elastic are readily available at local sports stores or online. They can be used to exercise many different parts of the body.
Before beginning any new exercise programme, please check with your doctor. He or she can advise on the most appropriate type of exercise, taking into account any medical conditions that you may have. Many Tafta faclities offer opportunities for group exercises and other activities. Click here to find your nearest wellness centre.
[October 20, 2021]
Section 27 of our Constitution states that all South Africans have the right to access health care. As we age, that right becomes more important. Because, diseases like cancer, diabetes, arthritis and high blood pressure are more common in older people. So too are problems with vision and hearing.
But, although the right to health care applies equally to all South Africans, in our unequal society, the reality is very different.
If you are comfortably off, with a good medical aid and your own car, you have immediate access to quality private health care. But if you come from a poor urban or rural background, you have to rely on State hospitals and clinics, which are often inadequately resourced or difficult to access.
Too ill to travel to a health facility
By law, the Department of Health must provide free health care services to all older persons who are not part of a private medical aid scheme. But elderly people living in rural areas may not be able to walk long distances to the nearest hospital or clinic. And they may not be able to afford to pay for transport. Dangerously ill people may wait hours for an ambulance to arrive, if it arrives at all. The irony is that at times, the elderly are too ill to make the trip to a health facility.
Even when they do manage to get to the hospital or clinic, older people are often treated with a lack of empathy or respect by health care professionals who are not trained in elder care. Being treated like a child, or shouted at because you can’t hear properly, strips you of your dignity and makes the whole experience upsetting and degrading. Having to wait hours to see the doctor, or being told rudely to ‘come back tomorrow’, when you’ve spent your last few rands on the taxi fare, makes a mockery of our right to access health care.
Yet elders in this situation are unlikely to stand up for themselves and demand their rights. Often, they don’t even know that they have rights. Many lacked the opportunity to attend school or dropped out at an early age and have little or no access to this type of information.
Lack of awareness of human rights
Lack of awareness impacts on health in other ways as well. In South Africa, many older persons take on the role of caring for grandchildren, including those who have been orphaned because of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. A number of family members may live together, crowded into a single room – ideal conditions for the spread of TB. But elders are not included in routine HIV/AIDS screening or counselling in the public health care sector, nor are they made aware of how to manage chronic conditions.
Effects of poverty on health
Poverty also takes its toll on older people, as it is a major cause of poor nutrition. Elders are usually unemployed or have retired due to age. Those who receive old age grants may not be able to buy food that is appropriate for their health conditions. And many go without food themselves because their grant money is all that is available to sustain their unemployed children and grandchildren.
Elders who live in residential care facilities are better placed to access their right to health care. Tafta staff are aware of the Department of Health’s responsibility and will ensure that elders in their care receive medical help where necessary. Many old age homes offer transport to enable elders to get to State hospitals or clinics. But that still leaves the problem of long queues and health care staff who have a poor understanding of older persons’ specific health needs.
Low cost clinic at Tafta
With these issues in mind, Tafta is embarking on an ambitious new project to set up a primary health care clinic within one of its homes – Kings Hall in the Durban CBD. The clinic would not only serve the 200 residents of the building, but also elders living in other Tafta Homes and the surrounding community.
[October 4, 2021]
These past 18 months have seen us focus on our health like never before. There’s nothing like a life-threatening disease to remind you that you can’t take your good health for granted.
But, Covid-19 aside, there are many other diseases and conditions that can threaten our health. Now is a good time to talk about the preventative measures we can take … in particular, medical screening tests that should be done regularly. This is especially important for those who are getting on in years.
Elders living at Tafta’s Kings Hall will have access to these and other facilities without leaving the building, owing to a new low cost health clinic we hope to set up on the premises. This will be extended to a mobile clinic service for those living in other Tafta homes, if all goes according to plan.
Regardless of where you go for your regular health checks, these are the ten most important tests to monitor health and pick up conditions before they become life threatening.
1. Blood Pressure
Perhaps the most common and well know test, blood pressure should be regularly tested, because it’s possible to have dangerously high blood pressure and not know it. You don’t have to make a special appointment with your doctor for this. Many pharmacies and medical centres offer walk in clinic facilities for blood pressure testing. If your blood pressure is higher than normal, or you have other risk factors, you may need to test more often.
2. Eye test
The risk of developing eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma, increase with age. Macular degeneration can lead to irreversible loss of vision, as can glaucoma (pressure in the eye). Since glaucoma has no symptoms, it’s essential to have the test every year to protect your eyesight.
3. Hearing test
At least 25% of people over the age of 65 have disabling hearing loss, most of which is treatable. That number increases to 50% for the over 75s. Book a hearing test if you have difficulty following a conversation, especially in a noisy environment, such as a restaurant.
4. Cholesterol screening
High cholesterol levels are a major cause of heart attacks and strokes. Again, there are no symptoms. Regular testing is the only way to monitor your cholesterol level. Ideally, your total cholesterol – HDL “good” cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol – should be between 4-5 mmol/L (millimoles per litre of blood). Over 6.5 mmol/L is considered very high, and above 7.8 mmol/L dangerous. If your cholesterol level is high, you may be able to treat if by adjusting your diet. Alternatively, your doctor may prescribe medication to control it.
5. Colorectal cancer screening
In South Africa, colon cancer is the second most common cancer among men, and the third most common among women. In its early stages, there are no symptoms, which means it is often not diagnosed until it has reached an advanced stage or spread to other parts of the body. Most medical aids offer annual free screening of a stool sample for traces of blood. Depending on the results, you may need to undergo a colonoscopy. You will be sedated and a fibreoptic camera used to scan your colon for cancerous polyps.
6. Bone density scan
Although both women and men can develop osteoporosis in later life, women are at greater risk. A bone density scan measures bone mass, which is a key indicator of bone strength. Regular bone scans are recommended after age 65, especially for women.
7. Vitamin D test
Many people are deficient in Vitamin D, also known as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin as it is produced when the skin is exposed to sunlight. It’s also present in foods like egg yolk, dairy and oily fish like salmon and sardines. This vitamin helps protect your bones. It may also defend against heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. If you spend a lot of time indoors, you may be deficient in Vitamin D.
8. Blood sugar
Globally, diabetes is one of the most prevalent non-communicable diseases, and it’s on the increase as a result of unhealthy diet, obesity and an increasing sedentary lifestyle. Approximately 4 581 200 million adults in South Africa have the disease. Left untreated, diabetes can be life-threatening. You should have a fasting blood sugar test at least once every 3 years to screen for the disease. You may need to be tested more frequently if you develop symptoms such as extreme thirst, blurry vision, numbness or tingling in your hands or feet, fatigue or unexplained weight loss.
For women, a breast exam and mammogram is advised every 2 years from age 50, as the risk of breast cancer increases with age. A pelvic exam, Pap smear and HPV test is also recommended. You may think it’s unnecessary, but women over 60 still need to get regular pelvic exams, Pap smears, or human papillomavirus (HPV) tests. Older women can get cervical cancer or vaginal cancer. And the pelvic exam can detect a host of other conditions that may affect your health and quality of life (think incontinence!).
10. And for men, prostate cancer screening.
Prostate cancer can be detected either by a digital rectal exam or by measuring prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in your blood. Testing is recommended from age 50 for men who are not high risk, or earlier for those who have a family history of prostate cancer, or have an immediate relative who has died from the disease.
For people over the age of 50, especially, an annual check up is recommended, during which your doctor will routinely perform most of these tests. You can also protect your health by eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and avoiding fatty fast foods, stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake to 3 units or less per week and exercising regularly.
[September 28, 2021]