Joy is not often associated with ageing and aged care
20 MINUTE READ
Joy. A lot can be conveyed in only three letters. Joy is an emotion we all aspire too, yet is not one often associated with ageing and aged care.
In an age of the Royal Commission and COVID-19, the pictures being painted of the aged care industry are often quite bleak, and it can be hard to imagine joy fitting in with the images we are fed of neglect, abuse and loneliness. As a professional, it can be disheartening to see your workplaces – and people’s homes – viewed in this way. However, as an Occupational Therapist (OT) working in residential aged care, I am afforded the unique opportunity to not only witness, but to spark joy in the lives of the people I work with, and perhaps to even change their perspective on what it means to age.
Before I go any further, I want to look at just what joy is. The dictionary definition of the word joy is “to experience great pleasure or delight,” (Merriam-Webster, 2020). According to Bill High (2017), Rick Warren defines joy as “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”
It is both of these definitions that I am blessed to witness each and every day.
My job as an OT is a strange one. On the one hand I am one of the clinical staff, tasked with pain management and ensuring residents have equipment that is both appropriate and safe for them to use. On the other hand, however, I am there to ensure the men and women living in our facility are able to engage and participate in the activities and tasks they most want to. Whether it is working with our Therapy Assistants to plan the best activities program we can, going for a walk with a lady who is vision impaired, or engaging someone with advanced dementia in doll therapy, I am able to create pockets of joy that others may not ever witness.
“I’m not worried about the future, because God has a plan.”
If there is one thing that working in aged care has taught me about joy, it is that something does not have to be a big, flashy event to bring you joy. Joy can be found in winning a round of bingo, eating the best ANZAC biscuit you’ve ever seen, or making decorations for the common area. As a staff member, I feel joy at watching my residents’ faces light up with happiness during these moments.
Recently I witnessed a man watching his wife participate in a game with a giant balloon. This lady has advanced dementia, and is no longer independently mobile. She has recently been asleep when he visits, and watching him watch her face as she caught the balloon filled me with a joy that was not the “jump up and down” joy most people think of, but a warm, golden joy that sat in my chest. It is this kind of joy that I most want my residents to feel every day.
While I have been creating these moments of “great pleasure and delight” for my residents, they are the ones who have been teaching me about the joy that Rick Warren was talking about. Working in a Christian facility, I have been privileged to have many conversations with older Christians, many of whom have walked with the Lord for two or even three times my lifetime. Their quiet faith in their loving Father has been a stark contrast to my frenzied approach to each day. On the days where I am at my most stressed and panicked, God will send me a conversation that reminds me of what is most important – my faith in Him, and the blessings he has given me. Often, God sends me these moments coupled with one of my less-enjoyable roles – assessing my residents for symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Given the high prevalence of mental ill-health in the elderly, it is to be expected that many of my residents – regardless of faith – struggle with some really difficult emotions and thoughts. It can be easy to be swept up in this, focusing only on the negatives. Many older people are struggling with the loss of their independence, and medical conditions that make each day a struggle against pain and illness. Many cannot see any hope, today or for the future.
However, not all of these assessments are negative. Every so often, I will ask a resident about how they see their future, and receive something like the following: “I’m not worried about the future, because God has a plan. I have my family and friends, and when it is my time, God will call me home.”
Wow. What a different perspective on life. A perspective that only comes through a deep faith in the One who holds all of our lives in His hand. It is in conversations like these that I am reminded of Simeon and Anna, who knew that God had a plan for not only them, but all of humanity, and waited patiently for God to fulfil that promise. When I think about how I react to stressors and set-backs in my own life, the patient endurance of Simeon, Anna and the residents I am privileged to work with each day reminds me of God’s sovereignty, and the joy that can be found in entrusting my situation to him.
In our current society, ageing is often seen as a negative experience, something to be feared. Many people whom I have spoken to also view ageing as a very lonely process, during which they watch their family and friends pass away, leaving them alone. Isaiah 46:3-4 reminds us that we are never alone, even in our old age.
“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”
While I have the daily privilege of creating moments of joy in the lives of my residents, God reminds me that it is He that brings true joy, both now and for the rest of my life. I can rest assured knowing that my life – and the lives of my residents – are held securely in His hands, and He will sustain us until we are one day called home.
Georgia Strimaitis Georgia is an Occupational Therapist working in residential aged care in Perth. Georgia gave her life to Christ when she was six years old, and is passionate about showing His love and grace to those who are most vulnerable. Georgia grew up in Brisbane, and is currently living in Perth with her husband, who is studying medicine.
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High, Bill. How do You Define Joy. [Internet] 2020. Available from: https://billhigh.com/faith/how-do-you-define-joy/
Meriam Webster. Joy. [Internet] 2020. Available from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/joy