The sweet melodies pierce through the viscous muck of depression that clings in the early hours of the day. Not Walker Percy’s “morning terrors,” which sounds dramatic and even fun in a weird, sick way. Depression isn’t even the right word -‑ this feeling isn’t even that well formed. It’s more of a low‑key emptiness with a definite edge.
Some would call it “dysthymia,” I suppose, but whatever you call it, I know it gets worse for the elderly.
I wonder how much of this strange malaise has to do with aging, because there is no particular reason for this uncomfortable psychic sediment. So I chalk it up to slow physical and mental deterioration.
Now there’s a cheery thought, isn’t it? My black Irish’s acting up. No doubt the biochemical oppression gets worse as you get older. If it’s overwhelming for middle‑aged people who are simply weary of the struggle, imagine how difficult it must be to be old and alone and stuck in a nursing home.
The air is stale, maybe moldy, and never carries the sacrament of natural sound. No bird song or crickets. No smells of the wild world wafting in through an open window: sage, rosemary, fresh rain. The pungent smells of life in the raw.
Only the sound of call bells ringing in the halls, other residents yelling, moaning, crying. Even while roaming the lavender hills of dreamland, those sounds will find them and remind them of where they are.
At least I can rouse myself, go get coffee, and shake it off like a wet dog in a dry place, but they cannot.
There are many in these places who are so sick that they no longer care for the titters of sparrows or the trill of a thrush, but the majority of our elders who populate “skilled nursing facilities” suffer most from a sense of being lost, an inexpressible fatigue, and a corrosive sorrow that aches much more than arthritis. For them, the sights, smells, and sounds of the natural world are a balm to fragile souls on the edge of giving up. A balm that planners of homes for future aging children need to take into account. San Diego elder care planners listen up!
Sunshine is proven clinically to be therapeutic.
Fresh air oxygenates all our cells.
Sensory stimulation -‑ tactile, visual, auditory -‑ brings comfort and healing to hypoactive and battered neurological systems.
Music innervates the soul.
Some San Diego elder care facilities now allow and encourage pets to live in with their elders. One Alzheimer’s place near me has dogs and parrots. They break the boredom no doubt, but our elders need more than a few canines and canaries to lift their heavy hearts.
The atmosphere in these places is usually tacky or at best sterile with little or no interaction with the magnetic forces of nature that God meant since the garden of good and evil to soothe our inner fragmentation.
Paradise lost is not so easily regained, but our aging loved ones need desperately to be reminded of it in a sudden breeze, smell it on a warm afternoon rising off the pine trees, and in the ocean fog rolling in as the day nears its end.
It is a long, hard trek through this life with a long‑time between rest spots. Sometimes the best way to find comfort is to help another who needs it more than you.
Take an elder you know to the ocean, or for a ride through the mountains to see the fall color, or sit with them on their patio and get some sun. Go for a stroll through Balboa Park, push their wheelchair, and feed the squirrels.
Even in small ways help them remember natural beauty and simple pleasures.
You might just find you are surprised by joy yourself.