Senior Reach: Helping seniors find purpose in their later years

old-man-1470879_1920It’s a common a downward spiral: physical and mental health decline, loss of driving privileges, lessening physical mobility, isolation, followed by the onset of crippling depression. As the senior’s world narrows, he may feel he lacks value or a purpose for living. “What can I still do?” he asks. “How can I make a contribution? How can I continue to give back?”

This is where Senior Reach comes in. Armed with coping mechanisms, techniques for sustaining health, community resources, and an eye for the strengths of seniors, the Senior Reach counselor may be able to uncover gifts long forgotten.

Repackaging talent

The culprit in Iris’* case was arthritis. At 50, her fingers no longer traveled at lightning speed up and down the piano keys. Her career as a musician and pianist with the symphony ended, forcing her into retirement. Twenty years later, she walked with a walker, dressed herself, and prepared simple meals, but other activities that brought her joy—gardening, sewing, and maintaining a sparkling home—were no longer possible.

Iris’s daughter, who lived in another state, contacted Senior Reach. “Can you help my mom? I’m really worried about her. Every time we talk on the phone, she seems more and more depressed. Yesterday she said she didn’t want to live anymore.”

The Senior Reach counselor recognized Iris’s downward spiral and sought first to teach her ways to cope with pain and regain some strength. At the end of their fourth session, the counselor noticed the outline of a grand piano under stacks of books, vases, and unfinished craft projects.

“A piano! Do you play?”

“I used to, years ago. I accompanied the symphony. But those days are gone.”

“Play something for me, please!” pleaded the counselor.

piano-1170291_1920“I don’t think my fingers will cooperate anymore.” However, at the counselor’s insistence, Iris pulled back the dusty cover and sat down. With trepidation, she let her stiff, bony fingers run up a scale. She missed a couple notes, but the piano answered her soft movements with clear tones. Then, automatically, a tune from her high school recital flowed forth. She recalled bits and pieces. She couldn’t do all the runs, but the melody rang out.

“Lovely, lovely!” cheered the counselor. “You must play again! Not symphonies, perhaps, but you’ve got too much music in you to let it all die!”

Soon Iris was playing popular tunes from her childhood piano lesson days, to the delight of both her and her counselor.

“You said you visit a friend at her retirement community. Why don’t you volunteer to play for them during the lunch hour once a month?” suggested the counselor. “You’d be an inspiration!”

The rest is history.

Now Iris, with her walker, boards the Seniors’ Resource Center bus regularly to head to a senior community, a nursing home, a recreation center, or a shopping mall to play the piano. Onlookers look twice. Is that an elderly woman playing those tunes?

Every senior has something to offer, even if they can’t drive or do many of the things they used to do. Sometimes it just takes an objective observer-coach-counselor to bring to it to light.

*Not a client name. This post is a composite of numerous older adults who have been served through Senior Reach.

Do you know a senior who wants to give back?

SRC volunteer ramp builders 2016Giving back is one way seniors can become engaged in life again. The trick is finding the opportunities. The Volunteer Services Department at Seniors’ Resource Center does this, providing opportunities for everyone to stay involved. Volunteers can be friendly visitors, Tel-a-Sure phone companions, tax preparers, respite care providers, handymen/women or computer trainers. If you have a special talent, like Iris’ piano playing, let us know and we can individualize your volunteer experience. Many opportunities are available. Contact the Volunteer Services Department at (303) 235-6940 for more information.

Filling the increasing need for support

The population of adults over 60 is increasing nationwide and Colorado is no exception. Feedback on Senior Reach demonstrates a high degree of effectiveness in increasing the emotional well-being and independence of older adults in our community. Read more about Senior Reach in our previous blog.

Recently Senior Reach expanded to Adams County, joining Jefferson, Gilpin, Clear Creek, Broomfield, and Boulder counties. If you would like to find out more about the program or if you feel you or someone you know could use Senior Reach, call:

senior reach logo1-866-217-5808

https://www.seniorreach.org  

Interested in bringing Senior Reach to your community?

Contact the Senior Reach National Consultant, Darla Gurry, LCSW: 303.810.1193