“By 2025 there will be 1.3 million people in the world older than 120. World economists refer to the ageing population as being ‘the grey tsunami’, viewing older people as being ‘a care burden on the world economy’. It is scary to see how older people take such stigmatisation on board,” said Rayne Stroebel, MD of Geratec, to a large and riveted audience in Stanford.

Rayne was giving a dynamic and humorous presentation about aging with dignity. Most of those who attended had expected to hear about a proposal for an elder care or home care centre. Instead we left with much advice to absorb about how to live the latter years of our lives in the healthiest and most productive way possible.

A group of retired hikers from Hermanus and Stanford who walk regularly in the Overberg. Photo: Viv of Scenic South

A group of retired hikers from Hermanus and Stanford who walk regularly in the Overberg. Photo: Viv of Scenic South

Having grown up in an old age home, his mother being the matron of one, Rayne was determined that there should be a “different conversation” about ageing, one that stressed the positive and which did not reinforce stereotyping, stigmatisation and anti-aging propaganda.

“The age of 45”, he said, “is considered to be the peak age, after which our levels of functionality begin to decline. If people change their mind sets they can slow down the decline. Maintaining independence in daily living is the major way in which one can change the way one ages. Falling is the number one reason for losing independence. Fear of falling is even more debilitating than falling itself. It inhibits one’s activity levels, which results in muscle loss, which in turn can lead to degeneration of the hips and knees.”

Rayne went on to describe the ‘geriatric giants’: falls, incontinence, iatrogenic disorders, confusion and impaired homeostasis.

“One in three women over 65 suffers from incontinence. It poses the second greatest risk to independence. The resultant fear of going out impacts on one’s social and emotional wellbeing.  Loss of muscle mass through inactivity includes the weakening of those muscles responsible for preventing incontinence. Incontinence could be transient but if neglected it becomes chronic. The minute a woman starts to use incontinence wear, she is at a 100% risk of urinary tract infection. This in turn leads to her taking medications to fight the infection which may result in iatrogenic disorders.” A cycle of unwellness is put in motion.

The third “geriatric giant” to impact on functionality is confusion.  “An incredible number of South Africans are being misdiagnosed with dementia, especially by family and friends. The only people who can do a proper diagnosis are neurologists and psychiatrists. One out of three people will end up living with dementia. However, the brain has an amazing capacity to build reserves. Use it or lose it!” urged Rayne.

The fourth “geriatric giant” referred to by Rayne is “iatrogenic disorder, caused by the side-effects of medical and nursing interventions. “A person over 65 who takes more than three prescription drugs is in danger of malnutrition, caused by the body’s inability to use up all the nutrition taken in as a result of the drugs swallowed, resulting in impaired homeostasis – imbalance in the water, salt and mineral elements of the body. This in turn creates a higher risk of muscle loss, confusion and loss of functionality.”

“Stanford,” said Rayne, “is a free-range village. The large number of people here in the audience is a fantastic sign of the health of the village. A retirement village is a ghetto. Residents in the latter talk about their medications, aches and pains. These are negative malignant discourses around illness, not wellness. Each of the ‘geriatric giants’ has an impact on the others, and none of these have to do with age. They have to do with self-perception and the way we allow others to talk to us. We need to have an alternative discourse – which starts with oneself and which is about wellness.”

To illustrate what he had said Rayne spoke about the “Nun Study” carried out in the USA. A group of Dominican nuns were asked to donate their brains to research after their deaths. The findings included that:

* some nuns exhibited no signs of dementia despite the fact that their brains indicated much evidence of the disorder.

* Some nuns exhibited signs of dementia although there was no evidence of the disease in their brains.

*The nuns who were very social and who kept a gratitude diary were less likely to have symptoms of dementia.

“ Keeping a gratitude diary – writing down three positive things to feel grateful for each night before going to sleep – can change the chemical structure of the brain after 21 days. After seven days your brain subconsciously starts looking for positive things. It is important also to keep learning. Unless you are diagnosed with dementia your brain will function optimally till the age of 96. Only after that does it become more difficult to learn new things.”

In conclusion, Rayne showed a video of Stephen Jepson, an inventor, philosopher, athlete and life enthusiast, a septuagenarian with bundles of energy who spends his days in his playground. His homemade equipment for keeping fit, flexible and fun-loving include balancing wires, skateboards, roller skates, low hurdles, hopscotch ‘blocks’ … equipment to let people feel not so “feely downy”! A suggestion was made by one of the residents that playful ‘fitness’ equipment could be incorporated into the Stanford Wandelpad.


Rayne’s vision for Stanford was the adoption of a new village mentality – where residents young and old encourage, inspire and support one another. To the applause of the residents one member of the audience stood up and said that the villagers are already doing just that!

The meeting was organised by Elma Hunter, who has initiated various projects in Stanford and surrounds including the newly formed Rotary Stanford Swop Shop, Vuka and … . She is a role-model for people wishing to live life actively, meaningfully and compassionately and aging gracefully.

 

In a small informal group discussion subsequent to the meeting the following thoughts were expressed:

* that it is important to start educating children at primary school level about healthy, active and meaningful living; that the local school principals become involved in future “conversations” to be held in Stanford.

* that older people in the village should call on local young people for tuition in the use of modern technology and in thus doing establish meaningful relationships between the generations – each generation gaining from the interaction in many different ways.

* that we continue to have such stimulating and thought provoking “conversations” in the village – and see what comes out of it all. 

* that the municipality, accommodation establishments and businesses in the village make more provision for the needs of young parents with prams, people in wheelchairs and people whose functionality has been impaired.

* that there should be  greater patience and acceptance shown towards people with dementia. (The story was told of a woman making a habit of slipping a card to the waiter when dining out, informing him that her husband had dementia and asking him to be patient with him, allowing her husband to feel part of normal life.)

*that Stanford should become a model village, known even internationally as  the village that shows care for and compassion towards all its residents and its visitors.

 

Anyone who would like to add to the “conversation” can email Elma at elmahunter@gmail.com

Further articles that may be of interest: 

http://scenicsouth.co.za/2012/02/life-lessons-from-those-who-have-lived-it/

http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/02/words-of-wisdom-from-senior-citizens-of-the-scenic-south/

Viv von der Heyden