“I made you coffee,” I say, sinking onto the sofa beside my husband. “Fetch it yourself. It’s in the kitchen.”
How mean is that?
Not a bit of it. We agreed not to bring drinks to each other to stop us slumping in front of a computer or TV for hours on end. It means we have to get up and move about. Of course, we make exceptions if one of us is genuinely tired, but it’s a good way to get active, by building movement into a normal day.
Active for fifteen minutes
We’re both fit, but I hope we’ll carry on doing this even when we’re less mobile. Yes, it might take time to fetch that drink or climb those stairs, but older people need to stay active. There’s increasing evidence that being sedentary is bad for us, and the over-65s are the most sedentary age group. Just fifteen minutes a day of moderate exercise makes a difference, like taking a walk or playing table tennis. Or walking to the park and doing both.
And we can build activity into our days in lots of small ways. I enjoy using a simple pedometer to check that I’ve done enough exercise, or there are plenty of more advanced gadgets to choose from. I’m now less bothered if I go into a room and forget what I came for, since at least it’s all extra steps!
“Don’t get up. I’ll do it”
But surely if someone has limited mobility, it’s kind to help them out? “It’s all right, Mum, I’ll do it,” we say, when Mum tries to get up to put the kettle on, knowing it’ll take her five minutes and several grimaces to get to the kitchen. Except that moving those stiff joints might be good for her. And she might enjoy feeling she can still do something for us, even if it takes more time.
Obviously we need to check this out. We don’t want to cause additional pain to someone who’s feeling tired or poorly, or have them feel we hate them. But we can aim for “Can I help?” – and take “No” for an answer – rather than insisting “I’ll do it”. That way we encourage mobility and independence.
And we get the chance to cultivate patience in ourselves if someone else’s slowness irritates us!
Stay here and rest
We don’t speak of Rest Homes so much these days, perhaps because we realise that elderly people need something more than resting in front of the TV all day.
Sitting around being waited on has its attractions when life is hectic. That’s the allure of holidays spent reclining in loungers by the pool while waiters top up drinks and adjust the sunshade. But it’s bad for us as a permanent state.
My mother used to tire herself out taking daily walks from her care home with her walking frame. The care home manager would say, “Stay here and rest. You’ve worked hard all your life, now we get to look after you.” It was meant kindly, but Mum had always loved the open air, and getting out was a lifeline. Fortunately other staff recognised that, and welcomed her expeditions, even if they were tiring and risky.
The opposite of mean
As the best care homes understand, physical activity helps us thrive in later life. So let’s encourage older relatives and friends to “Do it yourself”. Let’s build activity into our own days.
And if that means telling people to fetch their own coffee, it’s the opposite of mean.