It’s “National Senior Citizen’s Day”

Former President Ronald Reagan declared today, August 21, as National Senior Citizen’s Day.

In his Presidential Proclamation (August 19, 1988), President Ronald Reagan said “For all they have achieved throughout life and for all they continue to accomplish, we owe older citizens our thanks and a heartfelt salute. We can best demonstrate our gratitude and esteem by making sure that our communities are good places in which to mature and grow older.”

I had a client back in my social worker days who was 85 years old. Since I was a member of the “Extended Care Treatment Team”, my clients were the ones who had been institutionalized for many years. This particular client was given the diagnosis of being a paranoid schizophrenic and had spent the last 65 years bouncing from hospital to hospital. One minute we’d be having a conversation about the weather and the next she’d sit silent – arms folded across her chest – insisting that I could read her thoughts thanks to the wire implants I had placed in her molars. According to her, she didn’t need to actually talk to me because I could record what her brain was thinking. She’d stare at me with a suspicious look, sometimes shaking her head with a knowing expression on her face, like I had no issue whatsoever in deciphering what she was thinking. Then she’d get up and walk away. I adored this lady.

Part of my job was rehabilitating these clients to where they could operate in the community. Schizophrenia usually strikes when a person is in their mid-twenties. It can strike earlier, and it can certainly strike later, but the average is somewhere in the twenties. Many of my clients had some sort of “training in a normal world”; understanding how to do laundry, ride a bus, care for their own belongings, go grocery shopping, etc. Some people knew how to do this before I got to them. Some just needed refreshers. But my 85-year-old client had no idea. She’d been in the institution for 65 years! There were cars! Television sets! Washing machines! The whole world had changed while she’d been inpatient.

But Ronald Reagan was making efforts to close down all the state-run mental health facilities. Everyone had to get out, despite their abilities to function in the community. When I first started my job we were able to take as long as we needed to rehabilitate a client. By the end of my tenure we were given a maximum of two weeks. Talk about a crash course. This poor woman didn’t stand a chance.

I was searching for a group home for her to live in, but none of them suited her. Too crowded (which was true), too dirty (often times this, too, was true), or she just didn’t like the smell. There was always a reason behind not accepting any of them as her new place to live. I believe that she was just terrified of leaving the place she had called home for so long, even if it wasn’t the best of living arrangements. She was feeling like there was nowhere for her to go, so she kept trying to run away. I’d get calls from the downtown Greyhound station telling me that she was there, trying to hop a bus to Utah, but with no means to do so. I’d go down to the station, pick her up, and take her back “home”. All the while, time was ticking down on her ability to stay at the hospital, the only “home” she’d known for years.

Then, one day during that second week of rehab, I went to the hospital to pick her up. She wasn’t in her room. The aid working the desk didn’t know where she was either. In fact, nobody had seen her since the day before. I drove down to the bus station. Nope, not there either. I decided to get on with my day and visit other clients. I figured that I’d get a call from the hospital saying she was back in her room or from the bus station saying that they’d pulled her off yet another bus heading for Utah.

I got a call, all right. From a mental health facility in Utah saying they had a sweet 85-year-old lady in their care. She had told them that she had ‘escaped’ from Ohio so they were just calling around until they hit on who had previously cared for her. I have no idea how she did it, but she was finally where she wanted to be. I sure hope she found a place to live that suited her.

I ‘escaped’ Ohio, too. Oh, it’s not such a bad place. There are things that I actually miss about Ohio: Skyline Chili, Clippers baseball, many friends… and my eligibility for a Golden Buckeye card. Ohio, being the Buckeye State (yes, Ohioans pay homage to a poisonous nut), offers a discount card to those who have reached the age of sixty. If you’re an Ohioan, you’ll be glad to know that sometime during the month of you turning 60, as long as you have a State ID or Driver’s License issued in the State of Ohio, you’ll automatically receive your Golden Buckeye card. This “golden ticket” will give you eligibility to a myriad of  “Senior Friendly” venues.

On National Senior Citizens Day, we should:

  • Spend some time with senior citizens
  • Show our appreciation for senior citizens
  • Do volunteer work in support of the elderly

I plan to chat with the senior who “mans the door” at our local WalMart. I just love him.

Otherwise, I’m kinda scared of seniors. I’m confident this stems from a mandated outing with my local Brownie troop to the Pine Kirk Nursing Home in Kirkersville, Ohio (circa 1975). Dude, this place smelled hideous. Out of all my senses, my olfactory system is by far the most developed. I can remember exactly how that place smelled. It was a not-so-special fusion of “hospital” mixed with “old”: old books, old clothes, old food… ugh! It still haunts my nasal cavities and creates flashbacks of frail people lining the hallways of the Pine Kirk Nursing Home moaning in despair. It’s a debilitating memory for me.

I think getting older is going to stink and not just in an olfactory sense. The aging of our bones. The stiffness that our lives will take on. The forgetfulness we experience as well as being forgotten by those we love. The sense of loss: our friends, our families, our youth.

Ain’t no way the eligibility for a Golden Buckeye card can make up for that.

More tomorrow. 🙂

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1 Comment

  1. Oh the memories you just made me flash back too….my mom made me do volunteer work at Pine Kirk – for like 3-4 months!! Ass’t Activities Director is what they called me. Ugh – that place was awful, awful, AWFUL!!! But the sad part was, I didn’t see one visitor the whole time I was there.


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