Delving into the Intangibles


This morning I tripped on the edge of the carpet and fell down. I know it was careless of me, and my foot muscles were weak, but I really felt frustrated and ashamed as I stood up, despite the fact no one was looking.

Although barrier-free systems are becoming increasingly popular in homes, stations, and public facilities, making it easier for the elderly and the wheelchair-bound to cope, they are not enough. As senior citizens more and more expand their activities beyond the home, out in society, the creation of a totally barrier-free world has become an urgent issue.

Barrier-free systems and care of the elderly are “tangible” things, but if we remember there are also “intangible” aspects to this problem, the meaning of “barrier” goes much wider and deeper.

I recently visited a nursing home for the elderly in Germany. Since I cannot speak German, I was uncertain at first how we would be able to communicate. But I need not have worried. We hugged each other and laughed together joyfully; thus we could become more familiar, no words required. We were completely together, der Zusammenhalt, as they say in German. Even differences of language, culture, and custom did not constitute a barrier.

We smiled, a smile from the bottom of the heart; we hugged and shook hands; sat close together; rubbed hands together; drank together; pushed wheelchairs or walked with the residents, taking their hands... I think anyone can do this. I really enjoyed it; I was encouraged and wanted to visit again; I wanted to stay and spend more time with them. Then came a heartfelt farewell, with some of us in tears.

With the population aging rapidly, a fulfilling welfare and nursing care system has become an urgent issue for the government. Everyone who is now in good health, even those taking care of family members with problems, or the young, full of energy, will someday surely require nursing. We all get old eventually. The quickest way to understand this reality is to see the elderly with your own eyes, feel and touch their hearts, and envision yourself as an old man or woman. Then you can understand how and what you can do, and give what is needed. Nursing care means the creation of compassion.

Tangible aspects such as medical attention, nursing care, and a safe environment are of course important; but the intangible ones, that go to the heart of the elderly, are not visible.

I respect the dignity of the elderly person. I think that core requirements of good nursing care, such as gentleness and the right way of communicating with the elderly, can be incorporated into compulsory education. From a young age, why not educate children through lessons such as "What would I like to do for my Grandpa?" or "How can I please my Grandma?" Could this be a positive from of brainwashing?

Is it not necessary to think about nursing care from both aspects, namely the visible barrier and the invisible?  We must know that elderly people are hurting not only in the body but also the heart.

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