By Loida Casares
As my dad gets older he’s forgetting a lot more. Some days, like today, he sleeps all day and he didn’t go to church. Those are the days when I really worry about him because he’s not having any interaction with anyone and he’s not keeping his mind alert. He’s not even interacting with me and the children and we’ve been home all day with him.
I know that the reason he’s been sleeping has to be because he didn’t sleep well last night. I know he was up really early because he ate a plate of food that I left him in the refrigerator. I hope that’s what it is and not something else. As he’s getting older I worry more and more about how alert he is and if he’s keeping his mind busy.
Since I went back to work full time outside of the house my biggest worry has been that he’s not getting out and socializing like he should during the week. I’m glad that he goes to church on Wednesday night and Sunday morning because it gets him out and talking to others. If you have an elderly parent at home you probably worry about the same things.
John Hopkins University recently did a study on seniors who volunteered in schools for two years. The study found that “The memory center in the brains of seniors who volunteered in public schools for two years maintained their size, rather than shrinking as part of the normal aging process.”
The participants in this study volunteered in the Baltimore Experience Corps. This program takes retired people to public schools where they can serve as mentors and they can help children learn to read.
This is great news and a great encouragement to keep our parents active. Many school districts offer seniors the opportunity to volunteer in their schools. I contacted the Houston Independent School District to learn more about their volunteer program called VIPS or Volunteers in Public Schools.
Tina Thompson, the VIPS Program Administrator of Strategic Partnerships with HISD said, “We currently have over 30,000 cleared volunteers in our volunteer database. Our volunteers are comprised of parents, students, seniors, HISD employees and community stakeholders. Unfortunately, I don’t have a percentage of the volunteers who are seniors.”
She shared a wonderful video with me about a senior volunteer who goes into area schools with the Read Houston Read program. Mimie Taylor helps children learn to read and she discusses on the video how it has really enriched her life.
Mimie’s experience is definitely inspiring and is a great example of how helping children learn to read can make a difference, just as The John Hopkins study pointed out. They said that just getting out of bed, taking the bus, going up and down stairs, and working in teams can make a difference. Many times when a person retires they have a less active lifestyle and less interaction.
“We’re embedding complexity and novelty into their daily lives, something that tends to disappear once people retire. The same things that benefit us at 5, 10, 25, 35 — contact with others, meaningful work — are certain to benefit us as we age,” says study leader Michelle Carlson, associate professor of mental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Even at 91, I believe my father can do something to stay busy and to exercise his mind. He reads the Houston Chronicle every day. He could help someone learn to read or he can teach people about the Bible, like he did when he was younger.
I’ve approached the subject with him and asked him if he’s interested in doing something like that. At his age, I think he thinks his body will betray him so he hasn’t committed to anything. The important thing is to keep trying and to help him stay busy any way I can.
Loida Casares is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston with a BA in Journalism and an MA in Communication. She works in advertising by day and is a writer and blogger at night. She has been blogging at ShoeGirlCorner.com for ten years. Loida also blogged for skirt.com, a national magazine for many years. She has read with Nuestra Palabra, Latinos Having Their Say several times and has appeared on their radio program on KTRU, Radio Pacifica.