Senior moments:  Any day when you’re not pushing up daisies is a good day

Lately I've had more contact with those over age 85 than I've ever had in my life. It has been an eye-opening experience in many ways.

This contact has truly given me the utmost respect for all those involved in elder care: family members, nursing-home employees, doctors and nurses — all of them. It takes real patience and, of course, love when dealing with the age group that we all hope to join someday.

Everything changes significantly when dealing with seniors. Take something simple like planning an outing of some sort — shopping, concert, picnic, whatever.

First you must consider what the parking situation will be like where you’re going. Will I be able to drop the person off close while I park? Will there be someone to watch them?

Then you have to gauge how much walking will be involved. Will it be far, will the terrain be difficult, will there be stairs?

Of course, you need to consider temperature as well. It seems people get colder as they age. In their defense, some venues (offices, meeting rooms, stores) are as cold as meat lockers for some reason, so jackets and sweaters are always involved no matter what the actual outdoor or indoor temperature is.

Probably the biggest consideration when traveling with seniors is access to bathroom facilities. Seniors may have to go often, and it may be an involved procedure when they go for all kinds of medical reasons, so this is a prime consideration.

A friend of mine booked a tour bus once and at the last minute the bus company informed us of a one-hour delay. My friend got chewed out royally by a senior who had spent months timing his bathroom procedure for a time that was now off by an hour.

Especially since this change was totally out of my friend’s control, it really hurt to see him get abused like this. That’s why it’s so important to consider bathroom access anytime you are dealing with seniors.

You would think a thermostat is a pretty simple device. There’s a heat-off-cool switch, a temperature control, and a fan control.

Yet I've literally run out of ways to explain how this device works. I've tried everything and I just don't know how to make it any simpler.

Same thing with trying to explain a new cell phone (and I'm not even talking about a smart phone). I guess. when you consider this age group grew up when outhouses were common and radio was state-of-the-art, it’s understandable.

Still, it’s so frustrating for me that I can’t seem to be able to explain the operation of these relatively stone-ax simple devices in an understandable manner. Good thing I didn’t decide to become a teacher. I apparently would have just stunk at it.

Speaking of training a senior, my cousin posted this online: “I should be made a saint for teaching my mother how to use Facebook.”

Next time you see the library offering computer training for seniors, you might want to go in and pat those trainers on the backs. They must have all the patience in the world. I’ve done a lot of training and I know that seeing a bunch of blank stares is never fun.

Now that the internet is ubiquitous, more and more organizations are using web-based contacts for all kinds of thing. This burns me because many, if not most, seniors cannot or will not use a computer.

So now caregivers have to pretend to be the seniors, but that doesn't always work smoothly if it works at all. For example, sometimes you need power of attorney when advocating for someone else.

What’s frustrating is seniors are often alone and isolated. They would so much enjoy receiving the many forms of social contact that the internet provides, like email, pictures, family updates, and more. Until computers become as easy to use as a toaster, that just isn’t going to happen.

Let’s say you have an event where sound is very prominent — a concert or some other kind of show. Seniors often don't have good hearing.

Even those who wear hearing aids may have trouble, because the hearing aid might not work correctly, or the batteries are dead, or they simply forgot to or decided not to wear it that day. Imagine how you’d feel if you couldn’t hear the melody or understand the jokes.

So, before you spend lots of money on show tickets, be sure the people you plan on taking actually have the ability to enjoy it. It will only be a frustrating experience for all of you if they don'’.

Seniors are unfortunately prime victims of all kinds of scammers and crooks, both in person and online. The classic example is a guy with a truck who looks legit, takes a deposit for home improvement like driveway sealing or roofing, and is never seen again.

The few seniors who do manage to get online are prime targets for all kinds of internet scams as well: the classic Nigerian prince who needs some funds to unlock his fortune, a fake contact from the bank or the IRS, etc. I find these kinds of crooks, who prey on our most vulnerable relatives, friends, and neighbors, to be truly despicable and deserving of maximum punishment.

Dietary restrictions are a fact of life for many seniors. They might be sensitive to salt or fat or something else, which means you need to either adjust your cooking or cook something special for them. Sometimes they may have dental issues as well.

Of course, these days more and more people have nut allergies, gluten allergies, and the like, so it’s not only seniors, but it does give you one more thing to think about anytime you are planning a gathering where a meal is involved.

One curious thing I've noticed with seniors is their tendency to repeat the same stories over and over and over again. What’s fascinating about this is each time they tell it, they act like it’s the first time they’re doing it.

When my wife and I meet one of our kid’s new boyfriends or girlfriends, we share the same funny family stories each time, but, once we tell them the first time, that’s it. We don’t repeat the stories each time we see them again.

Could it be a symptom of Alzheimer’s or some other geriatric disease? I hope not because all, and I do mean all, of the seniors I know do this a lot.

It’s to the point where, if there’s one takeaway I hope to receive from my close interactions with seniors, it’s to not repeat the same stories over and over. We'll have to wait and see how that goes.

Note that it’s not all seniors who have these issues. My friend’s dad is 92 and he still hunts, takes care of his own home, drives, has a circle of friends, goes to Florida each year, and makes it a point to fit in a good, long nap each day. Heck, he’s having more fun than I am.

Here in Guilderland, we have lots of senior services with lunches, classes, bus trips, and more. There are senior centers and senior programs all over the place, which is terrific.

The thing is, you have to reach out and take advantage of them. For a number of reasons — some physical, some emotional, some cultural — not all seniors can do that. That’s a real shame because there is no reason why everyone, no matter what their age, shouldn't have some fun now and then.

No matter where I visit seniors — in their homes or in facilities like nursing homes or retirement centers — I can't help but notice the overwhelming predominance of television viewing. I know for some folks this may be the only semi-actual human interaction they have.

This is sad because anything you see on TV is biased from some producer’s or director’s perspective by default. I always advise seniors I meet to get and use a library card.

The library is a grand gift no matter what the age, a place where ideas from many sources — newspapers, books, magazines, and so much more — are freely available to all. Keeping your brain active by actually reading and forming your own opinions — it doesn’t get any better than that.

A curious thing happens whenever I visit a senior in any kind of assisted-living or senior-care facility. I call it “the stare.” It works like this: As you approach the building from the parking lot, you first notice being stared at from behind the shades in the windows (sometimes I even wave to the people who are staring at me).

Then there is usually a crew, often sitting in wheel chairs, at the front door. They seem to have no problem staring you down quite forcefully, like they’ve seen you on a wanted poster or something.

As you get closer, you’re thinking, “Is my zipper open or what?” I don’t know if this is unique to me, and in a way I suppose it’s good that seniors want to know (apparently very much so) who’s coming and going, but it always gives me the creeps to have to go through this every time I make a visit to a senior facility.

One good thing about seniors is they often offer a wealth of knowledge about how things were done in the past. I never tire of hearing good stories (well, maybe after the 50th time), and seniors have plenty of good stories.

You see, kids, there really was a time when there was no internet, cars broke down all the time, there were only three channels on TV, there was no remote, and your phone was only as mobile as the length of its cord. Our parents and grandparents lived through those times and did their best so that we could enjoy everything we do today.

Let’s not turn our backs on these folks, because they certainly deserve our respect, patience, and admiration.

None of us can control the aging process or what it does to our bodies. We’re all delicate creatures that are damaged easily by so many things, both physical and emotional.

Having to face the vagaries of human existence with declining mental and physical powers can’t be fun I’m sure. The only thing we can control is our attitude.

If there is one tip I'd like to give to seniors, it’s to try, no matter how desperate or depressing things may seem, to look on the plus side. Any day when you’re not pushing up daisies is a good day, when you think about it.

The folks who work with seniors daily are real-life heroes. I know the work they do is not always easy. I just hope they have the same patience with me when I need their care.