When aging is a challenge to succeed (book review)

Most people expect to grow old. But many are unprepared for the realities of life as one of the elderly. For many, incomes shrink because of retirement, while failing health pushes up medical expenses.
Ahmas and angkongs complain of loneliness. Many are housebound, often with only a helper to keep them company while the rest of the family are at work or school.
The book True2Life Stories (Successful Ageing in the Philippines) is about old folks who are coping successfully as they reach the final stage of life’s journey. Some, still fit, choose to stay active. Others, single without families, have moved into new situations so they can live out their remaining days in peace.
More importantly, it deals with financials, from sources of income, to the cost of setting up home-based elderly care or living in nursing homes. There are descriptions of homes for the elderly and the attendant costs for a room, daycare services, and admission assessments.
A thread running through the book is the story of Alzheimer’s patient Felix Palarca Sibal, affectionately known as Dada Felix to a loving and supportive family.
He is father of co-author Alice Sibal-Lim, who, along with co-author Eun Ja Kim, are both homemakers, mothers and daughters. Sibal-Lim is a registered psychologist with master’s degrees in applied child psychology, and in family studies. Kim has a master’s degree in gerontology.
True stories
The book was written based on accounts gathered in Kim’s interviews with the elderly, mostly middle class, some abandoned, others surrounded by loving families; and their successes in dealing with aging and financial challenges.
These are their stories. Some are healthy, others feeble or living with degenerative diseases. There is no fluff in the telling. Descriptions of sundry aspects abound: their diets, level of care needed, physical conditions, and social activities.
There are many photos of the old folks in their settings, at home, in nursing homes, alone enjoying a fruit, taking a walk, partying or playing board games. One photo shows a “senior league meeting where elderly discussed medical missions, volunteers and other programs.”
There are heartwarming photos of Dada Felix with his family, posing with a lechon during a family party, a grandson paying respect with the traditional “mano po,” of Dada Felix in his barong tagalog and wife Lydia at grandson’s wedding.
The photos remind us that the elderly, well or ill, are real people, not to be shunted aside because their useful lives are past. The photos are also instructive, particularly those that show facilities designed for the elderly, such as open spaces and no obstructions in their paths.
The stories themselves may remind readers of people they know. Sister Nelda, for example, was 89 when interviewed. She lives in a retirement home for religious nuns.
“Her memory is good but her handwriting is not good,” the authors said. “…she has an unstable blood pressure. She wears diapers everyday… a caregiver has to assist her to the bathroom because she has fallen on the bathroom floor three times already… Sister Nelda usually eats rice, fish and chicken. She usually eats bananas for dessert. She has regular bowel movement because of the bananas…”
The book is very readable. The language is plain, devoid of technical terminology, and describes the situations in a no-frills, down-to-earth way.
Family support
Another account describes a middle-class household with two elderly patients. Three male caregivers look after a male elderly patient, 89, bedridden after a stroke. (Author Sibal says at least two of the three caregivers are always on duty, so there is always someone with the patient if the other needs to take a break, eat, use the bathroom and so forth.)
A female caregiver looks after the feeble female patient, 85, who nevertheless still supervises the financials and collections for the family business.
Other staff includes a family driver – who runs errands – a cook, plus three helpers for cleaning and doing the laundry. “Preparing meals, administering bedside medications and personal care like bathing, personal hygiene, dressing and undressing are done by this helpful staff.”
Their room is on the ground floor. A storage room holds such supplies as tissue paper, diaper, underpads, gloves, and bandages.
Their children do not live with them. But they pitch in to look after the elderly couple. The eldest daughter often travels for work, and so her husband helps her manage the home care system.
Two siblings live far away and travel to visit them. A nephew helps run the elders’ family businesses. A grandson, 18, is a college student who helps with the daily supervision of care by spending time with the grandparents.
Food is organic: no pesticides in the vegetables and fruit. Both are at risk for pulmonary infections. Caregivers monitor their vital signs daily. A slight fever leads immediately to consultation with a physician. They also receive flu vaccines.
Shooting hoops
Then there is Sammy, 72. He still shoots hoops in a neighborhood basketball court. He goes for walks in the afternoons. He teaches a woodworking class in a school in Parañaque. It takes two jeepney rides, a tricycle ride, and an hour to get there.
In his spare time, he writes. His recent projects include chronicling his life, and documenting the family tree. “… he is doing it because he is getting old and there might be no one to tell these untold stories of the past.”
He lives with his wife, and their only daughter and her family. With no savings, he may have to rely on family support in his old age.
There are more stories, each focusing on the elderly across a wide spectrum of health and wealth. Those who socialize actively, those who cannot. Those with family, those without.
Without a doubt, True2Life Stories will leave readers with a stronger understanding of aging.
Those who are aging will know that they are not alone. Some may even come away thankful that their situations are more fortunate than others.
For those with elderly to care for, the book provides a look at how others do it.
True2Life Stories leaves one thoughtful. The truth is, everyone enters the world as helpless babes; many will leave the world just as helpless. For those who are blessed with longevity, they will have come full circle in the end.
True2Life Stories is P250 and available online at Shopee. Shipping is free for orders of two copies (P500) or more.—Ed.