My late father had a stairlift installed at 84. They came to him on an invited visit one day and it was installed by lunchtime the next. That is not bad service and he seemed pleased with it. Of course, it relieved him of the immense worry of ‘having to face the stairs’ and also gives him something to play on. My mother was not as impressed, seeing the device as a sign of concession of getting older. She would not even admit yet that it made her life a little easier by helping her not have to be attendant each time the stairs were tackled by her husband.
My father’s acceptance of this mechanical aid had not come swiftly. It had been something I had been trying to convince him of for a long time. But I am sure anybody familiar with people of that stage of life will recognise an element of truth when I state that the stairlift had to be my father’s idea before it was implemented. By this, I mean that he had to feel in his own mind that it was what he wanted, and that the decisive action was purely his. I am sure that there are several other friends of my father’s who will have been suggesting a life installation to ease his mobility from upstairs to downstairs and vice versa. They doubtless may feel like me that they are not getting any credit for having suggested the idea in the first place. I had got brochures, put myself on mailing lists, suffered courtesy calls, downloaded factsheets and printed them for him, even tried to sweet-talk people I knew who had one to possibly let me bring Dad round possibly to see it in action. None of this seemed to work for the two years I had been trying.
Anyway, the thing here is that he felt in control enough to make a positive decision for his own well-being. It took time, and there were several ‘stage of life-related diversions’ (and not solely medical) along the way which I will not go into here, save subtly referring to one involving precious collectibles, bailiffs and a five figure sum, but he now could reach all parts of the house unaided, and that was the important thing.
The whole experience reminds me of other relatives I’ve had who were able to retain a level of autonomy over their lives. Often this was through help of organisations or support from family members, but often, most successfully, this was when the older relatives themselves were able to decide what their possibilities were, because these were made available to them. This can be almost bizarre in its outcomes, in the case of one particular individual who, into his 80s seemed to take up a new hobby every month and, indeed, relished it all. Each new pass-time necessitated the purchase of sundry equipment and materials – you know, oil paints, sable brushes, trumpet – nothing unusual. Practically each fresh month saw a plethora of apparatus from the previous month consigned to the charity shop or donated to other relatives or friends. This reached a climax however when the 15ft tropical aquarium, complete with its residents, had to go back.
What links the above is simply the feeling of being in control and, in the case of the nameless piscine-obsessed artistic musician of the family, kept the individual concerned engaged and feeling able to stay active in life – for a while at least. The limitations presented as we age will vary from physical to mental and emotional, and will be no less complex. This must be remembered when we assess exactly what we offer to people and who we are offering it for. We provide for need and we provide for indulgence and everything in between for the time that it is needed.
My father passed away in 2014 and mum has moved to a place where she has company and safety. The stairlift remains in the empty house and is available free to anyone who wishes to have it.