Monday, August 15, 2011

Wouldn't you like to be a babushka, too?

Impressed and uplifted. That's how I felt recently after reading an NPR story by David Green -- "Russian Women Prove It’s Hip To Be A Babushka."

The piece describes a group of women, some in their 70s and 80s, who have had to endure extreme difficulty in their lives including being divorced or widowed in late life and having to manage alone. They chose to not assume the traditional role of the "babushka" (elderly woman) and sit by the roadside selling vegetables from the garden. And, they are definitely not wasting their days feeling sorry for themselves, despite the hardships they have suffered. These dozen or so older women from the village of Buranovo, 600 miles east of Moscow have chosen instead to sing and dance their way through the rest of their days.

Check out this video of their performance at the Eurovision Song Contest:

Not only are they keeping themselves cheered up by singing songs from the Beatles and popular Russian artists, they are also making a positive impression on their audiences. This little band of elderly ladies has taken their show on the road and they are having fun just being themselves.

That’s the beautiful and inspiring thing in this story for me, to see older people living authentic and joyful lives and sharing their enthusiasm with others. In doing so, everyone is lifted up.

A recent article from Mayo Clinic about positive thinking indicates that there are significant physical and psychological benefits (including stress reduction) from having a positive attitude. It is not easy to act happy when you are experiencing difficulties such as sadness from loss, frustration over life changes that you did not choose or desire, or when you are suffering from chronic pain or ailments. It is common for the focus to be on the need of the moment rather than on living life in the moment. Having a positive outlook and behaviors helps with being able to adapt to changes and cope with hardships.

Often older people are expected to play the part of the “patient” who needs assistance and support in order for those around them to be able to fulfill their role as care providers. This is especially true if they are performing services to bill the elder’s Medicare or other insurance. It is no one’s fault that this happens; it is just an unfortunate by-product of the healthcare reimbursement system. However, it creates a cycle of learned helplessness that reinforces the benefits of dependency and robs people of their dignity.

Some elders will never be able to kick up their heels to dance again or take deep enough breaths to sing a happy tune. That’s where others can make a difference and provide not only physical care and comfort but also opportunities to enjoy music, song and laughter. These are things that make us feel more connected to each other as human beings; we never grow too old to appreciate those gifts.

Wouldn’t you rather be a babushka too?

Tamara Wolske, MS
Academic Program Director