Thursday, October 21, 2021

Takeaways from Counselling Forum with Dr Monika Dass, Leading Psychologist

On Saturday, December 5, Seniors Today hosted Dr Monika M Dass, a leading psychologist, to roll-out the first Counselling Forum for Senior Citizens as part of the Health Live series. Dr Noor Gill captures the key takeaways from the session.

On Saturday, December 5, Health Live @ Seniors Today hosted its first ever Seniors Today Counselling Forum with leading psychologist Dr Monika M Dass.

Dr  Dass is a Chartered Psychologist, a Chartered Scientist and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, UK. Professionally, she has counselled over 12,500 individuals in a span of 20  years and has published several papers in both Indian and international journals.

A trained pianist and vocalist from the Trinity College of Music, London, Dr Dass has influenced many lives with the joyful learning of music. She has been actively involved in several popular musicals such as The Sound of Music, Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and so on…with her expertise in developing children through drama. She firmly believes that any extracurricular activity can help tap into one’s potential and bring out the best in an individual.

Here are some of the questions asked and Dr Dass’s response to all of them:

Q : I am 70 years old, my wife died of Covid. We have one son. Our flat was gifted to my wife by her parents and she had made our son the nominee. My son and I have a good relationship right now. He is currently unmarried but once he gets married, can he throw me out of the house?

A: Yes and no. Your son, if he loves you and cares for you enough, he would not dream of throwing you out of the house. Let’s be very positive about that. So it is very important for you to maintain and have a positive, healthy and happy relationship, both with him and his future wife. 

In terms of the legalities, if they feel like they don’t want you there, they could ask you to leave the house. But, remember as a senior citizen, you also have rights. You need to be looked after. You could approach a good lawyer who would help you out in terms of trying to figure out ways to help you stay there till the end of your lifetime. 

This business of just throwing people out of their house, the way it happens in the west, happens a lot less in India, with the way and the kind of lifestyles we lead. But there is of course an element of selfishness that is seeping through society and we all need to be careful.

Please don’t be insecure. That is the main thing. Build up a good relationship but also meet a lawyer and see what the pros and cons are regarding this situation. 


Q: Would you advise staying at an assisted living centre for an elder with dementia? What are the pros and cons according to you?

A: If you find a good assisted living home for your parents to stay in and particularly when they have dementia, I would recommend you go for it. Only for the reason that if you lead a very busy lifestyle and there is nobody at home to take care of the individual and give them food and their medicines and any other treatment that is required for them. Then hopefully if you can find a very good home, that will be able to take care of them. Depending on the city you’re living in, if you can find a good home for them in the same city as you are in, it’ll be easier for you to monitor and keep track even if you visit once or twice a week. 

On the other hand, if you have a family or a member of the family at home who are willing to take on this responsibility and help you out with it, there is nothing like it. 

But remember, it has its cons, which are: the whole family gets traumatised in the process. There is a lot of negativity that builds up. There is a lot of stuff that can be said by the individual concerned which will be very hurtful to you. But keeping all this in mind, if you can somehow maintain a balance, get a good nursing staff in, have a family member monitoring things; your elderly parent will be much happier at home than in an assisted living facility.


Q: How does one avoid lying down every now and then? What kind of a stimulant can one take to avoid sleep? There is no vitality. How does one increase their stamina to sit for long hours?

A: Firstly, I would suggest that you get your thyroid profile testing done. Secondly, none of us, if were actually keeping healthy, and leading proper lives, none of us want to go and lie down every now and then. If you look at your normal lifestyle, you’ll see that you can keep going for about 4-5 hours and then relax for 15-20 minutes, and then you get up and get going again. It also depends on the kind of food you’re eating, the amount of exercise you’re doing and the kind of medication that you’re on. You need to get all this in sync and you need to go to a good doctor, who can get all your medications in sync so that you do not have to lie down every so often. There is a physical problem here and you need to have that sorted out. Most likely related to your thyroid. I am not a medical doctor, so I won’t be able to comment further on that. 


Q: It’s really a problem of passing time during these pandemic days. Every now and then, there is a bombarding on new papers and television not to leave the home, what is to be done by sitting at home for 24 hours by the seniors. There is a limit to everything. Nine months have passed and there is no sign of improvement in the situation, does anybody have a solution?

A: The solution is up to us. Apart from the vaccine and waiting for the vaccine, your mask is also a vaccine, in many ways. And if you have good masks which you can wear, going out, in terms of having an evening walk or a morning walk or going out when there are not a lot of people around. I really strongly suggest that you get out if you’re mobile and fit enough. You need to start doing normal things. In terms of your normal routine, your diet, your exercise. Live your life the way you normally lead it. Don’t stay at home and be scared. The fear factor of Covid is one of the main problems here, and if we get it, we get it. We have to battle it out. A whole lot of us will have to battle it out at some point and there is no guarantee that this vaccine is going to work on us right now. There are no guarantees. We have to hope for the best and in the meantime, live as normal a  life as we can. 


Q: I’m 62 years old, retired, and my wife will be retiring in the next four years. We are both diabetic and on medication. We are worried about our life after we turn 70-75 years old. Can you suggest a good assisted living facility anywhere in India, preferably near Mumbai or Karnataka? We are Kannadigas hailing from Bangalore.

A: There are some places in Pune, near Lonavala, as far as I’ve heard. I don’t know how good they are, but I know of several people who have bought up places there. There is one assisted living place about 60 kms out of Bangalore, in Chikmagalur.  It’s a beautiful setting but they don’t have proper facilities yet and anybody at your age, anybody who is over 65-70 years, you need to bear in mind that you have to be near good hospitals and medical facilities, wheelchair accessible places who have an ambulance on their premises in case of a medical emergency. So there is no point in just going to a place in living there if they don’t have proper facilities. There are, of course other good facilities in Bangalore itself. There is an excellent place up north, and it is called Antara, in Dehradun. And if you’re adventurous and spirited enough, I believe it is a beautiful property. 

Whichever place you choose, easy and close access to the medical facilities should be your priority. 


Q: I am 77 years old. I’ve made a will in which all my assets go to my wife and thereafter to my son and daughter equally. My wife is not confident in handling assets like banking and other official work. How can I train her?

A: Start now. Start with very simple issues, like if she’s not used to going to the bank, take her along. Introduce her to certain people at the bank such as the manager or other people around so she becomes a little more confident. The first time that you do take her along, you’ll have to show her what to do. You’ll have to repeat this process obviously, so whatever step you’re taking, you’ll have to repeat it 3-4 times so that she becomes confident and comfortable. It’s not just you showing her around the first time and then that’s it. You then also need to observe what she’s doing, how she’s handling things. Take baby steps. Start explaining things. Whether it’s with banking or with a lawyer or with a chartered accountant or discussing things with your children, all this needs to be planned properly, synchronized and that itself will help her become more confident in the process. And then you’ll also discover whether you’re able to trust a certain person or you feel uncomfortable, you’ll figure those things out and see if you need to find another worthy person to help her out along the way. So having a good, trusted confidant apart from your children to help her is a very important aspect. I’m glad you’re thinking about it. Women these days need to be well informed, you hear of a lot of stories where the husbands have suddenly passed on the wives have absolutely no clue what’s going on, in terms of their work or banking or anything.


Q: Would it be advisable to start preparing for your golden years in an assisted living place when you are aware of your dementia setting in?

A: Yes, start preparing but I would also hope that there would be a family member who would want to look after me. It’s a Catch-22 frankly. If you feel like you’ll be comfortable away from your family. And you think that it is of the utmost importance for their sanity and yours, for you to be away, then start searching while you have your wits about you. The main thing with dementia is that it can hit anybody, anytime. It’s not a question of age. So you can’t figure out everything all the time, you also have to let your family do things for you. But if you want to be independent, start looking for a good place. And when I say a good place, I mean a place where people care for humanity, a place where you’re dealt well as a person.


Q: I’m a 60-year-old with diabetes, cardiac issues and osteoarthritis, knee problems, etc. I have a schizophrenic-only child who is creating a lot of problem with the other members of the society- swearing, shouting, screaming and has bitten people and also injured himself on his cataract operated eye and has gotten physically hit several times. Please suggest an affordable rehabilitation Centre in Mumbai.

A: I will have to get back to you regarding this, after I’ve done my research but I do know one thing- you shouldn’t be living with your schizophrenic son because you are also not able to look after yourself, let alone this young man. The thing is, if he’s getting violent it means that his medication is not synchronized with his symptoms, that is something you need to take care of. You need to make regular visits to a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist who can help you out with it. 

Schizophrenia can be controlled and you can live with the person up to a point, but when there is violence and all this kind of negativity going on, it is very important to maintain your sanity. You need to figure this one out, it’s a tough decision, and it will not be easy. 


Q: If a senior citizen is a single person, how is he/she to deal with the possibility of getting an illness like dementia or Alzheimer’s. Are there any places that can be trusted to look after such a person?

A: Most single people have this worry about being alone. And I really wish there were proper places in India, or the government had thought of having such places where single people could find a place for themselves. 

The main thing is, if you don’t have a family member to look after you, you have to find a place for yourself and hope for the best. It is a good idea to find a place well in advance and have some money set aside for later. 


Q: What is dementia? What happens in dementia in terms of state of being?

A: The main problem with dementia is that you forget. You forget people’s names, or are unable to remember your surroundings, you could go out and not remember how to get back home and in the long run, there is a lot of wear and tear in the brain. A lot of cells misfire. The main thing with dementia is that you can’t be left alone, in case something untoward happens. People who are just entering that phase, can still manage their lives, but the ones who are well into the progressive stages can’t so much. A lot of old people stop exercising their grey cells thinking that they are old. You’re not old. You need to keep your grey cells ticking away, you need to exercise your brain just as you keep your body exercising. And when I say brain exercises, I’m talking about handling your own bank accounts, going shopping and living your lives, about reading the paper and then have discussion about the same with your friends. You have to learn how to have discussions without them turning into arguments.  


Q: I’m a 72-year-old and my wife is 70, in the last 20 years we’ve been taking care of our 38-year-old unmarried son who has schizophrenia. He’s stable with his current dose of medication. Now we are focusing on his nurturing. So far we have managed his recovery, putting his life over ours. Our concern is what after us?

A: At the end of the day, you have to find assisted living for him. A place where they will look after him. Turning to family members is not a good idea, because at the end of the day, if he’s not your own child, it becomes very difficult for other members of the family to take up responsibility for somebody else’s child. You would be willing to do everything and go all out for your son, it’s not going to be the case with others. 

You need to start figuring out a way, finding him a home where you visit him regularly. It’s like weening a child. You have to ween him into this whole process so he can learn how to live and build a life for himself. 


Q: I have retired this year in June 2020 and I feel that passing the whole day free is a big challenge. I go for my morning walk, read my newspaper, and have my tea. It’s a big challenge to pass time. I try to read the Ramayana and do my morning prayers. I’ve currently shifted to Hardwar, my home town and am enjoying my 42 years of service with various companies. I’m taking anticoagulants, for the past 6 years. Can you advice how I should spend my day, I’m taking care of shopping for groceries and running errands, at home I’m spending time with my son and daughter-in-law, what else do you think I should do?

A: With all the experience you have, think about setting up a small consultancy. Look at the vast amount of experience you have. You’re rich with that. You have the ability to teach others, to give advice. 

You could actually sit down, work out a programme where you’re teaching youngsters how to manage their existence within an organisation in the first 10 years of their life or mid-life or later. Because you have gone through it all. You have so much to give to people like us, and people need that, they need this kind of experience in order to function. The youngsters may not listen, but somewhere along the line, they will absorb and they will implement.

Dr Noor Gill
Dr Noor Gill, MBBS, deciphers the space between heartbeats, figuratively and literally. Powered by frequent long naps and caffeine, she believes that “knowledge without giving back to society is meaningless” and works to make caring cool again.

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