More than a Dixie Cup

December 11, 2023

older adult man drinking a glass of water in his kitchen

In the Fall of 2017, I was a graduate student taking an elective on Gerontology, specifically on Successful Aging. The title brought curiosity, knowing everyone around me is, myself included. I found it to be proactive to integrate this knowledge into my profession and personal life.

In addition to taking the course, I was fortunate enough to be paired with an Elder Mentor through a senior organization. Bruce was 90 years old and had the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was well-educated, a journalist, a world traveler, a widower, well-rounded, and he loved animals naming them after Shakespeare’s characters.

Over 15 weeks, Bruce and I met to undergo various psychosocial assessments as part of my learning process. The assessments included Eco-Map, MoCA, SLUMS, Geriatric Depression Scale, and others. We would meet at coffee shops or lunch places. As a former journalist, Bruce provided valuable tips on formatting my thesis and encouraged me to read outside literature in addition to my research. We bonded over our love for reading, and he suggested two books for me to check out – “bird by bird” by Anne Lamott and “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.

Through these assessments, I learned that Bruce was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at 49 due to his choices, which significantly impacted his life. After his diagnosis, he stopped drinking, as it was pure sugar, as he would say in my research. I, too, found that to be true. He tried limiting his sweets, salt and pasta. He had every other week appointments with his Internal Medicine doctor and monthly meetings with a nutritionist from his health provider. Bruce told me his lifestyle as a young man was to go out to dinner and drinks after work. He had no idea those choices would catch up to him like this.

He found it challenging to adhere to the dietary recommendations of his doctors because he believed he knew better than to resist the temptation of a donut. He had a habit of consuming excessive amounts of sweets, salt and seldom drank water. He said Coca-Cola was his water. He said being diagnosed with diabetes profoundly impacted his life, making it challenging to take medication and follow the prescribed diet. He also found it difficult to be punctual with insulin shots, which he considered a full-time job even though he was retired. Bruce told me he only drank a Dixie cup of water daily with his medication/vitamins, which surprised me. However, I later discovered this is a typical amount of water intake for many. When we met, he then got into the habit of consuming eight full glasses of water daily. Despite being smart and intelligent, he had given up in many ways, on a diet recommended by his doctor. He described it as a daily struggle.

According to the Mayo Clinic, our bodies comprise 70% of water. It’s crucial to consume enough water to stay healthy and alive. Our bodies are composed of organs, and it’s necessary to flush them regularly to remove urine, feces, and perspiration. If we don’t do this, harmful substances can accumulate inside our organs and make us sick. In addition, water helps regulate body temperatures and lubricates joints and tissues. Drinking more than just a tiny amount of water daily is recommended to maintain good health, as it helps hydrate the cells, aids digestion, circulation lubricates the joints and even cognitive function. We all must ensure that we meet our hydration needs and not just rely on thirst as a signal to drink water.

After completing the 15-week program, there was a celebratory event for all the mentors who participated. As a token of appreciation for our Elder Mentors, we gifted them with personalized water bottles, which were very well received.

I gained a lot of valuable insights from the Gerontology course and Elder Mentor experience, like the significance of human connections, being social at any age, health, emotions, diet, memory, and perspective, regardless of age. I learned the importance of connecting with others and sharing our lives with them. As Anne Lamott suggests, it’s interesting to think about how reading from a writer’s perspective can bring about a new way of looking at things.

I understand E.B. White’s message is about embracing your individuality to find your style. Believe in yourself and trust your natural sense of style. Only you can determine what suits you best.

Bruce reminded me of the importance of staying socially and mentally active, having reasonable expectations and keeping an open mind. His insights were invaluable and truly priceless.

Lisa Eaton is a Care Manager with Elder Options. Lisa received her MS in Recreation Therapy & Administration and her BS in Recreation, Parks & Tourism Management from CSU, Sacramento. Lisa has worked with individuals within the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Lisa thrives on helping others and “paying it forward”. She has extensive fieldwork training in acute psychiatric clinical settings.

Categories: Healthy Living