Eileen has around 30 years experience in being retired and enjoys living independently in her home at the age of 85. There is a lot of planning and thought that has gone into her ability to remain independent in her home. She has help from the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP), privately paid services and family support. The help is not the whole story, Eileen’s attitudes and practices have a lot to do with the way she gets the most out of her situation. Eileen gives us the details so that we can learn how to do the same as she does. You don’t have to be retired to take on some of the attitudes and strategies Eileen uses to stay independent. Her daughter, aged in her fifties, wrote in Eileen’s 85th birthday card, ‘Mum, you’re an inspiration to us all,’ and as Eileen says, ‘You’ve just got to have the will. You’ve just got to have the will to do it.’
Walking is a big part of how Eileen stays healthy. ‘I’m pretty steadfast on the walking because I’ve got the app on my phone that tells me how far I’ve walked and if I haven’t walked and all the rest of it. [The app tells me] “You haven’t done too much this week. You did more two weeks before.” I do take notice of it. I’d say I’d walk 5 out of 7 [days]. In the morning I get up about 6:30 and I walk from about 7:00. You get up and think, “Ohhh, will I?” and I think, “Yes” and just go, and when I go I love it. It takes me about 50 minutes I suppose. By the time you come back and have a shower and have your breakfast I suppose it’s about an hour and half out of your life. It’s not good walking here, there is no footpath, but I do it, it’s the only place to walk.’ Eileen walks on the side of a very busy road. ‘I’ve got horrible places to walk, but it’s only determination. I am sensible enough to get right over on the side, and in the grass even, I have got to watch it. But no, I do, I love walking. But if I go shopping in Liverpool, I don’t walk that morning. I walk right down to Westfields and walk around and come back and I’ve done more than I would have done walking that morning.’
Eileen’s home is something that means a lot to her and maintaining her home is an enjoyable activity for her. Her husband of 50 years passed away 12 years ago and she has become an expert at maintaining her large family home. ‘If I wanted to stay here, I had to do it, and there’s only me that could do it. Everybody could do something for me, but on the whole, I had to do it. I’m not frightened here one bit, I’m not a bit nervous on my own because I know I’ve got lovely neighbours. I’m the oldest in the street, I know most of them in this street. My husband would help everybody to do everything, that’s how we started with them. We’ve been here 41 years, they’ve all grown up with me. I’m their “Third Nanna”, they call me. I go to all their birthday parties, it’s special. That’s why I don’t want to leave here. We’ve got a really great neighbourhood, we all get on.’
Good neighbours are one of a few factors that have made it wise to stay in her family home and not downsize, as many do. ‘My priority is my family and my house. I need this house because when they all come over from New Zealand I can accommodate. I love having that, that I’ve got that space for them. You know, I love the people around me and I get on so well with my daughter and son in law, I don’t want to have to live with them. I don’t mean I wouldn’t live with them, I get on really well with them, but I like to have my own independence. I mean they lived here for two years and I’ve never had a bad word with my son in law to this day. I just want to have my own independence as long as I can. And I think that they appreciate that as well.’
Taking care of her home is something Eileen enjoys doing and she has figured out ways to keep her home well maintained. She does what she can and has a mix of privately paid and subsidised services, a small team, to help with the things she finds difficult. She has help to mow her lawn and someone who helps to trim the plants she can’t while she does the rest of the garden that she can manage. She has help to clean the windows she can’t reach and help with any painting if it’s needed. ‘If I want to stay here you’ve just got to afford it [the help] which I can. I haven’t got a lot of money, but I can afford to do it’. If she needs more help, she is prepared to get more help, but she does pace herself these days. ‘I just do one little thing at a time now and it works. Everything is a little bit at a time.’ For example, she tells herself, ‘”I’m going to do the nandina’s today”, and I go round and do the littler shrubs. It’s how I feel, like when I am out there I think, “Oh, I think I’ve done enough”.’
Wesley Mission helps with her housework each fortnight. ‘Wesley Mission is just wonderful.’ But Eileen doesn’t sit around while they clean for her. ‘So, what I do is I dust all the blinds and I do all the dusting and I do under the mats because she can just go over the top. I’ll do downstairs and she does the bathroom and the kitchen and the vacuuming upstairs because that is a big job. She’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I can still do the same that I was doing 5 years ago downstairs while she is doing upstairs. But I find the big things – like if you polish furniture – I do that another day. I don’t try to do any of that on the day that she’s coming. I just do one little thing at a time now, I spread it out and it works.’ Wesley Mission also take Eileen to do her grocery shopping each fortnight. Having this help supports Eileen’s relationships with her family who are available to help with things she can not get help with. ‘That’s why I’ve got somebody to go with me to shopping because she’d [her daughter] come over and we’d go grocery shopping. I didn’t want that. I wanted us to be able to go out or her to come here and have lunch or talk here, that’s what I wanted. (Me: You didn’t want to put her to work) No, but she does, I’ve always got something lined up for her. But I don’t take advantage, no. No, I get help.’
Eileen has two other superpowers that have helped her to stay independent. One is her love of socialising. ‘I’ve always been a great socialiser, I love that.’ The other is her ability to use transport services, whether it be public transport, community transport or friends and family. The two skills go together and we all can learn something from the way Eileen manages her social life. Getting older doesn’t have to lead to social isolation and Eileen shares what she thinks and does that keeps her socially active. ‘My sister in law says, “I don’t know how you can do it, I can’t make friends”. I just do, I suppose I talk a lot. I just like going out and enjoying myself and to meet new friends and give them credit for what they’re doing too. Because they’re on walkers and walking sticks and they’re good. They’re getting on and having a go too. I think it’s because they’re having a go that I like mixing with them. I am interested in what they do and what their life is. I’m really interested in other people. My daughter and all the young ones, they get all the nice up to date things in the home, I love going to see them. They say, “You’re so positive Eileen and so enthusiastic, we feel good, we can’t wait to get you over to have a look at something.” If you’re interested in other people’s things as well, and what they’re doing, I think they’re interested in what you’re doing as well.
‘I spend my time meeting friends. I used to be in Cabra Vale Diggers Club and we’d go every month down there, they had a concert. That all closed down with the virus, so I’ve got friends from there that come up from Fairfield and we meet in Liverpool. Sometimes we go to the pictures, or I go on my own to the pictures. I’ve got another friend, I went to school with her, we’ve been friends for 73 years and we meet every month. We make it every month, a lot of things. If I’m meeting friends and that we make a date. We keep up to it because once you go astray from it you don’t get back to it. Maybe one month, maybe three months or something like that. I’ve got a couple of friends that I was very good friends with their Mums and the daughters are now in their sixties. One of them rang me this morning, she’s going to come here and we have lunch together. I appreciate that because they’re only in their sixties and they still come and see me.
‘And these bus trips you go on with South West [Community Transport] you can go on different groups every time. They’ve got a little book they send every three months and you pick out which ones you want to go on. On the South West [social bus trips] there’s a couple of us now that live in this area and we meet. They’ve come here a couple of times. They’re younger than me, they are in their seventies. I like to plan what days I go on those trips because I’ve got a varied life and I want to be able to do them when I want to do them and that’s sort of how it all works. Going to Liverpool, my daughter coming over, going out on the South West buses, doing everything around here, I find my days are full. I find that I am well and truly on the go most of the time, all the time really.
‘I can catch the [public] buses still. I catch them across the road down here into Liverpool and meet friends in there. All my life I have gone by public transport to work. I never drove much and then after a while, when he [Eileen’s husband] passed away, I just said no. The traffic was just getting too much and I’ve always done public transport, it doesn’t worry me one little bit. South West Community Transport will take you to - when I had my knees done - physio in Liverpool. My husband had passed away then, they’d come and pick you up, you’d go there and have physio, you’d give them a time, so you know your physio appointment is 11:00, so you allow time, 12:00, and they’d come back and pick you up. I used them quite a bit then. I did when I did my shoulder in as well. So, transport doesn’t worry me, I know I can do it. It’s very mixed.’
Eileen tore tendons in her shoulder 8 months ago. She tells us how she has recovered so well. ‘I went straight to my doctor, I have got faith in my doctor. I’ve got the best, he’s just absolutely marvellous. He doesn’t treat you as though you’re an old person. He doesn’t say, “Oh, you’ll get better”. So, I went to him and he recommended x-rays straight away. He suggested the physio, and I did the physio from then on. I still do the exercises at home because it has got to strengthen, but I’m good with it now. I don’t feel any pain or anything like that, but I got onto it straight away. The physio is only there to do half an hour’s work aren’t they? And you’ve got to come home and do the rest yourself, and if you don’t, well, you don’t improve. That was good, I did it well. It’s only you that can do things isn’t it. They can’t do your physio for you, they can’t. That’s logical isn’t it?’ Eileen has a chronic health condition, a blood disorder, but she takes her medication, has regular testing and sees her specialist every 4 months and it is well under control.
The key to it all is best summed up by Eileen when she says, ‘We always had an outlook that was positive, my husband and I.’ So, get out your diaries, phone your friends and plan some catch ups with your favourite people, just like Eileen.