When I was a mom of a 6 month old I decided to start volunteering with my infant. We served lunch twice a month for 50 older adults that had emmigrated to the United States approximately 50 years ago. Most of them spoke broken English or no English at all and they did not all speak the same language. They did all communicate with gestures, smiles and hugs and looked forward to the warmth of the companionship, the delicious hot lunch, the entertainment that was hired and my 6 month old. From the moment I walked in, my son was taken out of my arms and passed around to each participant. He was tickled, sung to , pinched, fed and cooed. He returned their affection by showing them how he walked, giggled at their sounds and silly faces and ate from their plates. My second son started volunteering with that group when he was three weeks old. I couldn't wait to get back there. They are grown boys now and when I look back on those days I think about the fact that there were three generations in that room and all were getting something very meaningful out of those lunches. I'm not sure who the volunteers really were. Today, as a Geriatric Care Manager, I believe that volunteering plays a bigger part in our healthy aging process than we realize. There is more and more research showing that volunteering in older adults have significant health benefits. It provides a sense of purpose, helps mentally when undergoing transitions such as retirement and loss of a spouse or close friend, lowers mortality and disability and highers levels of well-being and lowers rates of depression. The Corporation for National & Community Service recommended designing health interventions based on volunteering. I have seen this first hand. An older adult who had been living in a planned community became more and more isolated until she started to work with elementary school students on a project and then couldn't wait until her weekly visits to see those smiles and interact with those bundles of energy. An older adult who was aging in place in their home and was part of a community gardening project. He had been under the weather and cancelled all his appointments except that one. He could not miss being there on time for fear of letting down his fellow volunteer gardeners. It doesn't matter what age we are, having something bigger than just ourselves is what gets us out of bed in the morning. Imagine, a prescription from the doctor: take two aspirin and take the time to give of yourself. I'm in.
My gizmos, ie smartphone, smartpad, smartTV, smartspeaker, etc., have taken over my life. I use them for work and for play and like others in my generation started out just playing around with each platform and thought it was fun. Somehow along the way I have become anxious using the different smartools as it is no longer just for fun but somewhat of a necessity. I can't image going back to a "dumb" phone for work or communicating with my friends on just the telephone. The other day I was told by my phone that it was time to update the OS system. I wasn't ready. I didn't want to take the leap yet without knowing what it was going to do. I hit the "later" button but when I got up the next morning it had decided to update on its own. I felt like a slave to this thing, dragging me forward without my permission. The anxiety was rapidly growing like the carbonation in a soda bottle after being dropped and ready to explode. Now I am a facilitator for a widowed women's support group. The youngest is 72 and the oldest is 95. They are amazing women and I am so blessed to be working with them for the last 3 years. They are my heroines and I learn from them each time we meet. They too have their anxieties and have seen their share of new inventions and technologies which have seeped into daily activities without being asked if they want them. They were thrust into caregiver roles, business partners, financial planners and accountants before they were ready.. On the job training I guess you would call it. They used their anxiety as a motivator to jump in with both feet. This is called healthy anxiety opposed to Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety is something nature gave us to help us in dangerous situations. In prehistoric times it helped us react to situations quicker which gave us a larger chance to survive. The difference between the healthy and unhealthy is whether or not we let it control our lives. So as my anxiety increases as a middle aged plus woman who is a bit afraid to learn something new I look at these beautiful healthy women who also had anxiety but used it to get them through the tough times in life. They owned it, took control. Sure they stumbled and had days or weeks of doubt but they didn't let it take over. It occurred to me that when my grandfather had a heart attack at 80 the anxiety of his future health motivated him to start lifting weights and my great Aunt who did yoga and stood on her head into her 80's kept moving because she was anxious about losing mobility as she aged. What they all have in common is they used their anxiety as a stimulator to move forward even when it was difficult. . So, I decided to own it as well. I signed up for gizmo classes at the library, looked at chat rooms to answer my questions about social media and put together a plan for becoming proficient with my smartools. I know once I do, another culture changer will come around and I will try to decide whether it is for good or evil but I will put the anxiety in my backpocket so it has just enough room to nudge me forward but not enough to freeze me in my tracks and then I will jump in. Or, maybe I will start with my big toe.
How can you use your anxiety?
The other day I was waiting for the instructor of my exercise class to show at 5:30 in the morning.... before I go any further with this story I know some of you are thinking, 5:30am-who does that? Believe me, I do only because if I jump out of bed in the morning and get dressed and go I don't have time to think of excuses. . It is a similar philosophy to brushing your teeth but the clean feeling lasts all day... anyway, the instructor walks in and I say cheerfully, good morning, how are you? and she says, uncheerfully, I don't know I just woke up and came here. Nothing has happened yet.
My first thought to that response was, ok, I can understand that. It is 5:30 after all. But then I thought, wait!! You woke up! That is definitely something! I know we take that part for granted. Some might even ask why are you mentioning this, it happens every day. Yes, if we are lucky, it does. There are plenty of everyday things I take for granted and I am working on really looking at the daily gifts. My cup of coffee and newspaper every morning, my stretching that helps with all my creaks, lunch with girlfriends, my reading glasses that come in every color for every room in the house, my husband filling in the nouns as I try to explain something I saw and the text string between my sister's family, my brother's, my mom and mine from all over the country as we put our 2 cents in on some new technology that only my younger brother understands. I am grateful that I woke up this morning and can look at life from the middle plus and smile at the changes occuring around me and within me. It's a good lens to look through.
What are your daily gifts?
What would our world look like if we considered ourselves Temporarily Able? Meaning that we looked at life as a series of changes with each stage being “able” to do something that we might “not be able” to do at the next stage. For example, when laying out the blueprints for a park, the architect would take into consideration equipment for life’s changes. Slides and climbing equipment for developing muscle and expending energy, stations with equipment for building better balance and flexibility along a walking path and swings for every age designed by size, safety, and independence. By changing our philosophy on aging from being re-active to becoming pro-active we can look at creative solutions to the aging process. It would no longer be looked at as a negative change but as a different stage in tackling age friendly issues.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the American Society on Aging’s National Convention in Chicago. The week long conference covered topics in seminars from entrepreneurs creating different solutions to aging issues, to big picture crystal balls on what the future of aging will look like in different arenas. I left at the end of the week feeling positive about the great innovations, achievements and attitudes that are impacting older adults and the contributions older adults give society as a whole.
I took the train each day to the city and by the end of the week I was wondering “why are there steps to get on the train and not ramps for baby buggies and walkers?” I know, one step at a time.
Remember how great it was to be included in a group in kindergarten? You couldn’t wait to wake up and play with your playmates? That wonderful feeling of inclusion never goes away. Flash forward seventy years. That feeling is even more important now. Whether we are living independently, in an assisted living environment or with our kids, that contact with another human being, that social element, is important for our well being. What does that have to do with a cup of coffee? Everything! Meeting a friend, sharing stories and being connected to a community gets us out of bed, gives us a reason to keep moving, keeps us laughing and loving. Friends, no matter what age, no matter what capacity are our lifeline.
This is my first post as PrimeLife Care. I am so excited to be able to share ideas, services, new technology and what is new in the aging of America through conferences and seminars, trade articles and a collection of information through my own experiences. I believe that as a community we should be working together, no matter what generation we are, to help each other age in place. The younger can learn so much from the older's experiences and stories and the older can learn from the younger's energy and maneuverability in our technologically savvy new world. Both gain a sense of achievement and purpose and more meaningful relationships.
I would like to share a video on the "Village Model" that is a new way of thinking for aging in place. It has been around for approximately ten years and there are different versions of this model popping up all over America. Recently it has picked up more momentum. The Chicagoland area has four of its own.
PrimeLife Care is also about matching people with services to aide in adapting to physical, psychological, social and spiritual changes for the individual to maintain their quality of life.
Take a look at my website: www.primelifecare.com for more information.
"It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy that makes happiness"
- Charles Spurgeon