As our elders increase in age, it may become easier for some to form judgments about the things they can no longer do. They may even make statements such as, “I was this,” “I did that then,” but “I cannot do that now…”. These statements may reflect beliefs about performance when they were physically or mentally more able. With this perspective, it may be simpler for them to hold a vision of what they once were rather than examining any wisdom they are able to offer in this moment. For some elders, they may fixate on feeling cheated or defeated as their minds and bodies fail them. Identity in a way becomes “reduced” to a story they keep telling themselves, albeit a sad, frustrating and likely largely untrue dialogue.
Perhaps a more hopeful perspective could be found in the writings of Eckhart Tolle who proposed, “It is possible to stop struggling in your life and find joy and fulfillment in this moment, and no other.” What does this mean, and how might it have special significance for the aging population? For some elders perhaps, the maturing body, reflecting mind, changed capabilities could be seen in this moment as valued and valuable. Nothing is lost from the experiences of youth. Rather, real experiences from the past are exchanged for different ones in the present. For example, they could be reminded of contributions offered to family and community now, no matter what had been offered in the past. All is valuable in its time, place or state, past and current.
The task of helping others look at life in this way often falls to the intimate caregiver of a dependent elder. Caregivers can choose to explore ways in which to assist and encourage seniors to use their gifts, skills and perspectives applied to the now. The caregiver might tutor the senior on how to reconnect to family or community, to ask what is needed or, whether their particular skill set can be of use. Very likely experience, expertise, and wise counsel gained over many lived years will be more valued than an able physical body performing jobs or tasks. For elders to realize they have much to offer still is a hopeful perspective.
Caregivers can help parents and elders rekindle their sense of purpose by asking them to help with specific duties, even if they cannot help with the labor. The young may hold the key to decreasing anxiety and depression within the aged population. If they were willing to put forth effort to create a new situation, they would connect with their elders in a way that initiates sharing, being and doing which can then stimulate the reawakening of hope, love and unity within those that participate.
The shared life experience may decrease depression in aging, enhance quality of life and time together, and foster encouraging conversations that shrink generational gaps. Asking our elders for advice can also generate “in the moment” thinking, rather than judgments around what they cannot do. It reminds them to be who they are now and also teaches them to reflect on the knowledge that only they possess. To engage with our elders in this manner not only shifts their perspective but also our own from one of feeling as if we have to do everything, to one of doing, sharing, and acting with others in a way that perpetuates an overall state of balance.
Book and Internet Citations:
Eckhart Tolle; “Stillness Speaks”; “The Power of Now”
The Christian Broadcasting Network