Friday, November 14, 2008

What the Elderly Really Think

I had one final presentation scheduled, which was last night. I was a bit nervous about this one. It was promoted to baby boomers and their parents, but was held in an independent/assisted living facility. I knew most of the attendees were going to be older than the baby boomers I normally talk to.

What was I going to say? My normal words of wisdom seemed silly and trite to this group. As I was setting up and they were getting comfortable, I overheard one lady say, “I’d like to know the myths about retirement.”

“Ah, ha, that’s where I’ll start,” I concluded.

After a wonderful introduction, I asked, “What are the myths about retirement and aging?” What followed was a lively discussion of the misperception and irritations that are felt by the over 50 and 75 crowd. Ultimately, the myths that life is either a ‘happy ever after’ stroll on the beach or a immediate collapse into physical decline are both inaccurate. We all agreed with the frustration that advertisers and manufactures have written us off unless it is for drugs or medical related items.

We concluded that life after work and raising a family is neither better nor worse than it had been before. It is different. What surprised me was the amount of passion they displayed. There was a desire these people had to let the world know they have thoughts, feelings and lives as profound as younger people.

I have created a model for meaningful aging. We spent the rest of our time discussing the model. I asked for their opinions about what I had researched. They agreed with the concepts I presented. They also provided some additional thoughts, I hadn’t considered.

For example, I discuss how staying connected is so important as we get older. The youngster of the group, a 62 year old who is recovering from a stroke, shared how being connected can be a detriment. She has been welcomed into the community, but is much younger than the other residents. She feels a need to push herself, get back to work, develop new relationships and take risks. She confided how the residents had embraced her and provided a wonderfully safe place to be and how hard it was to leave that environment to go back into the world.

My grandparents had all died before I was born, so I didn’t grow up around elderly people. As a result, I always felt slightly uncomfortable in their presence. In the last couple of years, in part because of my work, I’ve been around more people who are in their eighties and above. Guess what? They’re just like us. They have charm, wit, humor, and insight. They want to be valued and acknowledged.

While I started off feeling a bit nervous, the night proved to be delightful. We all shared and participated. It was a wonderful experience.

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