Friday, August 22, 2014

Ageism - Worthy of discussion!

Photo credit: The Equality Authority

One of my Facebook friends recently posted a cute pic of two dear elderly ladies with the caption…We will always be friends until we are old and senile – then we can be new friends.  
The sentiment was heartfelt. I’m sure that my friend wanted the recipient to know that she was celebrating lifelong friendship.  The comment that hit a raw nerve with me was the caption she added above the picture, “then we can pee our pants and nobody will care.” I don’t want you to think I don’t have a sense of humor.  I believe we have to find the humor in the circumstances of life and the joy that sharing those moments with a loved one can bring. However, the sobering fact is my friend’s comment is not completely off the wall.   I’ve been privy to circumstances where “no one cared", and it's nothing to laugh about.

Facing age discrimination in one's everyday life offers a multitude of challenges, but can be especially damaging when experienced in the workplace. According to a 2012 study commissioned by AARPover one-third of respondents reported that they or someone they know has experienced age discrimination in the workplace.  Older workers are too often considered “past their prime” or “unwilling to change with the times.”   Overlooked for promotions after the age of 50, difficulty finding employment when over 50, and being forced out due to corporate downsizing is just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s not much better in the healthcare community, where we see additional stereotypes imposed on our aging population.  Impairments can be treated as just “part of growing older” or go unrecognized completely. Seeing more than one doctor is cause for different medical concerns. Medication therapies and prescriptions can be handed out without appropriate consideration due to a lack of communication between physicians.  This can cause serious medical and cognitive issues.

Much of the fuel behind negative connotations for older Americans is perpetuated by the media.  Television sitcoms, commercials and movies often depict older adults as dependent, unproductive, and health impaired.  At times, the cultural fabric of America appears to not revere their older generation.   Media can at times make them the butt of the joke and a characterize them as a drain on society.  I believe this portrayal is unfair to seniors, many of whom are still functioning well and are financially independent.

The issue of Ageism is only going to become a higher priority with the Baby Boomers heading full steam into their golden years.  According to the 2010 U.S. Census, nearly 40 million Americans were over 65 years old, and that number was expected to double by 2050, or 20.4% of the population.

"We need to raise the consciousness of the need for aging material," says Forrest Scogin, PhD, a University of Alabama psychology professor. "There needs to be a greater awareness of who the older adults are--they are a diverse group. Ageism and stereotypes just don't work.”

Could it be that I’m hypersensitive?  Possibly. But having been behind the lines in senior care, I’ve personally witnessed dismissal of seniors' concerns, overlooking of healthcare needs, and needless instances of loneliness and despair.   I can’t help but take a stand when I see what in some cases seems to be a cavalier attitude.  Age discrimination should be taken seriously, and not just dismissed as harmless.  If I can shine a light toward increased awareness of a growing problem in our culture, then I’ll take that challenge. We have fought hard against discrimination on the basis of race, gender and partner preferences, yet ageism is just as worthy of discussion.  This nation is blessed to have one of the greatest resources for enhancement of life experience, spiritual growth and family heritage right here with us.  Rather than discriminate or make fun of our seniors, let’s celebrate and honor them at every opportunity!

Monday, August 18, 2014

I Know That Spring Will Come!

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

-Percy Bysshe Shelley


Ode to the West Wind

I have been blessed to know many friends and family that are in the winter of their life.  It has caused me to look at life and think about the order of things.  Take a moment and look at the world.   Notice that there is clearly an “order”, “design”, a “plan.”

Consider the seasons.  The first fresh scent of spring, the sticky humidity of summer, the smoke-filled, golden essence of fall, and the crisp snap of the frost of winter. Just as you think you can’t bear to hear the crunch of snow under your boot for one more day the first signs of spring appear.  The daffodils poke their brave heads through the soil as if to say, “Me first!” The leaves on the trees unfurl almost overnight. The birds are busier than ever planning for their new family members soon to arrive.  Life begins again.

Consider the sunrise. A simple day begins at dawn with the first pink hue, followed by a glint of the sun’s rays over the horizon.  High overhead the sun warms the earth and activity abounds.  In late afternoon the hustle dies down and before long the sun dips below the horizon to give us rest in the soft breeze of night.  We do not doubt that there will be another sunrise.

Consider your loved ones.  When my children were little, I felt like I was the only one who had “been so tired” or “worried myself silly” or “loved so much”.  Now I realize this love is not a thread between my children and me but instead a circle that came through me from my own Mother and Father and into my children.  So it goes.

When I stand on the shore, watching the waves gently break, my toes awash in foam, I can’t see the other shore but yet I know that it is there. Even when we don’t know what is next that is okay too.  Does the baby in her mother’s womb worry about the transition from the safety of her world to the open spaces of this?  Hardly, because it is part of a grand design, a perfect plan, the order of things.

Then why do we have so much fear of dying?  We don’t want to talk about it, or prepare our loved ones to manage the circumstances when we die. Simply observing the natural order of things would lead us to believe that death is as much a part of the process as birth. Embracing the notion that dying is nothing more than another transition allows us to take away the fear.  It is because we know there is order, symmetry, and a circle of continued expansion that we can feel confident that we are headed toward a new beginning. 

We can’t see the other shore, yet we know that it is there. 
When each baby is born we celebrate a new beginning.
At the end of each day we look forward to another sunrise.

Open your eyes and your heart to embrace the order of things.
There is no reason to fear,
       Spring will come.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

It's Time for a Play Date!

It was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said

“We do not quit playing because we grow old – we grow old because we quit playing.”

Wow – isn’t that the truth.  What happens to our youthful exuberance for life as the years creep up on us?  Some would say, “Well, I don’t have the energy I used to have",  “I just can’t seem to get away”, or  “My health issues have limited me.”  Could it be that it is exactly the opposite?  Should the answers be more along the lines of  “Maybe I don’t have the energy because I’ve been sitting down too long?”  “Is the reason I don’t get away because I don’t take the time to plan?”  “Are my have health issues because I haven’t made health a priority?”  

The benefits of “play” are well documented.  Research has consistently found that there is a positive association between social interaction, exercise, and mental stimulation – ie: PLAY, and good health. 

Play is sometimes defined as anything that gives us joy. A better definition may be anything that gives us joy and expands us as human beings.  Our favorite television program may give us joy but is it improving us and expanding who we are as people?  Doubtful. On the other hand, going on a walk in nature, taking a trip, spending time with family, baking a cake, eating right, volunteering, taking a part time job, or visiting a friend - all of these not only give us joy – but also expand our horizons.  Making these choices allows us to give more, make us more interesting, enhance our relationships, and as a result, we feel more alive.

I recently joined a group of 250 women in my community over the age of 55 called The Golden Girls.  Their mission is to connect, to find common interests, and to serve one another. In essence, to find the joy of human interaction.  They meet up in groups of 10 or 12, or sometimes even 50 or more and plan events, excursions, exercise groups, and service projects. They enhance each others' lives and support each other in difficult times. What a breath of fresh air.  Their mission – TO PLAY! 

So what’s stopping us?  If the thought is, “well, I’m pretty much a couch potato,” how do we motivate ourselves to peel the potato and get up off the couch?  It’s really one question. Is what you are doing right now making you a better human being?  If the answer is “hmmm, I’m not sure,” or “I’ll deal with that question tomorrow, I’m just too tired”, then clearly you need to find more time to PLAY!  Reach out to your community, visit your local YMCA, spend some time with family, or the ultimate way to incorporate joy in your life – SERVE!  You’ll be astonished at the joy the addition of play can bring to your life.