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Eileen B.

“No matter how heavy the challenges we face in our life, embrace optimism, perseverance, tenacity and courage”  Angelica Hopes

There are many articles, lectures, and advice via social media about successfully transitioning to retirement. One-piece I particularly like is by Bruce Feiler. In the article, he introduces a term called “lifequakes” – moments in the life of great personal upheaval. One way to survive them and thrive in spite of them is to start with your superpower.

Lifequake is exactly how I would describe the Covid-19 pandemic. For retirees, it put a stop to many of the plans they had. They were told to shelter in place or stay at home as much as possible. Families and friends were suddenly cut off. Many of the activities they were involved in abruptly ended.

The people I am going to introduce you to in this blog series have taken a healthy and proactive approach to create multifaceted lives during these unprecedented times by using their superpower: tenacity.  It is helping them adapt and achieve.  

Eileen B. moved to the Northern Virginia area from New York to be close to her daughter and her two beloved grandchildren. Not one to sit around, she joined a local senior center to participate in one exercise class and was soon on her way to leading a very full life.

In addition to helping out with the grandkids, she ran the center’s busy social committee, taught a variety of classes, including a popular genealogy class. She also served on the center’s advisory group where she spearheaded several community service projects. Once a year she and a cousin would spend a month in Florida relaxing and enjoying the warm weather. However, in March 2020 all that came to an abrupt stop.

Eileen cut her Florida vacation short and quickly returned to Northern Virginia as information about the pandemic started becoming direr. The reason for her urgency she tells me was that “things were starting to close down fast and I didn’t want to get stuck far away from my family.” 

While she returned to her home, which was close to her family, Eileen didn’t get to return to the same level of involvement she had before she traveled to Florida. The senior center shut down. Her apartment building stopped all social programs. Eileen followed the advice of her Doctors by making sure she took all the necessary precautions to stay safe which severely limited her opportunities to socialize.  

She was determined to make the best of the situation. She has a self-care program where she commits to having one thing to do each day.  Whether it is leading her genealogy class on Zoom; conducting Advisory Committee business; talking to her family on Facetime; sitting outside talking with neighbors (observing social distancing guidelines) or cleaning the kitchen; Eileen says it’s important in these uncertain situations to prioritize what’s important. Health, family and friends should be at the top.  

It’s crucial, especially for those who are struggling with the social isolation brought on by the pandemic, to have someone who will look out for them. Eileen checks in with friends she knows haven’t left their homes since last March. Her motto has always been “Life from now on is what you want it to be”. She wants people to know that “things might be hard right now but there is a future.” 

She is certainly looking forward to the day when she can hug her grandchildren and socialize with friends at a restaurant. For now, though, she is going to rely on her tenacity to get her through each day in a positive way. Tenacity is indeed a superpower. 

Fostering Life Enrichment to Enable Anti-Racism

Am I being ageist when I avoid addressing racist statements from my clients? For many years I dismissed the racist comments made by older adults I interacted with. I always told myself,  “Oh, they’re from a different generation, they’re old and can’t change.”  I would try the timid approach of pointing out my multi-cultural background or the passive-aggressive approach of a scolding look. These “tactics” accomplished nothing. 


Lately, I have been asking myself this question a lot because a person I love very much sends me viral videos of older adults acting out with belligerent and racist behavior. Watching those fills me with sadness. One, the behavior is abhorrent. Two, the person, the source of the outburst looks overwhelmed. Their filters, it would appear, have disappeared. 


The seniors in these videos also look scared. Instead of seeking help, they resort to lashing out; harming others and themselves. In an article for Business Insider, Lindsay Dodgson offers an explanation as to why it seems as if some older adults are more open with their racism.  Much has to do with brain plasticity, fear of change and ageism.  


I always have many questions as I watch these videos.  How did it come to this? Are these individuals the product of an ageist society?  My nearest and dearest doesn’t even send me half of the videos because Twitter tells me about the other ones. 


Searching for answers, I came across a letter to the editor for the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry written by Derbajan Banergi. In it he writes: 


Pandemics have a significant psychosocial impact. Health anxiety, panic, adjustment disorders, depression, chronic stress, and insomnia are the major offshoots. Misinformation and uncertainty give rise to mass hysteria. Among them, the elderly are especially vulnerable.” 


Certainly, COVID-19 has shone a glaring spotlight on the gaping holes in this country’s safety net.  Vulnerable populations from the homeless, people of color, low-income individuals and families, the incarcerated, Indigenous peoples, immigrants, children to seniors are most at risk from this virus that is a long way from being contained and under control. These viral videos, which are concerning on so many levels, highlight exactly what Dr. Banergi states regarding the ability of some older adults to successfully weather a public health crisis.


Back to my nearest and dearest who isn’t convinced. The older adults, I am told, have always been racist and are now emboldened to broadcast it.  The current pandemic has nothing to do with it. To some extent, he’s right. As people age, they do tend to be the same person they always were only in some cases, more so. Smartphones and social media make it easier to document these incidents. 


My response is the following: the content of the video is horrible and the underlying crisis this person is going through in those instances is one that in my opinion, could have been preempted by addressing these important issues. 


The first is systemic ageism.  Whether it’s the not so subtle practice of pushing older workers out the door, to reducing public funds for senior centers or ignoring racist comments, society, for the most part, has done a real disservice to older adults.  Miki Goerdt  -LCSW, ATR-BC) writes that many times, older adults are portrayed as unhappy. These viral videos certainly do. They also perpetuate ageism in society. The image of racist, angry older adults feeds into a variety of stereotypes about seniors that are difficult to counter.  Don’t forget about my nearest and dearest’s opinion. 


The second issue is the possibility of enabling practices on the part of professionals who serve the senior population. Folded into systemic ageism are the biases that enable it. Every time I look at those videos, I think about all the times I dismissed racist comments made to me by older adults, offering weak suggestions that other words or thoughts might be better choices or I simply scowled. Miki Goerdt reminds us that that depression looks different in older adults.  When you look at the viral videos. It’s not hard to see distress in their eyes and it’s clear they need help and probably have needed help for a long time. 


The internal discussion I have is always based on the following questions. How can these people say those things to other people?  Why do they think it’s ok? Have they been getting a “pass” because of their age? Is that really supporting their quality of life and building resilience? What should my role be as a responsible person and business owner? 


The third issue is simply not knowing how to address racism with an elder client or family member. I have never found the best approach to address racist comments until recently.  Ijeoma Oluo recommends starting from a place of empathy.  Think about the process that brought you to the point of realizing that addressing racism is urgent.  Start with older adults who aren’t clients.  Develop your engagement skills from there.  If brain plasticity can be improved by doing brain games exercises, then addressing racism with older adults should be the next crucial step to promoting life enrichment.  Reduced social filters or not. 


As a business owner, my mission is to promote quality of life. If I am going to be successful in my work, I need to acknowledge that people are complicated and conflicting but that I should not shy away from it.  I must work to engage in a dialogue that is also life-enriching. 


Social Connections as a Lifeline

Does your loved one’s aging in-place plan include fun and recreation? Do they have a SELF- care plan? Their quality of life could depend on it.

Several years ago when I was a senior center director, a patron told me something that dramatically changed my approach to my career. I was preparing coffee and chatting about the day ahead when out of the blue she looked at me and said, “You know, you’re saving lives here.”

My first reaction was to be incredulous. My day was spent developing recreation programs. Of course, they were fun and educational. Sure they provided plenty of opportunities for people to meet others. However, I didn’t believe my work rose to the level of saving lives. That was more for firefighters, EMTS’ police officers or social workers.

My patron continued to explain, that if she didn’t have the senior center to go to, her quality of life would be dismal. Research backs her up. Loneliness and social isolation are detrimental to a person’s health. Social connections are a lifeline for many people.

The situation is more concerning for older adults who aren’t able to leave their homes easily. For these folks, including social and recreation programs is paramount. It should be a central part of a well-rounded care management plan.

Any recreation and leisure plan, whether it’s your loved ones or yours (yes you too) should focus on the components of S.E.L.F. These components are Self-actualization, Esteem, Love and Fun.

Self-actualization is the first component. Were those life-fulfilling goals achieved? What are some activities they would like to be able to do again? How did you or your loved one spend each day?

Plan for esteem building. Happiness and fulfillment are life long pursuits that help bring out the person each of us is meant to be regardless of where we are in life. Select leisure activities that are purposeful and meaningful; that foster dignity and independence as well.

Do you remember the last meal you ate that made you smile? That’s because it was cooked with love. Bringing out the smile in your loved one with fun activities that include some of their favorite pastimes along with some new ones is a fantastic way to show your love.

Don’t forget to have fun! It’s really the most important component. This means expanding on those activities that in the words of Marie Kondo “spark joy”. Bringing joy to someone is essentially a shot of energy to the spirit. When the spirit is happy, life is better. Previous hobbies can be revived with adaptations if needed.

Help your loved one feel like they are themselves again with an emphasis on social connections and SELF-care.

Celebrate Your Care Giving With Formal Pictures.

If your parents have chosen to age in place, creating the best mixture of care is best accomplished by applying the K.I.S.S (keep it simple sweetie) format. After you have the basics (health, hygiene and nutrition) taken care of, it will be worth your while to consider their recreational needs. Love, belonging, esteem and self –actualization are essential to quality of life and crucial if your parent(s) have chosen to age in place.

My parents still live in their own home. They tend to be homebodies so I am always looking for ways to get them out of the house to try new experiences. I have had minimal success. The best approach is to bring new experiences and fun to them when possible.

This year I did the family holiday picture thing at their house. I wanted everyone I take care of to be included.

I don’t have many pictures of me with either set of my grandparents, so each time I go over to my folks’ house with the munchkin in tow, I try to get a few pictures with my phone. This time with professional photographer directing us, the whole experience was one of genuine bonding.

As we got into the session I started to notice how much fun
my parents and my child were having. Which of course made me realize how special a family photo session is. I think my husband liked it as well, even though our session was very early on a Saturday morning.

The photographer was a calming influence. Maybe we were all subconsciously trying to be on our best behavior. Family bonding with a facilitator! Seems very modern.

Getting dressed up is exciting. Taking the extra time to think about what types of clothing and colors will highlight our positives. It meant being mindful about how your family fits together on one level and taking time to find a way to portray that bond and moment forever.

Photos are an official entry to the family legacy. Photographs tell a person’s story even if you see that person every day. Group photos reaffirm connections. Connections, social or familial are what support quality of life.

Most importantly, we were doing something together and having fun. Thanks to the photo session, we realized we belonged together.

In-Home Recreation Visits Promote Quality Of Life

Over the past several months, I have started to notice something about the customers who go to coffee shops in the middle of the afternoon. Many of them were older adults.  Some sat chatting with others but many were seated alone reading, either on their phone, tablets or laptops.

I didn’t think very much about these folks until a friend of mine, a woman in her mid-seventies told me that after her husband passed away, staying home made her sad and that feeling then made it hard for her to leave the house.  On days when she felt motivated, she would leave to attend a class but on most days she went to a coffee shop with her device to read so she could be around people.  It didn’t help her feel much better but she knew to stay home all the time was worse.

I started to think more about the people I saw in the places I would go to for an afternoon shot of caffeine. Were they feeling the same way? Humans are inherently social creatures.  Was being by yourself among strangers good enough?  If my friend is right, it’s better than being at home and lonely.  Good enough isn’t great either.

People want social connections that are meaningful and purposeful.  For that to happen the contact or connection needs to bring quality to that person’s life. This becomes more difficult for older adults who do not leave their homes. The reasons for that are varied but what they have in common is that they are at high risk for the negative effects of loneliness and social isolation.  The good news is that there are non-medical and non-clinical ways to address those issues with in-home recreation visits.

In-home recreation visits are more than a friendly visits program. In-home recreation visits are goal-oriented sessions that promote quality of life.  They are based on past and current interests.  They are multi-dimensional.  They are individualized. They are designed to support and provide connection.   They go beyond good enough.