Inviting children to visit residents in nursing homes is not a new concept. When I worked in a nursing home, babies came to visit with their moms every month. The residents loved to watch the wide-eyed children crawl and toddle around the room. For many residents, the scene probably brought back their own memories of parenthood. For most of them, it was also a reminder that life continues to flourish despite what it might feel like inside the nursing home.
Because it is difficult not to focus on illness, aging, and disease when you’re in the thick of it, it’s wonderfully healthy to be reminded that there is a world outside of yours.
This week in my social media newsfeed, two items popped up about kids brightening the days of older people when they visit. One post was a promotion for a British television experiment with older people engaged in a six-week experiment living with four-year olds. This clip was especially enjoyable because it featured a man who stated he had little interest in the children. He wasn’t particularly excited about their visits but the impact that the kids had on him was endearing. His energy picked up; he stopped using his cane for one morning; and he went so far as to sit down on the floor in spite of his own physical limitations to interact with them and make them laugh. A link to the program is below.
You might expect to see a negative aging attitude in a grumpy older person but negative feelings about aging often start much younger. Some middle-age people decide it is a topic that needs to be thought about and talked about frequently. They plan their retirement and their housing well in advance for aging in place. They read studies and alter their exercise and diet to reduce their chances of dementia or heart disease. They start scoping out 55+ communities so they will be safe when the time comes. They accept it as a fact that they won’t be able to climb stairs, that they will have dementia, that they will face a long slow decline. So, they make decisions while they are still young to accommodate a frail body and mind. They approach aging with practicality and a mixture of dread and fear.
Others prefer to focus on their vitality while refusing to acknowledge aging. They don’t want to think about getting older and would rather take steps to alter their appearance and their lifestyle in an attempt to stay young forever. They don’t want to plan or research for the future and they don’t want to talk about what should be done for them if they need help in their old aging. If they don’t allow old age to have purchase in their thoughts, it won’t happen to them.
For those who have already reached the age they consider “old” life can be challenging and it’s hard to think about anything beyond their pain, discomfort, decline, and imminent death. For other elders, life is still wonderful. They look back on their lives with satisfaction and are grateful to have had a “good ride.” They have planned the rest of their time here as well as their dying. Their advocates know what to do and what not do on their behalf, giving peace of mind to the elder person.
Ideally, you want to be in the latter group at the end of your life. You want to have taken some time to think things through so that you are prepared. But you don’t want to have obsessed over aging and you should not assume that you will be disabled or have dementia.
Most people have every possibility of having a healthy and fulfilling life to the end or pretty darn close to it.
From the time we are young we should be a bit like the first group of people I mentioned and give an occasional thought toward the future. Where would you like to live? Do you want to age in place in your own home or would you like a retirement community? Do you have family who will take care of you no matter what, or will you need to hire some help? Plan your finances accordingly. Save more than you think you will need! Very few people say, “I’m 85 and I have too much money to meet my needs!” But once your savings plans are in order, you don’t need to think about it anymore.
While you are planning ahead, be like the second group of people I wrote about and focus on your youth and good health, if you are lucky enough to have it. Is there a disease that runs in your family that you want to work on now? Good to know! Make adjustments, see a specialist once in a while, and then do your best to focus on the positive area areas of your life. Or you can work on the disease metaphysically. Either way, stay in the positive zone. Do you have opinions about life-saving treatments you wouldn’t want if you were unable to speak for yourself someday? Make sure someone reliable knows how you feel and will represent you. Then don’t give it anymore thought.
The important thing is to live now while maintaining a little balance with thoughts toward your future.
We want to be mindful of what is happening in our lives right now. Right now you are alive! Few of us at this moment are actively dying. By actively dying, I mean lying in a bed, spending most of our hours asleep, barely cognizant of the world around us. Until that point, we are still living, and we need to be savoring our precious gift. Spending time with friends and loved ones, interacting with children who are just beginning their journeys, caring for animals, and observing nature all help us to be in the now. Aging is a part of life and an adventure that only lucky people get to face, but it should not be an obsession that prevents us from enjoying that we are living and that beautiful life is going on all around us. Like the man in the nursing home who left his cane behind, stay engaged in life.