Unfortunately, there isn’t much about aging that we think of as positive in our culture. What a loss! Age-ist stereotypes have us living in fear of getting older. Equally limiting are the stereotypes of the wise, all-knowing elder who is calm and peaceful and serene. Or the age-defying, super-young oldster who will “never say die.”
A constructive definition
There is a constructive and realistic definition of aging. Each of us needs to define it for ourselves. It involves a recognition that despite—or perhaps because of—the challenges of growing old, we actually also tend to develop some amazing strengths.
Not everyone experiences all of these strengths. But studies interviewing hundreds of people of advanced years reveal many commonalities that deserve acknowledgement.
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"I know who I am"
At this point in life, we know ourselves pretty well. We know who we are, how we fit in, and how we are unique. We know what we like, and what we don’t like. We know what we are good at doing, and what we aren’t.
There’s a certain confidence that comes with aging that is different from the confidence of youth. This is confidence based on experience. For instance, we know we have faced challenges in the past and made it through. We know we have skills we can draw upon. And we even know there are coping strategies we’ve tried in the past that we are better off avoiding in the future.
Self-acceptance The flip side of knowing who we are is knowing who we are not, and accepting that. “So I didn’t become a Nobel Laureate, oh well. Not a millionaire? That’s okay. An Olympic athlete? Gee.” Dreams of our youth were exciting, but we ended up going down different paths. And these paths gave us rich experiences we never would have dreamed of!
Less anxiety In our younger years, we tend to be filled with social anxiety. We worry about whether we will be able to live up to expectations. We care about what others think. By our later years, none of that matters so much.
“No one ever told me how nice it was to not be 20!” The confidence of experience and the reduced anxiety can open us up to trying new things. “What have I got to lose? Who cares if I don’t do it well, if I enjoy it, that’s what counts.”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff—and it’s all small stuff”
— Richard Carlson, author
Over the decades, we learn to trust our intuition. We know which of our reactions are fleeting and which have the ring of truth.
Brain studies show that older adults tend to be less emotionally “reactive” or volatile than people in their younger years. We tend to get more philosophical. Based on experience, we know that some hills are worth the battle to conquer, and others are not a hill to die on.
Losses bring opportunities
We know that some doors close, but often that is necessary for other doors to open. Losses usually carry the seeds of opportunity. We can often find a wider view. See a bigger picture. We are less fearful because we know we can adapt.
Wisdom: The wider view One of the advantages of a storehouse of experience is that we have exposure to many different situations. We can take a wider view because we have seen similar things happen in other circumstances. Lessons learned in one context can be applied to another. This is the basis of creative thinking. And it serves elders well.
The brain waves of wisdom Looking at the brain activity patterns, younger people tend to draw upon one hemisphere of the brain or the other. Older adults show more activity in both sides at once. There is a lot of energy being exchanged between the two hemispheres. As one scientist described it the older brain is in “all-wheel drive.”
Saying that all older adults are wise, would be untrue. But it may be that this sharing of information on many brain circuits explains the tendency for older adults to see a wider picture.
If younger adults were to project their perceptions of how happiness unfolds, they might tend to say that happiness is highest in youth and then it’s a downhill slide. (In fact, that is the dominant message or perception of aging in our society.) Research studies, however, are revealing a surprising contradiction.
Age more important than wealth Across all income levels, different races, urban/suburban and rural settings, there is an unmistakable trend in happiness. We are happiest as children, and then happiest in our old age. It’s the years in the middle where happiness is at its lowest. This has come to be called the “U-shape of happiness.”
Less emotionally reactive
Some of the likely explanations include greater self-acceptance as we get older, a reduction in social anxiety, less emotional reactivity, and the ability to take a wide view, to keep things in perspective. Older adults seem to be less angry and less worried than their younger counterparts.
The challenge of our middle years The middle part of our journey—the bottom of the “U”—is often focused on productivity. We are strongly involved in our careers. We may be raising children. There is a lot to do and a thrill in doing it. But it can be challenging and stressful to fit it all in. Time is a constant struggle. And there is always the question of whether we can perform up to specs, “cut the mustard” as it were.
The advantages of age In our older years, we either achieved or didn’t achieve our goals. There is little to worry about in terms of the unknown there. We may have pursued material comforts, only to learn that they were not as gratifying as we had thought. We learn that there is less that is 100% right or 100% wrong in the world. That most everything is made up of a little of both.
We are good at adapting At this point in the journey, Life has probably sent us a few curve balls. And if we aren’t experiencing health challenges yet, we likely have friends who are. It’s not hard to start seeing the glass as half full, rather than half empty.
With advancing years, very likely we have seen fortunes change in an instant. These could be our fortunes or those of others. We tend to become grateful for things that we used to take for granted. And we come to appreciate the problems we don’t have.
Death is no longer an abstraction.
In our later years, death becomes immensely personal and closer than it’s ever been before. We may not see it yet, but there is no doubt that it rests on our horizon. We may get there before we think. And at the least, we realize that we are lucky to have lived as long as we have.
The inner journey
The physical limitations of aging can almost seem like Nature’s way of forcing us to look inward. When the external journey is not as available, the internal one beckons. It can be a very deep and rewarding experience. Frequently it begins with reflection. And once one accepts the losses, whole vistas open up as possibilities when the glass is half full.
Compassion Compassion can become a more familiar companion as we age. We tend to be more understanding thank in our youth. Resentments we may have had about past grievances—with parents, spouses, children or friends—can seem less important.
Perhaps walking a mile in the shoes of others—elders in our own lives—lends new insight about their behavior. Opens up avenues for forgiveness. As well, our children may experience their own growing empathy and be able to reach out to interact as friends, dropping their image of us as the omnipotent parent.
Moving into our later decades, we tend to think a lot about the meaning of our life. We trade a focus on material accomplishments for time spent in gratifying pursuits. This might be a second career with a focus on fulfillment. It might mean volunteering for a cause we believe in.
When time is finite
Rather than a prelude to death, many older adults come to realize that advancing years bring life more fully into focus. While we all have a limited tenure on the planet, when we deeply recognize that our time is finite, we often start asking questions about how we want to use what time remains. No time like the present to identify priorities and start living by them!
There may be a bucket list of activities yet to pursue. However many focus specifically on their legacy. What do we want to be remembered for? Is there something larger that we can do that will extend beyond our time on the planet?
Living by example
“Am I a bulb that carries the light, or am I the light of which the bulb is only the vehicle?”
—Joseph Campbell, mythologist
Whether one still has physical abilities, or is limited more to living by example, there are tremendous opportunities to share our wisdom and insight. Even a person who is bedbound and not long for the world still has a light to shine. And for those fortunate enough to realize this while they still have strength and stamina, life in the later years—with all the advantages that come with age—can be extremely focused and fulfilling.
Coming to grips with a parent's decline and figuring out how to meet their needs can be a terribly stressful ordeal. Marsha and her team made it vastly less so. Marsha's calm demeaner, wisdom and professionalism were invaluable during the 8 months during which my father's needs were rapidly changing. She has a wealth of knowledge about resources available in the community and was able to bring them to bear quickly. I will be eternally grateful for the emotional support she provided during the entire journey.
At a time when you don't know what you don't know, Marcia knows! She asks the right questions, narrows the choices, and provides direction. She definitely helped us feel more confident as we moved forward, and she was thoughtful enough to follow up to be sure we were making progress. Highly recommend.
Marsha and staff were exceptional in their guidance though the difficult and unfamiliar journey of finding quality care for our aging parents. For over three years, they were able to anticipate needs, advocate for our parents, and provide support for them through various crises. We are so thankful for their expertise and compassion through all the changes. We highly recommend Aging Well Rochester to anyone seeking help with aging loved ones.
I just want to thank Aging Well Rochester for their assistance to complete an urgent PRI for my stepmother and also one for my father in case we needed it. The nurse went above & beyond to do that for us as we fortunately found a bed quickly for my stepmother. All went well & she is now receiving wonderful care at St. John's Home. Thank you Marsha and your staff - you made a difficult situation much easier.
Marsha Raines was incredible--responsive, caring and very knowledgeable. She helped me navigate options and provided excellent counsel. I highly recommend Aging Well to you if you are facing a difficult and emotional situation with a loved one who needs ongoing medical/rehabilitation placement and services. Marsha exceeded my expectations. Christine L.
Our initial consultation with Marsha Raines was very informative as it provided our family with a starting point concerning a long term care plan for our aging father. Her knowledge, experience and compassion allowed her to assess where each of us were in dealing with the emotional stress of the situation and provide recommendations to get us moving in the right direct with a long term care plan. Marsha helped us narrow our focus to ask the right questions regarding our next steps in care for our father. Thank you Marsha!
We were exceptionally fortunate to have Marsha Raines of Aging Well Rochester assist us in placing my wife in an appropriate facility. She guided me through all the paperwork, answered every question I had and resolved every impediment that we found in the process!Thanks so much Marsha!
We received great service from Marsha. Highly recommend. Navigating rehab and long-term care can be daunting. Marsha breaks down the ins and outs and helps bring the family to consensus on the best next steps.
Our family reached out to Aging Well Rochester for an understanding of the options and to seek clarity as to next steps for our elderly father regarding his future care. Marsha provided our family with the assistance, guidance and resources necessary to make a decision that was best for our father. Marsha's response to e-mails and phone calls was always in a timely manner and we truly appreciated all of her knowledge and expertise and would not hesitate to recommend Aging Well Rochester!!
Marsha understands the world of aging and the decisions that need to be made. She has both the education and experience to navigate a complex system to secure the best care as well as the expertise to guide throughout the process. My wife and I are grateful for her depth of knowledge, experience, skill, and compassion. We plan to use her as a resource for years to come!
Marsha Raines and her team have been a gift to my family. I'm on the West Coast, and her local knowledge has been extremely valuable in locating care options and knowing what to look for. Her direct style does not shy away from talking about tough issues, and in fact, makes it easier to devise a care plan. Marsha is a gem.
I truly appreciate the advice Marsha has to share. She has a great way of putting things into perspective and knows her stuff! Thank you for the advice, help, and input while trying to figure out the next steps with my parents.
I hired Marsha Raines to help me find the best Nursing Home for my husband. She was professional, quick to answer any questions I had, told me all I needed to do, and quick find him the right place. She was extremely helpful and compassionate with this difficult undertaking . I highly recommend anyone searching for a home for their loved one call Marsha before doing anything else!
Marsha level of expertise in this field has been tremendous. She explained the changes that occurred in the nursing homes industry. She took the time to research nursing homes for me and this afforded me time to focus on my mother's medical needs. I found Marsha to be resourceful and committed to helping me through this difficult time. I would highly recommend her service to you.
We moved our mom to a memory care residence, and in just a few short weeks we realized that it was not the right place for her. Distraught that we had made a horrible mistake, we needed help. I contacted Marsha and she met with our family to help sort things out. She took our concerns seriously, consulted with other industry professionals to assess our mom, and found us a better place for her. Just two weeks later we were able to move mom to a wonderful residence that cares for her properly and gives us all peace of mind. We are so grateful for Marsha and her ability to navigate the challenging world of eldercare on our behalf.
My husband, Bradley, needed to be moved to an adult home due to my inability to continue caring for his needs. I had no idea where to turn until Marsha Raines name was given to me. It is very difficult to navigate this process while you are under stress and her kindness and actions got the process started making it much less painful. I highly recommend her for her insurance knowledge which was extremely helpful to me.Mary Ellen Hindson, Rochester, NY
Marsha Raines assisted our family through the most trying time of our lives with Mom. She was extremely knowledgeable about placement, finances local care available and placement. She was personally involved in contacting the care facility to assist in mom getting placement.Her recommendation of the Presbyterian Home was spot on. All grants recommended came through and we were able to continue her care until she passed away.Thank you Aging Well. I would recommend her services highly.
My parents needed more assistance than I could give working full-time in another state in 2015. They were facing medical issues and needed to move out of their beloved home of 60 years. Since then, Marsha and her team have been instrumental in supporting my parents, and me, through good times and bad. They arranged movers, set up and attended doctor appointments, arranged for aides and companions to assist my parents in living safely and independently, and checked in on them to be sure they were comfortable and happy. Marsha has been an incredible resource to me, providing information and advice when needed in a direct yet sincere manner. I feel relieved to know that Marsha is there to help when I can’t be, keeping me informed, and checking in when needed. She is an incredible resource and advocate for the elderly and their families.
I contacted Marsha two weeks ago. I quickly learned that a PRI, exam to determine the level of care was needed to go into a nursing home. I was given 10 local agencies that could do it. I chose "Aging Well". Marsha was so personable on the phone, getting all the fact. She was able to arrange the exam in 5 days. The nurse showed up on time and my aunt chatted away. Two days later I got an urgent call from my aunt begging me to find her a new place immediately, she had a horrible weekend and wanted out. So, I called Marsha back that same day and asked her to take our case on and help get my aunt placed ASAP. She was pleased to help. She sent me the 3 applications to the facilities my aunt wanted by the end of the day. She kept in close contact with me the next couple of days with words of encouragement while I scrambled to get the information. I submitted the first one. Marsha personally went into the facility and spoke to the intact person giving her more details of my aunt. 5 days later, I moved my aunt into the facility she wanted. Here is a photo of her reaction. Marsha is focused, very knowledgeable, explains the process well, upbeat and is very encouraging. I would work with her again in a heart beat. She is the best.
I have worked with Marsha for 5 years now and have been consistently impressed with her diligence and dedication to providing top notch innovative and caring service. She creatively reaches out to others in the community to put together programs that will provide her clients with the high quality care they need and deserve. She is an extremely responsive and creative care manager!
I have been working with Marsha since 2008 planning for the aging process and various transitions for my parents.She has always been incredibly helpful, knowledgable and available. Over the years she has grown the organization, but still maintains that level of support. Her manner is caring and supportive yet direct, a quality that I have found very comforting and helpful during stressful transitions. I can't recommend highly enough.
Aging well Rochester did an AMAZING job of helping my family deal with my experience and Hospitalization with Covid 19. Marsha worked with my children and family and the hospital staff to make sure that I would receive the care needed upon my return home. I can't thank them enough for making this experience as easy as it could be.
Living more than 500 miles away from Rochester, visiting my mother as often as we would like was a challenge. Luckily I found Marsha Raines and her colleagues at Aging Well Rochester. Their visits to my mom were so frequent and warm that the staff at the nursing home thought they were family! Actually that's how we think of them. In addition to the care and support for my mother, the feedback and advice Marsha and her colleagues provided us was always timely and helpful. I consider the day I found Marsha to be one of my luckiest. I can't imagine the last few years without Aging Well Rochester! Thank you for enriching my mother's life and ours.