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Old Age: It Does Not Have to be Dreaded

We spend so much time talking about the challenges of finding the right long-term care facility and the horror of some nursing home experiences, that its rare when we actually share a positive story about the aging process.

It is important to point out that growing old does not have to be fought at all costs. Many seniors are thriving, both inside and outside long-term care facilities. So long as basic standards are met, the ability to enjoy one’s golden years often depends on personal conduct and perspective.

The Joy of Old Age
This weekend the New York Times Sunday Review blog published an editorial that is worth reading. The piece, entitled “The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding)” shares an optimistic perspective that is often lacking in reports of seniors and their activities.

The author turned 80 years old this week. He writes, “Eighty! I can hardly believe it. I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize it is almost over.” This perspective is shared by many elderly residents who don’t feel nearly as old they are. The body and the mind are not necessarily automatically in alignment when it comes to one’s age and societal expectations about what that means for one’s life.

In writing about his age, the editorial writer, well-known author and neurologist Oliver Sacks, explains that he remains incredibly grateful for the experience he has already had and his “intercourse with the world.”

That is not to say that the aging process is all glory. Sacks laments in the sadness of losing so many loved ones along the way, and of the fear of developing debilitating ailments (like dementia or a stroke). But, at the end of the day, every age has its advantages and disadvantages. Instead of dwelling on what changes for the worse with age, one must focus on what improves.

Sacks writes that as he has grown older he feels “not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective.”

Thriving in the Nursing Home
The NYT opinion piece is a useful juxtaposition to the refrains often made about care for elderly in long-term care facilities. Some of the complacency that we currently see regarding the mediocre care provided to residents can be attributed to the assumption that it is all “making the best of a bad situation.” When a senior moves into a nursing home, it is not a guarantee that their quality of life will decrease or their ability to meaningfully interact with the community is over. Moving into a nursing home is not about ending life–but prolonging it with special care. The point of receiving that care is to keep alive to make new memories and share in experiences with friends and loved ones.

We would all do well to remember the “joy of old age” as we consider the need to demand reasonable care for all nursing home residents.

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