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Blog Feature

By: Jim Stinson on March 26th, 2015

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"I Got Out Of The Shower"

assisted living | caregiver tips | Aging & Caregiving

0210EFP120618-150554_UMH_Com_CO“I got out of the shower, dried myself off, looked in the mirror, decided I looked good for someone over ninety years old, smiled, got dressed, and started my day.” 

How often I am reminded why I love working with older people. That reminder came again this morning when the above was the answer to, “Good morning, how are you?” There is the embracing of life that so many older adults exhibit. It is so contagious. It made me smile!

In fact, it made me think of so many older adults, riddled with so many effects of a long life, so many deficits, so many reasons to think of themselves in self-deprecating terms who, even so, look in the mirror every day, so to speak, and like what they see. It also made me think of so many others who respond so differently, seeing themselves negatively, and therefore have difficulty embracing life as it is, always longing for life as it was.

A challenge for those caring for or about older adults is being able to see the realities, the deficits, the ailments that often accompany us as we age, and at the same time find credible ways to inspire them to seek new life. How to do so is not an easy task! It is often filled with pitfalls.

If we are not careful with our words, they might sound like platitudes that ignore the struggles of aging. If we hear and see the struggles more than the possibilities, we may give the impression that there is no possible positive outcome to the situation. So how might such pitfalls be avoided or, at least, minimized? How do we help older adults look in the mirror and smile?

A clue is found in the observation; “I look good for someone over ninety years old.” My friend qualified his remarks with the words, for someone over ninety. He knew his age made a difference, but did not let that stop him from seeing someone worthy of another day. There is something freeing about the truth.

We cannot expect to look as good as we might once have looked. Aging does bring wrinkles, does change our physical contours, and does change our abilities. Caring for anyone of any age is most effective when it acknowledges the realities at hand, when it affirms what is visibly true, but witnesses to the reality that is not visible.

It is effective when it empathizes (gets what the person is saying and feeling) rather than sympathizes (feeling sorry for the person), reinforcing the sense that something is wrong and needs correcting. Because only then is it possible to say, even so! Even so there are possibilities! Even so my life has meaning!

In short, remember to empathize, to understand and affirm the realities, but even so to affirm that every day, every age, is a gift to be opened and embraced. Say it with actions and words. With my friend, create an environment in which the older adult can say, “I like what I see. I’m not bad for my age. In fact I look pretty good.”

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About Jim Stinson

I first became an ordained member of the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church fifty years ago. Through my time with the pastoral ministry, I worked extensively with older adults, many of whom were members of my congregation. I also served as the Director of Spiritual Life for United Methodist Homes from July 2002 until my retirement in July 2015, providing guidance and support to residents, family members, and staff. I love reminding people that “old” is not a dirty word and encourage others to adopt a healthy perspective on aging. I am also the author of a book, Just Because I Am Old – A Practical and Theological Guide To Caring, which was recently published in 2014.

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