What do our senior adults fear? What do they fear and seldom share?
A fictional Tom Booker in “Horse Whisperer” reluctantly replied “Getting old and getting useless.”
But we know there is more. Much more. I have spent the last 30 years treating and mentoring senior adults with physical and emotional losses, written and published about them, researched, reflected and communicated with them. As we age, we are prone to lose: loss of partners and other loved ones, family, friends, important social and cultural roles, changes in health status, and especially a loss of continuity of beliefs and values.
Such losses create sadness, grieving and lamentations that affect how senior adults make their way in the world, their expectations, and sometimes even about God. Many who I have worked with suffer from such deep emotional pain that fulfilling their life’s goals and dreams seems to be no longer possible. Assessing this loss-grieving and eventual journey to transformation through newly designed “Quality of Life” parameters can offer us an in-depth lens to more meaningfully understand them, more wisely engage with them, and more keenly impact our clinical and direct family-based services with them.
Senior adults need people they can rely on, trust and believe in. They may need caregivers; most often they want family members, mostly daughters and other women they can rely on, trust and believe in. (Women who also have their own families and responsibilities to attend to).
How can we best train and consult with caregivers to be such people given the challenging circumstances families face? Since our work with geriatric populations is difficult and very important, let us continue to seek the knowledge, skills and intention to be of service to those entrusted to our care.
These are the issues we must confront as we explore the journey of senior adults to better understand them and enhance their efforts to cope with their emotional challenges and degree of physical obstacles. A society is oftentimes measured by how it treats its very young and very old; the challenge to care for them and care for their caregivers is a worthy challenge.
Alan S. Wolkenstein, MSW, ACSW, is a retired clinical professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.