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The Senior Identity Crisis

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Who am I?

Most major religions/belief systems attempt to answer that question in different ways. Christianity teaches we are children of a living God and we have the choice to follow him. Other belief systems teach that humans are the unintended product of millions of years of unguided evolutionary changes and that our mission is to leave the world a better place than we found it. Still for many, there are functional realities which serve as markers for our more immediate identity.

I am a father. I am a husband. I am a wife. I am a provider. While the grand scope of our existence may indeed be characterized by service to a greater cause, our day-to-day realities are wrapped up in a far less exciting routine. For many of us, it’s time to make the donuts.

Many of the seniors we serve find themselves in a late-life identity crisis of sorts.

For years, Ethel was a devoted wife and mother. At the age of 82, she now finds herself without the familiarity of these responsibilities. Her children have long since left the house to lead lives of their own and her husband passed away 6 months ago. Each morning she wakes up and feels lost in her own life. Who am I?

Gerald was high powered business executive who made things happen. When he walked into the room, people stopped what they were doing and listened. He created things and worked for years to leave his mark on the world and provide for his family. He was well respected by his peers and community. Now those peers and that community are mostly gone- either having passed away or relocated to be closer to their families. Gerald is a stranger in this new world of octogenarians and no longer feels that he has much to contribute. Who am I?

Reaffirming this identity crisis is a prevailing attitude among the adult children of seniors.

“Mama’s in her golden years.”

“Daddy has lost a step or two, so we are just trying to keep him safe.”

While not malevolent in intent, statements like these illustrate a worldview that seniors have exhausted their useful purposes and are now a burden which must be tended to.

In 1998, John Glenn, of the Apollo space program, returned to space at the age of 77 as a member of the crew of the space shuttle Discovery. As the oldest person ever to be sent into space, there was a predictable amount of hoopla surrounding the event. Most journalists were appropriately respectful of the Astronaut turned Senator turned Astronaut. However, there were a few young muckrakers who worked to provoke Glenn with questions about him being nothing more than a publicity stunt for a NASA organization desperate to captivate waning public interest. While generally good natured in the face of journalistic heckling, Glenn became famously agitated at one point during a course of what he deemed to be inane questioning.

Glenn stood up. Glenn leaned forward and put both fists on the table and said:
“Look, just because I’m 77 doesn’t mean that I don’t still have dreams!”

I tell that story to each new crop of caregivers we bring on at Home Instead Senior Care because I believe it is emblematic of the opportunity we have to change the face of aging.
Aging doesn’t have to be characterized by fear and uncertainty. Getting older isn’t just a purgatory of physical and mental decline leading ultimately to death. Unencumbered by many of the daily tasks that defined us for the bulk of our lives, becoming a senior can provide an unbelievable opportunity to make a difference in the world around you- if only you are brave enough to ask the right question.

What’s your dream? What do want the next decade of your life to look like?

This is the starting point for every Home Instead Senior Care CAREGiver. This is the challenge I lay before them. What we do is much bigger than simple task management. Our job is to work to bring meaning and significance to each senior’s life to which we are privileged to be a part. If that is the goal we are pursuing, the sky is the limit.
We can change the face of aging. We can change the world.

What’s your dream?


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