Yesterday I went to see a new doctor. As we were talking during the appointment, he asked me about my work. When I explained my social work background, and the care management and home care services we provide to older adults, he responded, “Wow, I bet that’s depressing.”
This, I have found, is a pretty common response when people hear that I work in geriatrics. It amazes me each time I hear it, especially from a doctor, because it is so far from the truth.
What is it about getting older that inspires such fear and loathing? Why is growing old necessarily equated with sadness and isolation? Is there another way to conceptualize the process of aging?
For each of us, the answer to these questions is different, and certainly dependent on our personal experience. Some of us have positive memories of fun times with very active grandparents, while others have seen their older relatives suffer from chronic conditions that have impaired their quality of life. In my case, my mother died in her early 40s. Like many whose parents or grandparents have died young, I look at aging as a gift. So many people don’t get the chance to have a 50th or 60th birthday, let alone a 90th. So, you might accumulate some spots and saggy areas along the way; it is truly better than the alternative.
Working with older adults, for me, is a privilege. Each client I have known has been an individual, with his or her own strong points, flaws, and particular sense of humor. When I learn about the losses they have suffered, their accomplishments, their goals, and their fears, I am struck by each person’s uniqueness and value.
I did my best to share with my doctor the perspective that aging isn’t so bad. In fact, it is to be celebrated. Wouldn’t it be great if we could spread that idea, one person at a time?