Photo by indigo mint via CC
I lived in a generational ghetto for decades. From 18 to 48, most of my time was spent with young adults.
I was either a college student or a college instructor for those thirty years.
And because I moved all over the country to pursue my education and my career, I only had limited interactions with my grandparents during the last decade of their lives.
If I regarded older adults at all, I did so through gross stereotypes.
I assumed that once people hit 65, they coast for a couple of decades without much conflict or drama until the last three to six months of their lives. Then the monotony of their lives is replaced with intense struggles with acute health problems until death overtakes them.
Older adults, from my view, did not experience much change after leaving the workforce in their mid 60s. Because they had decades of experience that allowed them to get everything into a predictable routine, every area of their life appeared to be in stasis for several decades until their bodies finally, briefly and dramatically betrayed them.
I had a very anemic view of late adulthood.It wasn’t until my own parents, step-parents and in-laws started turning 70 that I realized an important fact: older adults have very rich, complex and dynamic lives.
I observed these six parent figures of mine spending a lot of time, energy and resources managing changes to their careers, family structures, finances, levels of health, use of free time and a variety of other realms. How little I knew about the complexities of life for the generations above me.
I have missed great opportunities to interact with my grandparents in their late adulthood. However, I still have the opportunity to observe, learn from, enjoy and serve those who are one generation older than I. For the last two years, I have felt the “winged chariots” as Andrew Marvel describes the scarcity of time. This prompted me to leave my career in higher education.
Now I am hyperfocused on older adults both formally as I pursue a master’s degree in Aging Studies and informally through reading about older adults, watching films about them, socializing with them, and in all ways saturating myself this stage of life that I previously neglected. Population pyramids for 2000 and projections into the future show that older adults will live longer, so my interest will probably be mirrored by news media and by social services over the next three decades.
I have more in common with older adults than I at first recognized.
Older adults still learn, they still have conflicts with others to manage, they still have goals, they still make contributions to their communities, and they still have fun. I am also learning a great deal that is unique to those 65+. I am learning about their childhoods during eras before I was born. I see their wrestles with government programs I previously could not identify. I am learning about the complexities of their retirement programs. I am watching them connect with extended family through a variety of media.
And--yes--I do see changes to their health. However, their health challenges are often not acute but chronic. Luckily, many of these health problems are manageable than I previously imagined--provided adequate resources are in place.
This blog is dedicated to the generation above me. I hope to include information and insights that will help people my own age--many of whom have been trapped in generational ghettos--so that we can better understand late adulthood. Hopefully, we can make changes today so that we can 1) better appreciate our elders and 2) better manage our own aging process.
For related information, see these posts:
Talking with Older Adults: Serving as a Witness
Late Adulthood: A Time to Bless
Spirituality and Older Adults: Ask, Don't Tell
Don't Be a Boy Scout: Preserving the Independence of Older Adults