Learning From My Elders


Learning From My EldersWorking as a nurse in Home Health and Hospice Care has given me so much perspective on life. Some might think this type of work sounds “depressing,” but I’ve found it to be thought-provoking and inspiring. This work has gifted me a picture of what a lifespan might look like, and has given me a framework for examining my own life.

Here are a few things I’ve learned and pondered as I’ve cared for people in these settings:

You will get old if you live long enough.

It seems obvious, but our culture tells us to fight this truth. We are made to believe we can prevent aging and win the war with Father Time. We glamorize youth and adopt a mentality of “stay young at all costs!” But if you live long enough, old age comes for you. Maybe it’s something to be embraced and not feared (note: I’m working on this myself).

Your health matters. 

While we can’t literally prevent aging, we can support healthy aging with a backbone of good health. Your physical and mental fitness in mid-life sets you up for the decades ahead. Current research suggests a relationship between your health in mid-life and your risk for significant cognitive decline later in life. My anecdotal observation is that elderly people who continue moving their bodies, remain socially connected, and hold a deep sense of purpose in their lives, fare better in old age. Learning From My Elders

You will have to do hard things. 

Aging is not fun. In old age, tasks like brushing your teeth, fixing a meal, or getting up from a chair can become incredibly difficult. Independence may be lost. The reality is, this sucks! I cannot imagine the frustration that builds when a trip to the bathroom takes 45 minutes. I’ve seen many people graciously accept their limitations, while also maintaining a positive mindset and can-do attitude. This reality inspires me to hold gratitude for the simple actions I perform day in and day out, and to maintain a good attitude in hard situations. 

You can’t hide who you are. 

The fact is, there are crotchety old people and there are kind ones. No one has made me feel worse than an 85-year-old woman yelling at me because I made her bed incorrectly and her coffee is cold. My theory is that as we age, our true character shines, good or bad. If you are short-tempered and easily frustrated, these qualities will reveal themselves. (Note: My point is probably not scientifically accurate because changes to the brain can affect mood and personality.)

Hobbies are important. 

Would you rather be 80 staring at the TV for 12 hours a day OR 80 and still sewing, painting, writing, baking, playing music, reading, gardening, walking and/or conversing with others? I’ll take the latter. Seeing elderly people engaging in hobbies has inspired me to prioritize my own. These activities can give your day structure, help keep your brain sharp, give you a creative outlet, and can keep your hands working. 

Your life’s work follows you. 

There can be a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose that follows people into old age, as they reflect back on their life’s work. Whether it’s a career or building a family, what you do matters. It’s been said that people regret more of what they didn’t do, as opposed to what they did. I’m not suggesting you do it all, but consider committing yourself to something, and doing it well. Put your gifts and talents to work – don’t stop learning, don’t stop growing, and don’t stop dreaming. 

Relationships are everything. 

It’s a harsh reality to see an old woman living in a small apartment, with just a few items to her name. At the end of life, your possessions mean nothing and your relationships mean everything. On a practical note, if you have relationships, you will have people to care for you. On a deeper level, relationships nourish your spirit, improve your mental health, give you purpose, and enrich your daily life. 

As a final note, I encourage you to spend time with older people. They have something important to teach you. We need each other. 



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here