I’ve always been a voracious reader. And as a librarian, I’ve known the joy of connecting the perfect book with the willing reader. A college friend recently pointed me to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande.
Gawande tackles the subject of aging with a broad policy lens, and focuses on personal stories. He shares his own experiences as a surgeon and son plus those of elders and caregivers he’s interviewed.
Western medicine and society often ignore the reality of aging. Many doctors are trained to fix and cure with less skill listening and discerning what patients really want from their lives. Neither the doctor as authority figure nor the doctor as information guide is really adequate. Instead, the doctor needs to take time to understand the patient’s goals for life and what treatment decisions will support these goals.
There has been a historic shift from elders living with their families, often straining the relationship boundaries, to living in retirement communities, often restricting elders of their independence. In these institutional settings too often the priorities of safety and efficiency overtake the highly prized values of privacy and autonomy.
Life becomes more about avoiding risks (falling primarily) and less about living. Respecting individual preferences and at the same time cultivating social support are key ingredients to successful aging for seniors.
I love teaching seniors chair-based yoga. Getting it right doesn’t matter. “I zig when you zag sometimes but I figure if I’m moving, it’s good for me,” said a woman in her 90’s with a twinkle. Some may strain to hear my voice and walk with an unsteady gait but the generosity of spirit is strong. I find less ego and more wisdom. Life’s experiences have narrowed but perspective has broadened.
We always include the “remembering the heart” meditation by author and physician Rachel Naomi Remen and based on American Sign Language. The words and movement open the heart and feel good.