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Fall Into Wellness: On Being Relevant The SeniorScape®

I've always loved crime dramas or mysteries, primarily for the ingenuity involved in the story creation and solutions. But the other night I was watching one of my favorite shows that also has strong family content: Blue Bloods. I especially enjoy the scenes around the Sunday dinner table. depicting the reality of family conversations, dynamics, and disagreements. Though the content is entirely different, it was reminiscent of the family conversations around my dinner table growing up where current events, politics and events of the day were always topics of conversation. My father instilled in me the importance of understanding what is going on in your community, your state, your country and the world, in order to be a responsible citizen and voter. He also instilled the importance of curiosity and asking questions to learn, understand, and decipher truth.

Getting back to Blue Bloods. I also find the span of generations generations each with their interpretation, point of view and challenges particularly interesting.

Once again the recent rerun I watched brought into the conversation, albeit ever so briefly that one could miss it entirely, one line that speaks to a pillar of wellbeing for older adults that is often overlooked.

The family sits down to watch what is billed as movie night. However, instead we see video of a grocery store heist where Henry pulls out a gun to save the day for the shop owner, avoiding store theft and preventing harm to anyone in the store.

The congratulations range from; "you're a hero pop," to "you still got it grandpa", to "you're the man". Henry is elated, sharing how he felt to be back in the role that was his entire professional life. However, it was the line he utters, that struck me. He says, "I felt relevant."

We forget the importance that purpose and relevance play in our well being, especially for older adults.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs applies to people of all ages. Self-Actualization lies at the top of the pillar, which includes, creativity, acceptance, purpose, meaning and inner potential, all of which are not lost or do not diminish with age.

Despite the criticism that Maslow's theory is questionable because it is based on biographical analysis of a small number of highly educated self-actualized white males considered (i.e.,Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Beethoven) and a 1970 study which included two highly self-actualized females (i.e., Eleanor Roosevelt and Mother Teresa), Henry's remark punctuates the point that numerous contemporary studies confirm on the contribution of purpose and relevance to overall wellbeing.

Years may wrinkle the skin, but the giving up of dreams, desires, goals, passion and purpose can wrinkle the soul.

Loss of physical capacity and/or function have no bearing on self-actualization. As a society, as a community, as a family, and as institutions caring for older adults, we lose sight of the importance that we need to offer opportunities for self-actualization: realizing and maintaining personal potential, self-fulfillment, creativity, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

If you are an older adults, an important ingredient to self-actualization is finding new paths rather than sticking to ones that are routine, familiar, and safe. New experiences and learning are food to the soul and the brain.

Since it was first voted on and established by the United Nations on December 14, 1990, the International Day of Older People is observed each year on October 1st. The holiday which is a focus of aging organizations and the United Nationals Program on Ageing was observed for the first time on October 1, 1991. In addition, there is an initiative to celebrate October 1 as International Longevity Day, brining heightened awareness to aging as a medical challenge in need of a biomedical solution.

There is an annual theme that becomes the focus for the International Day of Older Persons. The list below are focus areas that the United Nations consider important to this topic.

  • 2000: Towards A Society for All Ages.

  • 2004: Older Persons in an Intergenerational Society.

  • 2005: Ageing in the New Millennium.

  • 2006: Improving the Quality of Life for Older Persons: Advancing UN Global Strategies.

  • 2007: Addressing the Challenges and Opportunities of Ageing.

  • 2008: Rights of Older Persons.

  • 2009: Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the International Year of Older Persons: Towards a Society for All Ages.

  • 2011: The Growing Opportunities & Challenges of Global Ageing.

  • 2012: Longevity: Shaping the Future.

  • 2013: The Future We Want: What Older Persons are Saying.

  • 2014: Leaving No One Behind: Promoting a Society for All

  • 2015: Sustainability and Age Inclusiveness in the Urban Environment.

  • 2016: Take a Stand Against Ageism.

  • 2017: Stepping into the Future: Tapping the Talents, Contributions and Participation of Older Persons in Society.

  • 2018: Celebrating Older Human Rights Champions.

  • 2019: The Journey to Age Equality.

  • 2020: Pandemics: Do They Change How We Address Age and Ageing?

  • 2021: Digital Equity for All Ages.

  • 2022: Resilience of Older Persons in a Changing World.

  • 2023: Fulfilling the Promises of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for Older Persons: Across Generations

A person at the age of 90 was asked what he had on his ‘To Do’ list before he died. The person was former President Jimmy Carter. One item on his list was Middle East Peace. The other was eradicating a crippling parasitic worm. He stated his wish with these words, “that the last guinea worm dies before I do.” The guinea worm has been the scourge for millions of people for many years in various parts of the world. Passionate about ending this disease, in 1986 the Carter Center began a campaign to end guinea worm from the world. At that time, there were 3.5 million cases of guinea worm worldwide, in 2006 there were 25,000 cases. Without fanfare or technology, the number of cases has steadily decreased reportedly reaching an all-time low in 2022 at only 13 human cases worldwide, pushing the disease to being close to eradication. Upon turning 99 October 1, 2023, Jimmy Carter is close to reaching a goal that has continued to live inside of him from his 90th birthday to this day.

The need to fulfill a goal, continue to live with a sense of purpose, to give to the greater cause of humanity and the world community, is something that lives inside of all of us.

Being relevant, as it was for Henry, is not only about being able to function in our previous professional role. There are many other ways to find purpose and remain relevant. One of the most rewarding can be sharing wisdom, encouragement, and support for younger generations.

If you are family member or caregiver for an older adult in any living environment, whether in or outside of a person's usual home, it is essential to find ways of offering opportunities for relevance, personal growth, and creativity in order to continue for them to continue on life's journey that adds joy and a reason for living.

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