Sense of Purpose Equals Happier Seniors

BeingMortalEventPicI’m involved in the local village for my town. We hosted an event with Dr. Atul Gawande, the best-selling author of Being Mortal. Over 300 residents joined us to watch Dr. Gawande talk and discuss how we can prepare my home town of McLean, VA for the rest of our lives. There is no simple answer.

Every adult should read his book. Not only does it frame the issues we face as caregivers, it gives us the facts about how to better plan for the rest of our lives.

Story after story discussed how simple things like caring for a pet, a plant, being able to make bad choices for yourself, all enhance the lives of those that need help with the activities of daily living. Just because someone needs help getting dressed, or reminders to help them navigate their day, doesn’t mean they no longer have the need to be needed.

The book delves into how many communities focus on safety, which is what the kids/loved one might want in a community. However, the person that is moving wants autonomy. And often, those interests conflict.

Several papers have recently run the story by Judith Graham “Retirees with a sense of purpose seem to do better health-wise as they age”. Apparently, dozens of studies have shown that seniors with a sense of purpose in life are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, disabilities, heat attacks or strokes, and more likely to live longer than people without an underlying motivation to “give purpose to their life.” The article goes on to discuss that most often what is lost is the opportunity to contribute meaningfully, rather than the interest to do so.

For those of us caring for loved ones, are their ways we can incorporate more responsibility into their lives? If mom gives up her car keys — can you make sure she can still volunteer at church? If you move dad from his home, can he take his dog and still care for him? Instead of doing it all for them because it’s quicker, are there things you can give them to tackle? Sorting socks, folding towels, watering plants?

For most American’s, “independence will become impossible” (Being Mortal). Unless we have an instant death, someone is going to have to speak for us and the statistics say 9 out of 10 Americans will need someone to speak on their behalf before they die (Veteran’s Administration & NIH Study.) Are we even ready for the rest of our lives?

It’s time we reconsider how to have a good life all the way to the end. Is there a way you can help make this difference in someone’s life now?  Challenged.

** If you are looking for resources to help you, check to see if there is a local village in your area. They not only have social opportunities, and vetted resources, but also might be able to offer some ways to volunteer back into your own neighborhood. You can visit this page to see if there is a village near you. 

11 thoughts on “Sense of Purpose Equals Happier Seniors

  1. I was recommended to read Being Mortal some time ago – it is a very though provoking book and I, too, am envious that you got to meet the author. Facing the reality of end of life is not something that everyone wants to do – but talking about it is much better than not as more of us live longer. I hope that changing attitudes amongst health professionals will lead to more people being realistic about this subject and more eldercare institutions including emotional well being in their care offerings….

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