Monday, May 6, 2013

Stories of Positive Aging: Recalibrate your Lens by Interviewing an "Elder"

The following was written last July by  Life Transition/"Retirement" Coach, Dorian Mintzer, Founder of the Boomers and Beyond Special Interest Group and co-author of The Couple's Retirement Puzzle, helps self-reliant boomers reinvent themselves in the next stage of life. Visit her site at:

Last LWTBO, I started with the theme of stories of positive aging-and suggested paying attention to the lens through which you look at your life and the lives of others.  I'd love to hear what you've been discovering.  Please either send me an email at or post on my

Attitudes make such an important difference in how we approach life. In the gerontology course I recently taught we spent time debunking some of the "myths" of aging such as older people can't learn, older people aren't creative and aging means disengaging and decline. For each myth we countered it with examples of people who made conscious and intentional choices to continue to learn, staying vital, and engaging with others, in spite of some of the physical challenges of aging.  

The assignment for the students was to interview a person over age 65 - to learn about their lives, what were their joys, the challenges and obstacles and what advice they would give younger people.  The interviewees ranged in age from late 60s to early 90s. Some still lived in their home and downsized to a smaller condo, one lived in an assisted living program and one lived in a nursing home. The end of the assignment was reflecting on what each student learned about aging from this interview. 

Each student wrote a paper as well as "brought the person to life" with a presentation to the rest of the class.  I was impressed with the wonderful stories of positive aging. Over and over we learned about resilience, the importance of social supports and intergenerational connections, and how often, in little as well as some big ways, each person found a way to "live their purpose" although not necessarily realizing that they were "leaving their legacy" through their acts.  We also learned together about some of the services needed to provide support and stimulation which opened up the importance of volunteer roles.  The goal was to both understand people who are already our "elders" but also to work backwards and to think more consciously about how each one of us is aging and how we want to age.

I recommend this exercise to all of you. I encourage you to interview an older person such as a parent or grandparent, neighbor or parent or grandparent of a friend.  Give them an opportunity to tell you their story; what they've learned, some of their joys and challenges and what advice they would like to give to younger people. If possible, have them record their story as part of an "oral history" for your family or for their family. It's both a gift to them and to future generations. Most people love to tell their stories. My students commented that for the most part they had not sat down and talked with an older person about their lives.  Many of their assumptions about "older people" were challenged. 

They saw that when people had interests throughout life, they were more able to continue with these pursuits as they aged. They also saw people who took a risk and decided it wasn't too late to try something new.  Some of the goals and dreams needed to be modified due to physical changes. However, the theme was that if you allow yourself to set new dreams and goals that you can realistically accomplish, rather than hold on to the out-dated ones, you have the opportunity to feel pleasure and satisfaction rather than find yourself "always falling short."

No comments:

Post a Comment