Age-friendly passion is personal
I recently attended the American Society on Aging conference and took part in a study by a researcher at the University of California at San Francisco about how aging in place and age-friendly efforts make a difference in the lives of people living in the community.
It was a voluntary request, but I was glad to participate because I think the question is at the core of why this movement is so important. The interview prompted me to reflect upon why this work really matters to me, and I thought about my own experiences with so many people I have encountered over the years.
I thought about my grandmother, and I recall how she struggled after her sister died. She was a young widow when my grandfather died in WWII and she lived with her sister for the remainder of life; yet in her late 60’s she fell apart after her sister’s death and was unable to manage living alone. Though she struggled with a variety of health maladies, and caregiving wasn’t always easy, I fondly recall that period of my life. We were lucky to have each other - she lived with my husband and I for the next 10 years of her life.
I also think about the hundreds and hundreds of people I encountered from 1977 to 2002 during my work as a nurse and social worker in hospitals, nursing homes, and home settings over the years. Time and time again I witnessed people who were unable to return home or live independently for a variety of reasons that included changes in health status, inability to manage living independently, a home setting that would no longer meet their needs or a lack of social supports to assist with personal or home needs.
In some cases, people could no longer drive and had no access to critical transportation needs such as getting to and from dialysis; in other cases, people had no family or friends that could assist them with needed personal care. I was always pleased to scour the local health services and community supports that were able to be put into place to keep people at home, but many times, those services could have helped long before our encounter but people had no idea how to access the information. In other cases, the services were limited and unable to really help. In all of these cases, people simply wanted to go back home, which is something we all want.
The interview prompted me to think about the people I have already known - and the many more to come – who will face the same struggles. And I think about the premise of the age-friendly work which aims to promote active and engaged living throughout the lifecourse – and to raise awareness of the changes throughout life that make all of us a little more age-friendly. And Age-Friendly Sarasota’s model of engagement, with government, businesses, nonprofits, people, and the media, illustrate the power of collaboration, with compassion and respect. Yes, this is why I am so passionate about this work.