Dr. Al Danenberg ● Nutritional Periodontist
March 12, 2023
At some point in life, we all experience the aging of our loved ones. If we’re lucky, we’ll eventually become the “older folks”. What does that mean for us? Just because we’re aging doesn’t mean there’s a loss in value. In fact, in some cultures, the elders are revered to have more wisdom and value to share.
For this week’s blog, I want to shine a light on my firsthand experience after my recent move to a community comprised of “older folks”. I’ve made some eye-opening observations, and I want to share them along with the importance of being relevant.
My wife and I are “older folks” – both of us are almost 76 years old. We moved into a senior living community at the end of 2022. Because of my wife’s health issues and my cancer journey, it seemed to be the best move for us. And with the real estate market where we live moving significantly higher, it also was a wise financial decision. Our home sold quickly.
Although we are seniors, we are part of the younger “older folks” in our new community of elders. A large number of residents are in their 80s, and a few are nearing 100 and older.
Many in our new community are living independently as we are. Some are in assisted living apartments, and a smaller group is in the memory care units.
The independent and assisted living residents interact together for dining and social activities. And all residents receive at least one meal a day included in their monthly rent. Most of the residents either talk about or are concerned about the following topics …
- Food – quality, taste, variety
- “Happy Hour” – an hour before dinner where many residents gather in the “Pub” to socialize, have some wine, and often listen to live musical entertainment
- Physical activity – exercise, yoga, walking, physical therapy
- Mental stimulation – books, card games, trips to various venues around town, trivia contests
- Medical concerns – personal aches and pains, personal dental health, doctor’s appointments
- Financial concerns – adequate sources of income for their remaining years
- The death of a friend, loved one, or spouse
Our facility is well-equipped for social functions. There are 2 libraries; 2 dining halls; a “Pub”; an outdoor patio with tables, chairs, and a gas grill; a large activity room; several smaller rooms dedicated to card games, table games, a pool table; and a theater with seating for about 50 people with amazingly comfortable leather chairs.
My Firsthand Account
Although this senior living complex has all the accoutrements for socializing, my interpretation is that the residents are just surviving or trying to thrive. However, I have not found any real discussion or effort to engender personal creativity among the residents.
Shortly after I moved into the complex, I got to know a 92-year-old women who published her first book of poetry when she was 85! But otherwise, I have not come across many people here who are trying to recreate themselves or be productive other than just living out their remaining years.
I am discovering that there is an underlying change in the way many elders think about themselves. They are playing out their final journey, and they know it. Being in a senior living facility only confirms this. Some residents question their relevance in society, and a few are deeply depressed.
My experience is that some of the residents are saddened by the fact that their once-close family members are less accessible than they were when they were living in their own homes. Sons, daughters, and grandchildren have their own lives and seem not to spend as much time with those older folks in a senior living facility.
Could the loss of self-relevance be a major factor that is suppressing the desire to be creative or productive?
Older Folks in Traditional or Nontraditional Cultures
Life for elders in traditional cultures is markedly different from elders in nontraditional cultures.
Traditional Cultures are tribes or other small groups of people that have not been affected by technology or the modern world. Nontraditional cultures are based on modern beliefs, rules, symbols, and principles.
In traditional cultures, older folks provide support, community involvement, and teaching. They pass down knowledge, shared experiences, and wisdom to the younger generations. These elders are held in positions of high esteem, honor, and respect. As seniors, they continue to be creative and productive for themselves and their community.
However, like most of us, I live in a nontraditional culture, which includes most of the U. S. Materialism is revered and efforts to make a person look “young” are the norm. All you need to do is to watch the commercials on TV to understand the emphasis on youth. Growing old is considered a curse – a time of worthlessness, alienation, estrangement, and uselessness. Efforts are made to continuously look young, feel young, act young, and medically stay young with cosmetic surgery.
For us “older folks”, our nontraditional youthful society seems to put us away somewhere. And elders begin to feel dejected, left out, unwanted, and obsolete.
Some seniors begin to encounter a dissonance between whom they feel they are on the inside and how they appear to the world on the outside. In my opinion, these older folks can lose their desire and impetus to be creative and productive. They can lose their desire to live.
My Integration with my New Family
Sue and I see ourselves as integral parts of this new family of older folks. I have had the privilege to become active in my new community of seniors. I feel creative and productive.
I continue to write, consult virtually around the world, and publish my blogs. I also share my knowledge and experience with my new friends in the community.
To date, I have created 3 PowerPoint Presentations for all residents who are interested. All my presentations have been scheduled in our theater. I’ve presented the first two already, and I will present the third in April.
#1. Dental Plaque is Healthy – Until It’s Not!
This was well received since no one knew anything about the facts I discussed and demonstrated. I also was able to give free samples of Revitin Toothpaste to all who attended. It was as if I was giving them a Christmas gift.
#2. Eat As If Your Life Depends On It – Because It Does!
This was another appreciated but highly controversial discussion. It seems that the management of my senior living complex is bent on providing residents with more carbohydrates than is healthy along with minimum red meat protein sources. There are pasta dishes, bread, pork and chicken choices, fried foods, and sauces with liquid oils – but very few preparations of beef. At the end of the meals, most residents relish ice cream for dessert, but they always want something sweet for dessert. Needless to say, I denounced these food decisions. Interestingly, the daily-changing menu does allow for à la carte selections which include beef patties and fresh fruit. My task was (and still is) to educate them about my animal-based diet with some fresh fruit and how to order these foods for their daily meals from the menu. Obviously, this is still a work in progress.
#3. 7 Paths to Wellbeing
This talk will be an eye-opener for many. It’s based on my Blog Get a Handle on Overall Wellness – 7 Pathways to Success. I’ll be discussing specifics that each resident can incorporate into their life to help assure their wellbeing as best as possible.
As I enter the Older Folk chapter of my life, my goals are to be relevant and to continue to stay relevant. I am motivated to remain creative and productive.
- I want to be physically active by participating in physical therapy and exercise programs.
- I want to be mentally alert by preparing educational programs for the residents along with my writings and consultations.
- I want to maintain my spiritual connection by reading books on my belief systems and testimonials of individuals from all over the world.
Aging to me is an opportunity to continue to grow productively and creatively. Social interaction with residents is my active means to share my knowledge and experience as well as be relevant. In the journey of life, aging is not an excuse to give up and settle for mediocrity or worse.
Do you have elders in your life? What questions do you want to ask them? Or are you one of those “older folks” who feel disengaged? Share your thoughts and ask your questions in the Comments Section below. I’ll get you the answers!
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