by: Anthony Cirillo - CCAL board member and healthcare consultant and aging expert
There is a Taco Bell Super Bowl commercial in which a bunch of elderly folks get rowdy while the song “We Are Young” by a band called Fun plays in Spanish. It’s irreverent, but it is fun! The English lyrics read:
Tonight / We are young / So let’s set the world on fire / We can burn brighter / Than the sun.
On most days you probably don’t feel like you can set the world on fire. But caregiving doesn’t have to be a bad experience. Caregiving is an opportunity to give back and have a closer personal relationship with the person to whom you provide care.
Over 20 years of performing for elders in nursing homes and assisted living communities, I’ve learned a number of life lessons. One woman who was blind and in a wheelchair had a better quality of life — in a place we associate with death — than many I know on the “outside.”
I have observed eight traits of elders living a quality life that can teach us all something. In fact, I turned these lessons into a keynote presentation called “The Meaning of Life,” which I give for caregiving groups and long-term care professionals.
- Have purpose. Ruth Anne, a resident in a Charlotte nursing home, was president of the resident’s council, delivered mail, and never kept still. When I interviewed her for my book, Who Moved My Dentures?, she said she prayed to God every day for her purpose. I mean, wow! Do you know your purpose in life? If so, great — but understand that it will evolve and change over time, so watch out for the signs. You will not be a caregiver forever.
- Stay active. Why is my 91-year-old mom still getting around and driving my sister crazy? She went dancing three times a week up until her mid-eighties. My equally spry mother-in-law is in her early eighties, walks every day, and takes no medications. Put time aside on your calendar for fitness.
- Laugh every day. The residents I have the most fun with are those who kid around with me, like Esther, my designated heckler. Bring humor into your life and workplace. Listen to comedy. Watch something humorous. Buy a book on stand-up comedy. Open yourself up to fun.
- Learn something new. One of the groups I write about in my book calls itself The Raging Grannies, a protest group of elders who use song parodies. They involve other residents by having them help with costumes and songs. It keeps them young because their minds are constantly stimulated. As Jim Rohn said, “Formal education will get you a job. Self-education will get you rich.”
- Nurture friendships. The strong friendships that develop in assisted living communities are amazing. Seniors find that the social aspect of the community is life-sustaining. There are many studies on the value of friendship and socialization. If you are shy and reserved, try to step out of your comfort zone and talk to and meet new people. Be a good listener. Estranged from someone? Life is too short. Make amends.
- Have a great attitude. My friend Jean, a CCRC resident who has long passed, when first introduced to her new living arrangement saw it not with pain but with possibilities. This shy, widowed housewife embraced community life and came to all of my performances. The importance of a positive attitude has been beaten to death. But know this: Your attitude reflects on you, and you — yes you — have your own personal brand of attributes that others will use to define you.
- Be grateful and
- Be loving. We’ll put the last two together. The seniors I hang out with have unconditional love for people. But what really strikes me is how grateful they are for everything. Try this: Every day, be grateful for three things in your life. Keep a journal documenting one positive thing that has happened to you that day. Miracles are everywhere. When you are grateful, they show up.
Your health and well-being are important. Don’t sacrifice them as you care for a loved one. Pay attention to what you can learn from all of this. Your caregiving is a journey, and the rewards are the lessons you learn from paying attention to that journey.