Working with Elders – Raising Questions

Fran J Joseph, USA
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Tuesday, 12 March 2013 13:18:24

“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.” -  Eleanor Roosevelt

My work has taken many twists and turns throughout my adult life. I am an audiologist by education, have studied Polarity Therapy, been a successful crafter and owned an art gallery on the coast of Maine. For over twenty years I worked with elders and their family caregivers, in the northeastern part of the United States, even as I pursued these other seemingly disparate career paths. And of course, I am now a Laughter Yoga (LY) Teacher. Yay!!!

My grandfather was the most important person in my childhood, my safe haven and my hero. My dedication to elder focused work is part homage to him. It is also born of my belief in the beauty and power of people working together to envision and create more sustainable and life affirming ways to organize communities so that each of us can grow old with dignity.

The main focus of my work has been to support elders’ almost universal desire to continue to live at home, “age in place”, rather than move to a nursing home or other type of care facility.  Over the years I wore many hats, sometimes directing non-profit organizations, sometimes working as a consultant and at other times developing and implementing policy at the state level. I witnessed great loss, disability and even, abuse. Immersed in that world it was easy to assume that most, if not all elders, are in need of special care that is not readily available to them. It was a skewed view as I learned through the years. And yet, it is a perception held by many, at least in the United States.

The challenge is that we tend to hear more about the problems, the unmet needs, the concerns about decline, than about the elders who are staying active and strong in their own homes surrounded by their loved ones. With advances in medical science and greater awareness of the importance of wellness and nutrition, people are not only living longer but healthier more connected lives. This shift lends itself to a more strengths based view of elders and to thinking about old age as a time for new possibilities and growth. It allows us to expand our thinking about bringing Laughter Yoga to elder populations beyond the important and therapeutic work being offered to elders who are challenged by illness and disability. How can LY enrich the lives of this population – the elders who are and hope to remain well and vital? How can we employ LY to support their wishes to stay in their own homes as they grow older? What is the outreach we need to undertake to reach these elders? LY’s health benefits are well documented. Strong heart, improved circulation, increased lung capacity, and strengthened immune function are potent protection against incapacity and convincing evidence to entice elders and the health care professionals who serve them. I believe little needs to be adapted for this population, perhaps the pace if you tend to engage in high aerobic LY sessions, perhaps a better balance between LY and deep breathing exercises. In my culture, our focus is too often on treatment rather than prevention. We tend to wait for disease process to begin before we intervene. LY has great potential to support healthy living well into old age.

Also, I imagine LY being a spiritual resource and tool that can help elders transition from a work oriented sense of self to one alive with renewed meaning, purpose and joy. LY has the potential to heal loneliness, isolation and depression – all threats to well-being and self care and often precursors for decline. I know from my own experience in Interlaken, where I studied last year to become a LY Teacher, that LY opens hearts to sharing and service. I came home inspired to start my own weekly LY club that has been meeting since July 2009. I think it is part of the LY magic – part biochemistry, a pinch of catharsis, the light of spirit and a large dose of meditative balance. I wanted to give away what I had learned. The baby boomer generation is creating an oncoming surge of older people at a time of great need for our planet. How can LY be employed to not only create health and to lift spirits but to cultivate civic concern and engagement within these elders who have vast resources, skills and talents to share with the world? How can LY help bring together young and old around shared values and appreciation for what each has to offer? The older generation does not beggar the next. LY teaches us that we are connected and that our lives are enriched by each other. It is a win-win proposition and I think LY can be a spark. What do you think?

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 12 March 2013 13:18:24 )
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