I recently sat down over coffee with four residents at Concordia Life Care Community in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. May is Older Americans Month, so I recruited their assistance for this blog post, inviting them to discuss things that seniors fear and share insights that resonated with them. These insights encompass fears, needs, concerns, and feelings that were a common thread among the group. Here are the fears they shared..
1) Running out of money. This was a hot topic and a valid concern as it is for many seniors over the age of 65. On this topic, they shared that people in general are living longer, and although they have saved and planned well for retirement, there is an overwhelming concern that some folks could simply outlive their resources. With interest rates fluctuating and investments not performing as anticipated, this concern is on their mind daily. As one resident in their mid-90’s said, “I just did not expect to live this long.”
2) Loss of independence. Another lively conversation took place as we discussed several factors that contribute to a loss of independence. Among them were being scared of losing mental or cognitive ability (Alzheimer’s or Dementia) and loss of physical ability. Knowing the right time to give up their car and driving was a concern. One resident shared, “I’m concerned that my hearing is starting to go. I can’t hear what other people are saying sometimes when sitting at the dinner table, even with hearing aids, due to pitch or tone of voices. It’s scary to not be able to hear the people around you.” Sometimes this is addressed by smiling and nodding when they can’t hear to avoid having to ask people to repeat themselves several times. This struggle is real and prevalent.
3) Loneliness. Several residents shared that the fear of being lonely was a contributing factor to moving to a retirement community where social activities are abundant and friends and neighbors are just steps away. Communication, care, love, support and plenty of opportunities to stay active and socialize were among their needs and top priorities. Often after one loses their spouse of many years, they experience periods of loneliness, depression and even isolation. “Having opportunities for connection and community are important,” they shared.
4) Safety. Another resident said, “I started thinking about what it would be like to live alone in my large home. Safety is a big factor for me and one of the reasons I chose to live at a retirement community.” They expressed significant concerns about injuries and falls, and not being able to call for help.
5) Being Valued. As the conversation evolved, the level of sharing become more intimate. The dynamic shifted from discussing fears to revealing some beautiful, life-serving needs. One resident said, “We don’t want to be categorized by our age. Just because we are a certain age, we don’t want to be placed in a category of ‘seniors in their 70’s, 80’s or 90’s.’ We want to be treated as individuals based on our life experiences and the wisdom we have gained over the many years of living. We want people to talk to us, not about us.” Another person shared, “We want people to know that we are still capable of making our own decisions, in other words, we are capable of handling ourselves.” The conversation quickly led to the heartfelt desire to leave a legacy. “We wish we had some way to pass our legacy on and we don’t know how because we don’t know what the children will want. Do we tell our life story, write an autobiography, or record a video? We want to know how to pass on our legacy.”
Each went on to say, “We want our children and grandchildren to ask questions now and learn all that they can about our lives because we won’t be here forever.” “We love to tell stories about our lives to our grandchildren. Life is made out of memories. We can be loving and caring and interesting and have lots to share and give.” The conversation took a lighthearted turn. “We can still enjoy life and have fun!” One resident smiled saying, “Yes, and we are still romantic!” On that note, we giggled together and then glanced at our watches and realized 45 minutes had quickly passed. Our chat ended with this, “We do have something to share, and we would like to have the opportunity to share it.”
So Now What? As we said our goodbyes for the moment, and went our separate ways, I reflected to myself about the gift I had just received from my four wise friends and what this information means for the rest of us.
The fears my friends expressed painted a clear picture of how each of us can serve the seniors we know. It is a calling that each and every one of us can act on. Essentially what is required is to be present and to value the person in front of us. We need to demonstrate that we will always be there to support and care for them, even if their money runs out or their mind goes. That we will not grow impatient if they ask us to repeat ourselves and make a point to visit regularly, not rushing off or making them feel like a burden on our busy schedule. And that we will treasure their stories, soaking in the details of how God has worked (and continues to work!) through their adventures, their pain, their victories.
Uniquely created by God in His image, each person, no matter their age, brings to the table unique life perspectives and heavenly gifts to bestow on the lives of all who are honored to know them.
Special thanks to Concordia Life Care Community residents: Clyde Buchanan, Don Loper, Val Reed, and Bessie Wessler for sharing their thoughts!
This is a guest blog post written by Concordia’s Paige Mills-Haag for Wheat Ridge Ministries.