Disrupting Aging

Slow down….and listen. They said. Turn your cell phones on. They said. Share with the world what is happening. After 110 performances on Changing Aging’s Disrupt Aging live theater event, held recently in Eugene, Oregon, its hard to imagine this formula not working to get people’s attention. The message: its time we change how we think about aging.

Changing Aging attendance group 2JPG
Compass Senior Living crew attending the Changing Aging event (from left): Amira, Kory, Beth, Jean, Becca, Niki. (Catherine and Mary not pictured)

The day started with a small group lunch with Dr. Bill Thomas, geriatrician and founder of The Eden Alternative. The group of about 20 were all there for various reasons–from AARP representatives to an elder currently living in a senior community. Dr. Thomas has started what he calls #AskDrBill– an egalitarian way of answering everyone’s hardest questions about aging (for which he specifically asks).

I asked the hardest question I knew about aging: aging comes with loss, how do you ‘be okay’ with not being able to do everything that you used to be able to do? To which Dr. Bill gave his words of wisdom based on his experience, “Change comes with loss, not just aging. If you looked at your checkbook the same way, you’d only record the expenses but not the income. And, that’s not an accurate picture of what your finances look like. Pay attention to the ‘other side’ of the ledger book. We pay attention to the loss and not what is to be gained with the change.”

Gain with the change. The biggest ‘aha’ moment as he said this was not the metaphor of the ledger book–although that is a great metaphor for how one can look at what life throws at you–it was that aging is just change. And, we have lots of change in our lives. So, why is this change so different from the others? It needs flexibility, resiliency, thoughtfulness, and planning. Like any change that life throws our way. Its all between our ears in the way the change is framed.

Disrupt Dementia–The Momentia Movement. The afternoon transitioned into a “non-fiction theater” event as the Changing Aging crew calls it. The group performed two simultaneous tales of a Ugandan refugee and those living with dementia. The Ugandan refugee, Samite (pronounced SA-me-tay), performs the music that he composes as his journey inspires him and life’s challenges, and changes, come his way; as he rebuilds his life. Similarly, the stories told by the elders living with dementia, in their own words, tell the tale of changes that come to them, but how they are inspired to continue on their journey as life throws these particular changes into their own paths. It’s a heart-wrenching, but necessary, truth about how those living with dementia are doing just that–living— and it is up to us to help them adapt and keep living.

Disrupt Aging. As the evening progressed, a second performance blended myth and science; challenging us to re-frame aging. Dr. Bill asks “what if?” What if everything we knew about aging was wrong? Accompanied with music, storytelling, and, yes, audience participation games, we learned that there is no such thing as a “senior moment”. We all simply have a “filing cabinet” and, as we get older, the filing cabinet is more full–and more messy– and it just takes a little longer to find what we are looking for. What’s more, older brains have the power of gist. Older brains have the power to see patterns and pull from past experience to understand what is being explained and, well, you get the gist. Dr. Bill challenged us to stop perpetuating the myth of the senior moment. “Social change starts between the ears,” says Dr. Thomas. Just like racism and sexism, ageism persists when we tacitly agree to ageist comments and jokes by not saying anything. When we let it go, we imply that its okay to perpetuate myths on aging and see elders as declining. The Changing Aging tour is challenging us to perceive aging as a vivid and enlivening process that presents us with extraordinary risks, and rewards. 

We are all getting older and will be considered old, if we aren’t already. How will you approach this change?


Related posts and resources:

I have a 20-year old brain in an old body

Elderhood–what do we want to do with another 30 years?

Human connection–at the core of everything that matters in the world

My shrinking world

Featured image photo courtesy of Changingaging.org.

About the Author: Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with, and for, the people that care for others. She lives in Eugene with her husband, Michael, where they enjoy golf, travel, and volunteering.

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