On Friday, the legendary singer-songwriter Glen Campbell bid a final farewell to his fans by releasing his last-ever album. Titled Adiós, it was recorded in 2012, when the “Rhinestone Cowboy” formally ended his music career after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease the year before.
Glen Campbell has been open about his experience with Alzheimer’s. In 2012, he embarked on a yearlong farewell tour, which was captured in the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. The film, available on Amazon, also documented some of the singer’s offstage struggles as the disease progressed. Produced by his friend and longtime banjo player Carl Jackson, he says his friend’s attitude towards his ailment was extraordinary.
“Glen’s whole approach to having Alzheimer’s was pretty much different from anything I’ve ever seen before,” Jackson says. “If he forgot something, he would laugh about it, rather than get sad. And we just went about recording the album that way, as a fun thing to do, and it was a total joy.”
Campbell, who is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, is no longer able to communicate well, and so no one will know exactly what he thinks of his last-ever album. But, according to Jackson, he seems to approve.
“I just know in my heart that it means the world to him … because of the peace that comes over him when he hears the music,” Jackson says. “It just means the world to me that we can do this for him and have him go out on something I believe just reaffirmed that Glen Campbell’s the best — period.”
Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.
“When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.” (Rosenthal 1985)
In 1968 Dr. Robert Rosenthal conducted an experiment. The teachers in a single California elementary school were told that some of their students could be expected to be “intellectual bloomers,” doing better than expected in comparison to their classmates.
The “intellectual bloomers” names were made known to the teachers, and the teachers were not told that these children were actually no more talented or smarter than other kids, scoring average and below average IQ scores.
At the end of the study, all students were again tested with the same IQ test used at the beginning of the study. All six grades in both experimental and control groups showed a gain in IQ from before the test to after the test.
However, First and Second Graders showed statistically significant gains favoring the experimental group of “intellectual bloomers.” This led to the conclusion that teacher expectations, particularly for the youngest children, can influence student achievement.
Rosenthal concluded that even attitude or mood could positively affect the students when the teacher was made aware of the children they thought to be “intellectual bloomers.” The teacher may pay closer attention to and even treat the child differently in times of difficulty.
This study has been utilized over the past 50 years, in different situations, and is called a self-fulfilling prophecy or Pygmalion or Rosenthal effect.
If a group or a person has a particular expectation of a certain behavior of another group or a person, the expected behavior is likely to occur.
When it comes to aging, our whole culture is saturated with the expectation that there are certain stereotypes of how older people should act including elder adults themselves.
Society expects and believes that elderhood and aging are bad, sad, and depressing – and so, as we age we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur!
A study published in the journal Experimental Aging Research suggests that just reminding elders of the fact that older people have bad memories, for example, may be enough to negatively affect their recall ability.
Not surprising given that this effect can be found in any subgroup or individual. Tell someone they are dumb long enough and they will believe it and act accordingly.
Self-perceptions and society perceptions of aging tend to influence thoughts and behaviors without people being consciously aware that this is happening. Changing perceptions of aging is challenging because it involves both individual perceptions of aging and wide-spread societal negative stereotypes that are plastered on social media, news, and in advertising.
Changing aging can begin with you and me. After all, whatever your age, if you are not an elder now, you are an elder-in-waiting!
“What you think, you become,” Buddha taught. You’ve heard high-minded quotes like these all your life. Now science has caught up. We can finally quantify and track how beliefs and expectations can shape outcomes.
Older adults who associate aging with ongoing growth and the pursuit of meaningful activities are more likely to view experiences – both enjoyable and challenging in adaptive ways. We need to push back on the societal stereotypes. And the data proves that we must, indeed change the current paradigm of aging now to preserve our own true identities as we age.
Longevity:A 23-year study, of older adults who reported more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those who bought into society’s negative stereotype of aging.
Illness: In a study of 1,286 people who believed that aging is a time of continued learning and development reported fewer illnesses six years later. In contrast, those who believed that aging is a time of physical loss had increased physical illness over the same time period.
Brain Health: Compared to people with more positive views of aging, those who endorsed more negative age stereotypes displayed greater signs of risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease. It was discovered that the hippocampus, an area of the brain related to memory, decreased in size at a faster rate in those who embraced negative age stereotypes. (Moser, Spagnoli, & Santos-Eggimann, 2011)
So, when you look in the mirror, see the truth about yourself. We are all aging, and society may say you are ‘over the hill,” worn out, of no value, unattractive, and worse. Do you believe that? Or are you ready to disrupt that idea?
Look at your future elder self in a mirror. What do you see? It is proven that “As we think we shall become.”
Look at your future elder self: Do you see yourself as a full, capable, beautiful human being, with a vibrant curious spirit even if you have lost your hair, your mobility, your vision, or your mind?
Look at your future elder self: Do you see yourself growing, learning, giving, playing, and living?
Look at your future elder self: Are you able to embrace your life, and recognize that you have much to give and share – right up until that very last breath when you transition to your next great adventure?
Join the movement to change society’s stereotype of aging. Do not let the expectations of society about aging become a self-fulfilling prophecy for you. You have an opportunity now to change your future experience beyond adulthood, embracing your journey into your own elderhood.
About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.
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.
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?
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.
I came across this video of yoga instructor Tao Porchon-Lynch recently. She is not the typical teacher you might find in a yoga studio, however. She is in her late 90s and is more agile than most people half her age. I find her message of aging gracefully inspiring, and can only hope that some day you will find me at age 90 on my yoga mat.
Porchon-Lynch teaches about elderhood: that it is a time of learning, growth, and vibrancy; inviting elder adults to grow spiritually, strengthen physically, and find the very best within themselves through a yoga practice accessible to anyone.
It is important to note that yoga is more than a physical practice. The word yoga itself is translated as “union.” It is the drawing together (or union) of heart, mind, and body that integrates all parts of ourselves into a unified whole. Just as a team performs best when all members are focused on a common goal, we become our best selves when every part of our being is in alignment with every other part.
The research available about yoga’s health benefits is vast, with more information and research data specifically about yoga and elders showing up almost daily.
Of particular interest is a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, linking yoga to the reduction of older adults’ risk of mild cognitive impairment—considered a precursor for developing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Imagine that we can help reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s by practicing yoga!
Besides reducing risk of dementia:
people who practice yoga regularly have more energy, vitality, and better moods.
yoga also improves muscle strength and flexibility, preventing further breakdown of cartilage and joints and reducing arthritis pain.
the wonderful social connection with others is an added benefit when people attend group yoga classes.
people who practice yoga regularly have more energy, vitality, and better moods.
yoga improves stress resilience, boosts immunity and reduces instances of depression.
yoga improves balance and sharpens the mind.
medically, yoga can help control blood sugar in people with diabetes, enhances respiratory function, relieves arthritis pain and minimizes hypertension.
It is no wonder Tao Porchon-Lynch has achieved the honor of becoming the world’s oldest yoga teacher. Tao says because of her yoga practice she has never felt old. She shows us that through yoga she is aging gracefully, enjoying how good her yoga makes her feel. As a yoga practitioner in her late-nineties, it is safe to say that feeling good is powerful medicine.
Guest author Carrie Gallahan
Carrie Gallahan is the Director of Operations for Compass Senior Living, Midwest Region. She is also a dementia practitioner and passionate elder advocate. Carrie is a Registered Yoga Teacher and a Certified Chair Yoga Teacher. Carrie is the co-founder of Joyful Yoga, located in Peru, Indiana. Joyful Yoga is an innovation partner with Compass Senior Living and has developed a signature chair-yoga program specifically for Compass Senior Living – True North Yoga. Carrie has seen first hand what yoga can do for people of all ages and physical abilities. She loves to share the joy and wellness that yoga brings to lives.