Prepare for the unexpected…

I wish I had a jovial example of a transformative event, but my example is a sad one, but one that has enlighted me and my family.  The sudden death of my mother, at age 74, brought my immediate family into turmoil.  My father, a traditional man, did not cook nor clean, nor shop, so he was fraught with the task of providing for himself.  His health was frail, so it was incumbant upon my sisters and me to find appropriate care.

All this leads to learning about the labyrinth of elder care services: assisted living facilities, home care, nursing care, government entitlements etc.  It is a maze of paperwork.  While it was quite a saga for over five years, my sisters and I gained insight on how to deal with this.  (We are fortunate to all live within 40 minutes of each other).  Having siblings will share in the tasks equally is always benefical.

Step 1:  Have a meeting with the parent about the next steps. Do they want to live alone?  Can they live alone?  Can they still drive?  What ailments do they have.  Start the hunt for alternative housing or in-house aids.

Step 2:   Divide the tasks:

  1. Financial – gain access to accounts; be a co-signatory for various accounts
  2. Health care – learn about the doctors who specialize in the care of the elderly
  3. Legal Documents – get the legal documents in order (Living Will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, etc.
  4. Housing – assess whether to sell the house.  Find alternative housing if need be.

Step 3:  Hire a geriatric care manager: (optional)  (I wish we did this.  These are experts in elder care issues.

Before I write a thesis on this, suffice it to say, the event was transformative, but the outcome was a learning experience.  We sadly lost our Dad after five years in an Assisted Living facility, but by-and-large, he was well cared for and happy to see us.

Bottom line:  Prepare.  Transformative events are usually unexpected.

Aging, Learning and Singing!

quartetHave you heard about the recent movie, Quartet?  In a nutshell, it stars Maggie Smith.  The plot centers on an old age home full of retired classical musicians and opera singers.  It was originally a play by Ronald Harwood which we saw a few years ago at the Merrimack Repertory Theater.  The characters come together in an effort to sing for a gala of Verdi’s Rigoletto.

This example makes me think of the Adult Learning theory on “theories of the life course.”  As we all go through stages in life from childhood to adulthood, we approach life experiences and learning in different ways.  This is cited in Tennant and Pogson’s “Learning and Change in the Adult Years” (Ch 4). They refer to Eric Erickson (1959) who highlights the stages of life as a developmental theorist “who recognizes that a strong sense of identity leads naturally to a capacity for interdependence.” This charts the life course in terms of phases or stages: periods of stability, equilibrium, balance along with periods of instability and transition. (pg 88-89).  An alternate theory to life stages is highlighted by Neugarten (1976).  She states that circumstances within age brackets are not set in stone, but are flexible with social time, historical time and chronological time.  But it is Merriman (2007) “Learning in Adulthood,” that nicely sums up life stages: “it is how we learn from experiences, rather than how life experiences constrain or limit our learning.”

This parallels the plot of the movie: The main character, Jean, arrives at the old age home. She is the ex-wife of Reggie.  I would surmise, at that stage of life, they fought and argued. They were not in balance and very unstable.  Predictably, in the movie, the characters come together at the climax. They all get along for the annual gala.

While the movie highlights the foibles and frailties of aging, it’s also about the triumphant efforts to keep singing!

Thoughts on Aging and Life-Long Learning

I had an interesting thought this week while reading “Learning and Change” by Mark Tennant (Tennant, “Learning and Change: A Developmental Perspective, Jossey-Bass, 1995). I found I am fascinated with aging and the whole cognitive process. The study of WAIS – Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale was particularly interesting.

crosswordThis comes to light over the last few months when by sisters and I learned our 85 year-old Aunt has onset Alzheimer’s. We were flummoxed to discover that this brilliant self-taught NY intellectual, who could complete the NY Times crossword puzzle, who is knowledgeable in art history and classical music, who is well read and a political activist and who was once the deputy commissioner of NY housing commission, not only forgets her keys, but also gets lost in her own neighborhood.

That said, it has interested me that life-long learning is a process. Research shows that there is a natural decline in intelligence with age, but with training and learning, the process can be somewhat reversed. Tenant sites some well documented studies that there are shortcomings to standard tests including social and cultural bias. (Tennant pg 17).

Our town library has a wonderful life-long learning program in conjunction with Framingham State University where professors come to the library and lecture on a myriad of topics. My husband and I have seen topics on the Civil War, migration of New England birds, architectural details of Rome and Dennis Lehane’s mystery books. With all that, I am amazed at the wide scope of expertise the lectures provide, but the interaction among the participants (mostly older folk) is amazing.  Although I am many years from retirement, it is a true testament that there are life-long learning programs offered at libraries, assisted living facilities, universities and museums.

We may lose our computational skills (I never had mathematical prowess), but it’s the accumulated life experiences that matter (Tennant, pg 34).

Back to my Aunt. She’s wonderfully active, lucid and agile; it’s just that things get muddled. Taking advantage of life-long learning activities (either as a participant or as a leader) would be good to instill cognitive skills – and even pleasure.