The New York Times New Old Blog featured an interview yesterday with Lars Tornstam, a Swedish sociologist. Dr. Tornstam provides a glimpse into life at eighty, reports Paula Span:
An increased need for solitude, and for the company of only a few intimates, is one of the traits Dr. Tornstam attributes to this continuing maturation. So that elderly mother isn’t deteriorating, necessarily — she’s evolving.
Dr. Tornstam’s theory of gerotranscendence also includes an explanation for an older adult’s confusion with past and present.
“People sometimes describe their perspective on time changing,” Dr. Tornstam said. “They feel they can be children, middle-aged and old at the same time.” If an 80-year-old describes this sensation to a contemporary neurologist, the doctor might jot in his notes that the patient seems improperly oriented in time and place.
“What I’d like to tell grown-up children is that your mom or dad might develop into someone different than they were in middle age,” he replied. “Don’t automatically label what they’re saying, doing or thinking as a symptom of something bad.”
Dr. Tornstam does make it clear it’s important to distinguish gerotranscendence from a cognitive decline.
While reading the article, I remembered an email from a family caregiver from several years ago. The family caregiver cared for his father, who spent most of his day just sitting. The family caregiver fretted at his father’s lack of activity. What could I suggest, the family caregiver asked? I suggested that, in the sitting, his father was probably quite content. I also suggested he take advantage of the sitting by spending a few moments of conversation (about his father’s life, for instance) and quiet time together.
I also remember a friend recounting his grandfather’s care of his grandmother. His grandfather took his grandmother out to lunch every day. “She never wanted to go,” my friend said.
We’re a people in a constant state of doing. When we’re not doing, we’re in the process of planning what we’ll do when we’ve finished our planning. And, of course, the last thing we’ll plan is the time during the day when we just sit.
As we age, I think we move to the contented state of being. The doing is done. Instead, we reflect, we take stock, we absorb the meaning of all that doing we did.
What do you think? Do you worry about the amount of time your caree sits? The lack of interest in large gatherings? What changes (outside of cognitive decline) have you noticed as your caree ages?