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Home > Blogs > Insights > Denise's Blog > When We Age, Do We Evolve from Doing to Just Being?

When We Age, Do We Evolve from Doing to Just Being?

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?

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About Denise Brown

Avatar of Denise
I began working with family caregivers in 1990 and launched CareGiving.com in 1996 to help and support them. Through my blog, I share words of comfort and offer coping strategies and tips. I also write opinion pieces about recent research, community programs and media coverage of caregiving issues.

6 comments

  1. Very good points…great article…
    When Im not motivating my mom she does pretty much just sit. I do agree that at her age, she is tired and there are many times I recognize that she just needs to be.
    In her case I dont think she is necessarily tired however as if I wake her and chat or give her a small job to help me she is able to. She is strong and not weary looking so I think part of tis for her is not really knowing what to do as she Im sure feels the strains at times of having lost her home to share space in mine.
    In terms of large groups she just shuts down. She cannot really take a lot of talking however I did happen to see a piece on the today show this morning…the person that was on was speaking of hearing loss and in many cases when there is a lot of background noise a person that is hearing impaired shuts down as they cant handle all the activity. I also know I speak fast and they mentioned with hearing impaired we must speak slower….
    I always thought it was the fact Mom did not have anyone from her generation at large functions however Im now after hearing that story thinking it could just be too much stimulation.Aside from these small things she is a healthy 91 year old who always wants to go out even if there is a lot of noise and she isnt chatting away..she is something else:)!!

    • I just noticed, my second parargraph I meant to write In her case while rest is vital I dont think in all instances she is necessarily tired.
      I do agree as my first paragraph says they do need time to not be doing and Im learning to know the difference of when she is just bored or really just needs to be….

  2. Denise, great information. Thanks for sharing. I hope you don’t mind that I shared this on my FB page.

  3. Putting words to something always makes me feel better. I think these findings benefit the caree, as well as the caregiver.

    My mother used to love to go, all the time. Particularly after my dad passed away. I think she found comfort in going. After her stroke, she continued to like to go, although mobility-wise for her (and me), it was very difficult.

    It has been just within the last year or so (she is 85) that she wants to go, but often times when we are out, she wants to know if we are on our way home. It’s almost as if going was a habit, and her mind has to catch up with the fact that she is content with “just being”.

    On the days when she is more challenged cognitively, she is very content to stay. As I learn more about her limitations it is easier for me to help her in making the decision of whether an outing is too much.

    Reading about this interview, helps me to feel more at ease in those limitations “maturation” brings. “Evolving” and “maturation” are much more uplifting than “aging”. (:

  4. It just occurred to me that my mother struggles with long phone conversations as well. I wonder if that is part of the maturing also. The hard thing is that she wants this type of interacting (like going out), but then it can be too much.

    • My mother HATES the phone now that she is getting on in age unless it is someone really with a good gossip story….lol….but if the kids call from georgia she rushes them so fast..
      on a funny note…she just asked me what peanut butter was? I said what? she said she never heard of peanut butter…
      I didnt want to upset her so I just said NO?? I think perhaps your just forgetting…I showed her the jar of JIF and she said she never had it in her life !!!!
      Not quite sure what happened there but she is fine otherwise…senior moment Im guessing..
      a little while later she said “and just so you know, I dont like peanut butter? ” I laughed and said well how do you know, you never had it…she said I just dont!!! lol lol lol lol
      you have to be tough emotionally at times to see moms maturation…

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