Unfortunately, there isn’t much about aging that we think of as positive in our culture. What a loss! Age-ist stereotypes have us living in fear of getting older. Equally limiting are the stereotypes of the wise, all-knowing elder who is calm and peaceful and serene. Or the age-defying, super-young oldster who will “never say die.”
A constructive definition
There is a constructive and realistic definition of aging. Each of us needs to define it for ourselves. It involves a recognition that despite—or perhaps because of—the challenges of growing old, we actually also tend to develop some amazing strengths.
Not everyone experiences all of these strengths. But studies interviewing hundreds of people of advanced years reveal many commonalities that deserve acknowledgement.
At this point in life, we know ourselves pretty well. We know who we are, how we fit in, and how we are unique. We know what we like, and what we don’t like. We know what we are good at doing, and what we aren’t.
There’s a certain confidence that comes with aging that is different from the confidence of youth. This is confidence based on experience. For instance, we know we have faced challenges in the past and made it through. We know we have skills we can draw upon. And we even know there are coping strategies we’ve tried in the past that we are better off avoiding in the future.
Self-acceptance The flip side of knowing who we are is knowing who we are not, and accepting that. “So I didn’t become a Nobel Laureate, oh well. Not a millionaire? That’s okay. An Olympic athlete? Gee.” Dreams of our youth were exciting, but we ended up going down different paths. And these paths gave us rich experiences we never would have dreamed of!
Less anxiety In our younger years, we tend to be filled with social anxiety. We worry about whether we will be able to live up to expectations. We care about what others think. By our later years, none of that matters so much.
“No one ever told me how nice it was to not be 20!” The confidence of experience and the reduced anxiety can open us up to trying new things. “What have I got to lose? Who cares if I don’t do it well, if I enjoy it, that’s what counts.”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff—and it’s all small stuff”
— Richard Carlson, author
Over the decades, we learn to trust our intuition. We know which of our reactions are fleeting and which have the ring of truth.
Brain studies show that older adults tend to be less emotionally “reactive” or volatile than people in their younger years. We tend to get more philosophical. Based on experience, we know that some hills are worth the battle to conquer, and others are not a hill to die on.
Losses bring opportunities
We know that some doors close, but often that is necessary for other doors to open. Losses usually carry the seeds of opportunity. We can often find a wider view. See a bigger picture. We are less fearful because we know we can adapt.
Wisdom: The wider view One of the advantages of a storehouse of experience is that we have exposure to many different situations. We can take a wider view because we have seen similar things happen in other circumstances. Lessons learned in one context can be applied to another. This is the basis of creative thinking. And it serves elders well.
The brain waves of wisdom Looking at the brain activity patterns, younger people tend to draw upon one hemisphere of the brain or the other. Older adults show more activity in both sides at once. There is a lot of energy being exchanged between the two hemispheres. As one scientist described it the older brain is in “all-wheel drive.”
Saying that all older adults are wise, would be untrue. But it may be that this sharing of information on many brain circuits explains the tendency for older adults to see a wider picture.
If younger adults were to project their perceptions of how happiness unfolds, they might tend to say that happiness is highest in youth and then it’s a downhill slide. (In fact, that is the dominant message or perception of aging in our society.) Research studies, however, are revealing a surprising contradiction.
Age more important than wealth Across all income levels, different races, urban/suburban and rural settings, there is an unmistakable trend in happiness. We are happiest as children, and then happiest in our old age. It’s the years in the middle where happiness is at its lowest. This has come to be called the “U-shape of happiness.”
Less emotionally reactive
Some of the likely explanations include greater self-acceptance as we get older, a reduction in social anxiety, less emotional reactivity, and the ability to take a wide view, to keep things in perspective. Older adults seem to be less angry and less worried than their younger counterparts.
The challenge of our middle years The middle part of our journey—the bottom of the “U”—is often focused on productivity. We are strongly involved in our careers. We may be raising children. There is a lot to do and a thrill in doing it. But it can be challenging and stressful to fit it all in. Time is a constant struggle. And there is always the question of whether we can perform up to specs, “cut the mustard” as it were.
The advantages of age In our older years, we either achieved or didn’t achieve our goals. There is little to worry about in terms of the unknown there. We may have pursued material comforts, only to learn that they were not as gratifying as we had thought. We learn that there is less that is 100% right or 100% wrong in the world. That most everything is made up of a little of both.
We are good at adapting At this point in the journey, Life has probably sent us a few curve balls. And if we aren’t experiencing health challenges yet, we likely have friends who are. It’s not hard to start seeing the glass as half full, rather than half empty.
With advancing years, very likely we have seen fortunes change in an instant. These could be our fortunes or those of others. We tend to become grateful for things that we used to take for granted. And we come to appreciate the problems we don’t have.
Death is no longer an abstraction.
In our later years, death becomes immensely personal and closer than it’s ever been before. We may not see it yet, but there is no doubt that it rests on our horizon. We may get there before we think. And at the least, we realize that we are lucky to have lived as long as we have.
The inner journey
The physical limitations of aging can almost seem like Nature’s way of forcing us to look inward. When the external journey is not as available, the internal one beckons. It can be a very deep and rewarding experience. Frequently it begins with reflection. And once one accepts the losses, whole vistas open up as possibilities when the glass is half full.
Compassion Compassion can become a more familiar companion as we age. We tend to be more understanding thank in our youth. Resentments we may have had about past grievances—with parents, spouses, children or friends—can seem less important.
Perhaps walking a mile in the shoes of others—elders in our own lives—lends new insight about their behavior. Opens up avenues for forgiveness. As well, our children may experience their own growing empathy and be able to reach out to interact as friends, dropping their image of us as the omnipotent parent.
Moving into our later decades, we tend to think a lot about the meaning of our life. We trade a focus on material accomplishments for time spent in gratifying pursuits. This might be a second career with a focus on fulfillment. It might mean volunteering for a cause we believe in.
When time is finite
Rather than a prelude to death, many older adults come to realize that advancing years bring life more fully into focus. While we all have a limited tenure on the planet, when we deeply recognize that our time is finite, we often start asking questions about how we want to use what time remains. No time like the present to identify priorities and start living by them!
There may be a bucket list of activities yet to pursue. However many focus specifically on their legacy. What do we want to be remembered for? Is there something larger that we can do that will extend beyond our time on the planet?
Living by example
“Am I a bulb that carries the light, or am I the light of which the bulb is only the vehicle?”
—Joseph Campbell, mythologist
Whether one still has physical abilities, or is limited more to living by example, there are tremendous opportunities to share our wisdom and insight. Even a person who is bedbound and not long for the world still has a light to shine. And for those fortunate enough to realize this while they still have strength and stamina, life in the later years—with all the advantages that come with age—can be extremely focused and fulfilling.
I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Caregiving Corner as a Fractional COO since March 2023, and my experience has been nothing short of exceptional. From the moment I joined their team, it was evident that they prioritize their clients and care managers, fostering an environment of mutual respect and support.The company's commitment to streamlined processes and effective communication has been a game-changer. As a Fractional COO, I've had the opportunity to implement strategies that optimize operations and enhance overall efficiency. What truly sets Caregiving Corner apart is its unwavering dedication to the well-being of its clients. They prioritize open dialogue and maintain a strong sense of partnership, which has contributed significantly to the success of their education and partnerships in the community.In an industry where compassion and efficiency go hand in hand, Caregiving Conrer strikes the perfect balance.As a Fractional COO, I couldn't ask for a more fulfilling and rewarding partnership. If you're a caregiver looking for support, I wholeheartedly recommend Caregiving Corner. They are a true embodiment of integrity, compassion, and operational excellence.
Jennifer and Caregiving Corner are a trusted resource for senior care. Jennifer has a wealth of knowledge and will give you honest, unbiased advice in planning for the care of your loved one. Investing in her services is money well spent.
Jennifer and the Team at Caregiving Corner are patient, kind, courteous and generous with their time and their efforts. I would trust them implicitly with my family's best interest. Jennifer's willingness to provide support and guidance is second to none! Highly, highly recommend her services. Amazing advocate for her clients. She truly, truly cares and has their best interests at heart.
I'm writing to recommend Care Giving Corner for the best elder care management services I have come across. We were introduced to them for help with our parents' care by the Rev. Lisa Saunders at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlotte, who had known our family for 20 or 30 years. We had worked with a couple of the big national elder-care chains before, but their people seem so limited and their standard of care seemed very "average" at best.We work with Susan Ferone as our case worker/manager and Allyson Cooksy as our RN. They are conscientious, high-caliber, top-flight people. They're the kind of people we'd want to entertain with and be friends with, not just tolerate as hired help.They recently helped my parents identify and move to a retirement community that is a vast improvement over the retirement facility they had been in before. They connected us with services that helped with organizing, packing, moving, unpacking, setting up, and settling in. They even helped my mother find a decorator to help with some fabric choices and paint schemes to suit her new digs. That alone is half the battle - knowing who are the reliable, trustworthy service providers for various ancillary services.Allyson has helped my parents manage medical appointments, keep track of treatments and prescriptions, and devise daily structure that keeps things on track. She has helped identify and get services from therapists, etc. Allyson is amazing and a delight to be around.We live in a time when even those of us who are well-established and well-connected in our communities can feel bewildered by the experience of aging and everything that goes with it. Susan, Allyson, and their colleagues comprise an able and caring resource in an otherwise confusing and dysfunctional elder-care environment.
Jennifer and her team are top-notch and, without question, the best in the business. As an elder law attorney, I routinely refer my clients to Caregiving Corner because I know they will treat my clients like family. Thank you, Jennifer, for building such an incredible business that meets the needs of so many people!
Jennifer Szakaly is a registered guardian with high integrity and ethics. Jennifer goes above and beyond for her clients and she is not afraid to handle difficult cases and family dynamics to ensure her wards receive the best and most appropriate care. I cannot recommend her highly enough and I refer clients the Charlotte area to her very regularly. For any client in need of Aging Life Care Management or a Guardian, Jennifer and Caregiving Corner is the superior choice.
Caregiving Corner is an amazing resource for anyone who is navigating the experience of aging or caring for an aging family member. Jennifer and her team offer such a broad range of services - from helping families choose care facilities and make healthcare decisions to serving as a legal guardian for those who don't have family members (or whose family members are too unreliable). Their collective experience is invaluable, and most importantly, they have a genuine passion for working with older adults and their caregivers, and it shows. I enthusiastically recommend Caregiving Corner to everyone I know who is dealing with the often-challenging situation of caring for an aging loved one.
Since I started Transition With Care in 2009, a senior move management company, I have confidently referred my clients and families in need of care management services to Caregiving Corner. I have never received any negative feedback from my clients and consider Jennifer Szakaly and her team to be a shining example of how to help seniors and families navigate the complexities of caring for an aging loved one.
Our team at The Charlotte Assisted Living Community and Memory Care has had the pleasure of working with Jennifer and the Caregiving Corner Team for the last six months.During what can be some of the most trying and difficult times for their clients and loved ones, the Caregiving Corner team assists in navigating the journey to find a solution.Their compassion and dedication to their clients is above board. They offer a professional and sincere level of care to each family they are assisting. We look forward to our continued partnership.
I’m thankful for the guidance I’ve received from Jennifer Szakaly. She has helped me address current caregiving needs as well as understand options for what’s ahead. Her professionalism and experience is second to none.
I am an elder law attorney who has worked almost exclusively in the field of incompetency/guardianship for folks who no longer have the capacity to care for themselves. This is an extremely sensitive family matter, and the family of the incapacitated elder find themselves in a crisis and a world they do not understand. Caregiving Corner has been a savior to these families and lawyers in this field. Jennifer Szakaly, the founder and owner of Caregiving Corner, has assisted me in many cases, in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties, with evaluating, advocating for and acting as corporate guardian in these unfortunate situations. Caregiving Corner has a staff of professionals who assess the crisis, help find placement for the individual, and care for the individual and act in their best interests in all of their health matters. Jennifer is approved with the Clerks of Court who appoint her company. She is a Board member of affiliated organizations and non-profits. She is nationally certified as a corporate guardian, as well as holds degrees and other certifications in the field of geriatric care. I don't know anyone more qualified in this field or anyone more compassionate for the work she does for others.