Gerotranscendence for Professionals

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         Why is it that most depictions of older adults are sad, feeble, or ill? It’s because the overwhelming majority is quick to pair aging and misery. “Over the hill” is more than a lighthearted joke at a birthday party. It’s a truthful confession of society defines the aging process. The tendency is to think of the present as the best time of life and dread what is to come: old age. For many, the older years mean impending loss of independence, health, or choice. Maturation doesn’t have to be as pitiful as society make it. The burden of breaking through these stigmas lies heavily on the shoulders of all aging professionals.
            Social gerontology coupled with developmental psychology gives us great insight into age. Academia teaches that there are several milestones that humans meet in maturation. For instance, it’s common for the older adult to evaluate their life, their accomplishments, and even their regrets. According the thought provoking psychologist Erik Erikson (1998), this life review either yields a feeling of integrity or despair and determines how the adult perceives their last season of life. Knowing that each client is subject to this process, it stands to reason that practitioners have a deliberate say in the matter. Are professionals taking an active role in a more successful journey of aging for clients? If the answer is anything but affirmative, there is a problem somewhere. Now is the time for professionals to be a strong tower of hope for intentional aging that comes to fruition gracefully and beautifully.
            Each professional would say that if business impacts one life for the better then the work is worthwhile. What if each practice could change the notorious stigmas making an outreach that positively impacts the field of aging? This may be the “teach a man to fish” moment so many are seeking. What starts as one practitioner’s perspective soon creates an exponential effect with peers, community, region, etc. The key to this paradigm shift is understanding concepts of Gerotranscendence, and putting the theory into everyday practice in a real way. The father of the theory, Lars Tornstam (2005) recognized that there is a real difference in beliefs of aging and the actual data from the population. He surmised that it should not be researchers who define the accepted concepts of aging, rather the individual living the process should define their story. Gerotranscendence is about questioning the projections society has placed on later adulthood. It’s about denying the normative expectations of doom and gloom. Rather, by taking a proactive approach and helping adults plan for retirement, professionals are a powerful resource in making successful aging intentional and enjoyable.
            There are realistic ways that practitioners should deploy Gerotranscendence. The first is in the individual’s perspective.  Complacency is an easy place to lull into and the industry houses too many in this mindset. This side effect of a helping profession is a place of mediocre output with a lack of insight that suppresses triumph. Most aging clients are lost in the maze of insurance, documents, services, and emotions. For them, this phase of life is a scary road that is untraveled and requires an advocate and guide that is consistently enthusiastic for the client’s holistic care and well-being.
            In any business model, each person is an ambassador for the brand, the mission, and the employer. It’s part of granted responsibility to represent the company in a positive light and never pass an opportunity for development. Likewise, older adults need a zealous ambassador. In each interaction, whether public or private, speak positively of aging and make a path for those mission moments in conversations with people.  Meet people where they are and communicate the existence of a more successful journey of aging.
            More specifically, it is vital that the older adult be seen and treated with reverence. Gerontology, like other fields can become habitual leaving clients with numbers and labels instead of time and attention. Too often, clients become their needs in the minds of practitioners. For instance, if a client sees a psychiatrist for schizophrenia, it is absolutely inappropriate to call them a schizophrenic. This “water-cooler” speak is derogatory and will become a habit that deflates efficacy with the older adult. Rather, this client is a person that is dealing with schizophrenia. This example can be generalized to anyone with anything. More common, a person struggling with diabetes doesn’t qualify their self-with by a pancreatic diagnosis; neither should the professional.

            The next challenge of Gerotranscendence is in practice. At times, even the most seasoned professional is guilty of ageism or elderspeak; even subconsciously. Presuppositions are dangerous habits that build roadblocks. It’s autonomic to raise the voice’s volume in several meetings because there are experiences a client with hearing loss. The wake-up call comes when the professional realizes that they are using that same volume at home, over dinner with family. This kind of generalization offends the sensibility of peers, networks, and cohorts in middle age. Why are these behaviors habitual in exchanges with older adults?
            Instead, opt for a more humanistic approach with clients. Clearly, older adult undergoes developmental changes resulting in obvious symptoms in a conversation. One such symptom is decreased focus or “mind wandering” are consistent reported symptoms according recent studies (Seli, Maillet, Smilek, Oakman, & Schacter, 2017).  For this reason, working with an older adult successfully demands strategy and purposeful reasoning. Note the recommendations given to incorporate in each client exchange. Clients need:
            l a supportive partner and advocate, not a parent.
            l to be heard, not always corrected.
                l to be ascribed credibility before labels.
                l to be relevant, before evaluated for benevolence

            For the successful professional, even the smallest routine can send subliminal messages to clients. It’s tempting to make assumptions about what older adults will enjoy, would like to take part in, or even incorporate into their lives. Interaction for the older adult needs more guidance than the facilitated exercise and handouts about staying active used in years past. Who says that clients can’t or won’t enjoy yoga? What about Snapchat? Deciding to consistently challenge perspectives of aging will open a gateway to new creativity, rejuvenate high-esteem for the older adult, and build better rapport with clients.
            Lastly, infuse Gerotranscendence into the purpose of daily work. The hard times are worth it in the end when a life is changed for the better. According to Tornstam (2005), there are tangible results that can be seen when the work brings forth successful, positive experiences. Among others, the gerontologist names behaviors of success as: “rejoicing in small things, wisdom, a disappearing fear of death, body transcendence, connections to other generations, rediscovery of the child within, [and] modern asceticism”. The older adult should be a respected class within any community and the lessons gleaned from this wise coterie are irreplaceable. Hospitality, graciousness, and forethought are the perfect ingredients for a successful plan to intentional aging. Take the time, make the memories, and allow the feeling of triumph to radiate when the results of Gerotranscendence are manifested.

           

                                                                 References
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Erikson, E. H., & Erikson, J. M. (1998). The life cycle completed. New York: W.W. Norton.
Goulston, M. (2014, August 07). How to Listen When Someone Is Venting. Retrieved
            January 25, 2018, from https://hbr.org/2013/05/how-to-listen-when-someone-is
Seli, P., Maillet, D., Smilek, D., Oakman, J. M., & Schacter, D. L. (2017). Cognitive aging and
            the distinction between intentional and unintentional mind wandering. Psychology
            and Aging, 32(4), 315-324
Tornstam, L. (2005). Gerotranscendence: a developmental theory of positive aging. New
            York: Springer.