Image for The Shifting Views of Aging

After more than 20 years in the field of wellness and senior living, I recently experienced a profound "ah-ha" moment during a 3-day training program led by the nonprofit organization called the Eden Alternative.

I've long believed in the pursuit of whole-person wellness through the seven key dimensions: social, physical, environmental, spiritual, intellectual, emotional and occupational.

Life is About Continuing to Grow

The Eden Alternative philosophy, however, quickly extends that view to include 1) the underlying premise that life is about continuing to grow no matter how old we are or what challenges we live with, and 2) that caregivers and care receivers can work together to enhance the well-being of elders by eliminating the three plagues of aging:

  • Loneliness
  • Helplessness and
  • Boredom

Antidotes to the Plagues of Aging

The Eden Alternative suggests that three key antidotes to these "plagues" are to imbue daily life with a sense of:

  • Purpose
  • Structure and
  • Community

Before retirement, whether we were an executive in a corporation or the chief executive officer of a household, our daily lives included a sense of purpose, structure and community. Maintaining these three elements after retirement is a cornerstone to lifelong happiness and wellbeing.  

Person-Directed Quality of Life and Care

Most importantly, the Eden Alternative affirms and articulates what I have long believed: Elders have the right to decide for themselves what constitutes quality of life for them (as long as they are not injuring themselves or others). It's not for us to decide or define it for another person, but rather it's up to us to ask the individual what he or she wants or needs. Our role is to provide a loving, engaging and healthy environment that allows people to be themselves at whatever stage of ability they may currently be.

Care Partnering

Lastly, the Eden Alternative advocates a "care partner" approach rather the traditional "caregiver" approach. All caregivers and care receivers are described as "care partners," each is an active participant in the balance of giving and receiving, and with the recipient as the head of care partnership.

"Elders," not "Elderly"

In ancient times, elders were sought out for the gifts of their wisdom. This time-honored view regards an elder as someone who, by virtue of their life experience, is here to teach us how to live.

In stark contrast, the term "elderly" congers up a very limited view of chronologically older people as being feeble and frail.  

The term elderly isn't sitting well with today's legions of healthy, active seniors heading into their late 70s, 80s and even 90s. And it shouldn't.

We are in the midst of a great shift in how our society views aging. And it runs far deeper than any words might imply. The vision for this positive change in paradigm became very clear to me at the Eden Alternative training program. I'm excited to bring the concepts of the Eden Alternative to our enrichment practices here at Lenbrook.

Lisa Kiely is the Director of Enrichment at Lenbrook, where she and her team continually refresh the programs and events provided on campus and out in the community. She is a graduate of Texas Womans University and is a Certified Eden Alternative Associate, Certified Activities Director, Certified Group Fitness Instructor, Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Step, Cycle, Parkinson’s and Barre Instructor.