Working with an older population makes you contemplate life. Time passes by so quickly, and before you know it, the years have run away from you. In the grand scheme of things, we’re a blip on this earth; a millisecond in a span of billions of years. And in this vast universe, you can’t help but appreciate the fact that you exist.
We’re here for such a short amount of time, it’s a waste not to do anything less than what makes you and others happy. You find yourself appreciating things so much more when it’s put into perspective. You think about your goals and what you want to accomplish before you die. What’s truly important and who.
Here are a few lessons from those who lived in a nursing home and gained wisdom with age:
1) Love without boundaries
When talking to a sweet, eighty-year -old woman the other day, she gave me the following advice: “When you find love, don’t fight it. Embrace it, and don’t let it go. Because it will be the best thing you ever discover.” She went on to talk about the love of her life, how they had broken up several times before marriage, but eventually found their way back to each other. He had passed four years ago, but even when speaking about him, you could tell she had enormous love in her heart.
Make sure to express your love for those you care about in your lives: friends, family, significant others. If you wait, it may be too late. Appreciate them while they are still in your life. If it doesn’t harm or disrespect them, don’t be afraid to love them. Without fear of rejection, reactions, or otherwise. Call your parents, profess yourself to that crush, spend time with a friend. Sometimes easier said than done (I have trouble at times too), but keep trying. What’s the worst that can happen? Love fully.
2) Just do it. Don’t have regrets.
It’s always interesting to find out what a person’s regrets are as they near the end of their life. Luckily, the majority of my patients didn’t have too many regrets. They felt like they lived full lives! However, speaking about it reminded me of a conversation that I once had with my grandmother. She regretted not being able to travel more with my grandfather once they were older. He acquired Alzheimer’s in his old age which prevented them from further exploring the world.
Do the things you want to do while you can, you never know what might stop you in the future. Take that trip you’ve been postponing. Start your business. Begin taking those classes. Plan and execute.
3) Life will forever be transient; you can only plan so much.
None of the people in the nursing home thought they would end up there. Many had just reached retirement before having a brain injury. Several were used to living alone, on their own, and now needed some type of help. As much as you can plan out your future, you never know what will change. Life happens, and you have to learn to adjust. Plan your life, but don’t over rely on your plans or be strict in your adherence. Don’t wait to LIVE.
4) Don’t care what others think
One of my favorite questions to ask my patients is what advice they would give me or any young person. They give all types of responses, but a common one is to stop caring so much what other people think. Do what makes you the happiest. If not, then you are doing what someone else wants – which isn’t necessarily in your best interest. You’ll be living your life according to their standards and not your own.
If Bill Gates or Martin Luther King, Jr. listened to other people’s criticism, what would have happened? How many of my friends in happy relationships wouldn’t be on the road to engagement if they listened to the opinions of others?
To be cliché, follow your heart. There will always be those that say “no”, the naysayers. They are entitled to their opinion and may have valid points. But ultimately, you do what’s best for you. If you make a mistake, at least it will be on your own terms.
5) Make meaningful memories
One strategy that speech therapists use to improve the quality of life in dementia patients is to make a “memory book”. It is a book comprised of photos, names, and stories of different moments and things that are important in a patient’s life. This way, when they flip through the book, they recall events through visuals and text.
In old age, a lot of times all we have are our memories. Do you want to look back on your life and only remember working late hours and weekends at a desk job? Some might be happy with this, but the majority would probably be unsatisfied. Instead, build your life with travel, new activities, meeting people, and spending time with loved ones so that you can later look back and smile.
6) Be grateful for what you have
There is a young woman who lives in the nursing home. While she’s not older, her life significantly changed when she had an aneurysm. It happened just as she was about to graduate from college. Now, she is nonverbal and unable to eat and walk. Her courage is astounding given the circumstances. She works hard in therapy and turns to her faith for strength.
Her situation truly inspired me to fully appreciate everything that I have in my life. Driving, taking a sip of coffee, even the ability to argue – these are things you usually take for granted. But not everyone is afforded these luxuries. If you find yourself complaining about something, think about how many people would love to be in your shoes. Count your blessings.
7) Take care of yourself
Many of those in the nursing home have damaging health issues that were exacerbated by decisions made in their youth. Whether it was excessive smoking or overindulgence in a sedentary lifestyle, your action (or inaction) have repercussions for your future. Stress, for example, adds years to your face and negatively affects your body – just ask the president!
An investment in a healthy mind and body is an investment for your future. Take your medications and make your annual appointments to help you live your longest, most able life. There are so many young people nowadays that discover cancer before it’s life-threatening because they made their health a priority and visited their doctors. Take the steps to prevent a decline in yours.
8) Enjoy the present
Time moves so fast. Soak in your life as it is. Our society moves at such a fast pace, many of us forget to take the time to sit back and relax. To actually take everything in and simply enjoy it. Take the time to value it, because you won’t get these moments back. You’ll never be younger than you are now.
9) Friends and family are everything
What makes my patients’ faces light up every time? Seeing their friends and family when they visit. We are social creatures, and knowing that people care for us makes us feel secure and happy. The highlight of many of my patient’s day is receiving company. Foster your relationships while you can, because those will be the people that will be there for you in your times of need.
My grandmother told me that some of her happiest memories was when my family lived on Treasure Island, close to her home in Sunnyvale. My mom always made it a priority for us to visit her and my grandfather after church every Sunday. My grandmother never forgot – it made a world of a difference to her. Be there for others if they need it. You might not know how much it means to them.
10) Get out and start living. NOW.
Many of my patient’s lives revolve around visitations, appointments, watching tv shows, sleeping and eating. While the facility does plan some outings, it’s not too often, and patients sometimes don’t have the ability. Take the time to appreciate all of the amazing things around you. Love, laugh, take pictures. Savor exquisite dishes, discover exotic places. Go to concerts, read books, learn new things. Be curious, notice the wonder in the world. The plants, the sounds, the sky. Go out, see the sights, and explore while you can!
A poignant appreciation for life captures your mind when you think of it’s end. Life is as sweet as it is fleeting. It’s beautiful. Carpe diem!