This Sunday’s New York Times contained an article about a geriatric psychiatrist in Miami who works with seniors in a range of residential settings from apartment buildings to nursing homes. The gist of the message was that people who can adapt to setbacks live longer and have higher quality senior years.
My initial reaction was twofold: (1) is this a little of blaming the victim? I have had friends and relatives suffer from terrible diseases and they quickly tire of people reminding them that “a positive attitude is the best defense against cancer” and the like—they feel like they’ve earned the right to feel angry and depressed and the pressure to cope with a horrible disease AND be responsible for having a positive attitude about it is just not fair; and (2) as my children reply to about half the things I say: thank you, Captain Obvious (the other comments elicit the alternative response, complete with the rolling eyes—no way, you’re totally wrong).
So then I thought more about it. After all, it’s a New York Times article, not one in Parade Magazine! And I realized that he was, in the end, simply reinforcing the importance of JCHE and what we are doing every day (whether he knows it or not!). Some of having a positive attitude and psychological resources to cope with setbacks is genetic or inherent or learned early, for sure. But as the things we can’t change occur—the inevitable physical limitations that occur with increased age, the challenges of losing friends and relatives as our cohort ages, etc.—we can put ourselves in settings that make it easier to adapt because we have community supports. People who live in JCHE housing have that. We hear every day about a positive experience where JCHE staff or fellow residents support someone else and thereby strengthen their resilience.
The other point from his article is how freeing it can be to be older and retired. Yes, honestly. It relates to where you live—if you can be in a place where the basic chores are taken care of—having appliances fixed when they break, having someone else worry about preventative and regular maintenance and for us in New England, getting the snow removed—then your time and focus is on growth and opportunity—trying new things because now you have time. In JCHE, the apartment you live in is just the platform for a life that includes classes in art or music, an individually-designed exercise program to prevent falls and/or participating in a book group or political action task force.
These truths are behind the moral imperative to expand these choices for all seniors. We’ll do our part—on June 1 we open our latest community in Framingham—the Mort and Etta Shillman House on the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Campus!
Dr. Agronin, the psychiatrist in the article, said that older people were not by definition miserable. “We have to be very careful in the assumptions we make,” he said, “and not project our own fears of aging. Their lives can be way better than we imagine.”
At JCHE, we aim to make that these years a time to thrive for every one of our soon-to-be 1500 residents.
Warmly, Amy Schectman