While some seniors see growing old as a negative, it really is an adventure, said clinical psychologist Miguel Mendez, a facilitator for the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver’s Peer Support Services program.
Mendez was the featured speaker at the March 28 JSA-Snider Foundation Empowerment Series lecture, which took place over Zoom. His theme? The “Positive Adventures of Being an Older Adult.”
The program was cosponsored by JSA, Jewish Family Services and the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture. It was opened by Gyda Chud, coordinator of the JSA’s program committee, and concluded with a Q&A facilitated by Tamar Stein, coordinator of the seniors group at JFS.
Mendez shared how he was close to his grandmother and how well she had organized the last 10 years of her life: she volunteered at a stationery shop, loved to dance with her grandchildren and to travel and visit family; she was passionate about talking with people.
How should we feel about growing older? he asked. Should we be afraid, uncertain, reluctant or should we interpret the changes in a positive way? To get to the answers of these questions, he asked another: What is the difference between an emotion and a feeling? The difference is in the interpretation, he said.
The cultural value placed on beauty and youth contrasts with the wisdom and guidance that comes with aging, Mendez argued. All of us will die eventually and ageism ignores this fact, he said. In his view, we need to regard aging as a gift and an opportunity to age with vitality. Seniors definitely experience loss of energy and of physical abilities, he admitted, but they can maintain vitality with friends and family.
Purpose is the most important part of aging (and life overall), said Mendez. If we lose purpose, we can lose our sense of well-being. Currently, there is an epidemic of loneliness among seniors that can lead to physical and cognitive decline. To try and avoid this decline, Mendez suggested “the three Gs”: grow friendships, good relationships and get along well. We should continue making new friends and developing worthwhile relationships, he said. We need to laugh, have fun and enjoy life – take risks. These efforts will give purpose to life, he said, and attitude follows purpose in making life enjoyable.
In the Q&A, Grace Hann, JSA senior peer support services trainer and supervisor, asked about combating ageism. Mendez said that ageism is learned behaviour and that we should listen to our own values and not societal ones.
Tammi Belfer, JSA board president, asked about strategies to keep a person engaged and participating. While Mendez suggested that people should make an effort to participate in activities, because it is, generally, good for them, people should also make sure to give themselves breaks from taking part, ie. take some days off.
Larry Shapiro, an immediate past president of JSA, stressed that there should be purpose in people’s activities and that people shouldn’t do things just to keep busy. We need to feel fulfilment, he said.
Stein wrapped up the event, thanking the speaker and the 60 participants. She noted that the talk had been recorded and would be on JSA’s website in May.
Shanie Levin is a Jewish Seniors Alliance Life Governor. She is also on the editorial committee of Senior Line magazine.