Closing the Gap / Part 2
What is “work”? More than anything, for elders, it means a sense of purpose and connection: feeling useful in a social environment. We don’t stop wanting to make a contribution simply because we’re older, as seniors themselves make clear in this compelling 7-minute video, A Sense of Purpose.
Created by high school students (no generation gap here!), the video describes how a forward-thinking small business owner hired elders in a nearby senior living facility to knit handbags for her company. The seniors were so enthusiastic about the opportunity to contribute and earn income from home, they even named themselves: The Purlettes. As the Dalai Lama pointed out, “We all need to be needed… Selflessness and joy are intertwined. The more we are one with the rest of humanity, the better we feel.” The business owner paid her contributors on a piece rate basis, rather than hourly, in order to meet their needs.
However, outdated Department of Labor laws that require employers to pay an hourly wage took away a “golden” opportunity for senior income and purpose. The seniors themselves were vociferous about the derailment: “This is the new manufacturing model. We’re seniors, not machines. We can’t be doing this eight hours a day.” In seeking to “protect” workers, the federal government destroyed a model that gave the elders purpose, connection, joy, and income.
There is no separate law for senior employment that addresses their unique needs. One 95-year-old Purlette said the message she’d send to the Labor Department would be, “Open your eyes. What you have done is a serious injustice. You have taken discretionary income away from a huge number of people, just to follow a narrow law that does not apply to us.”
Mirroring nonagenarians Betty White and Norman Lear, who are still plying their trade with aplomb, a group of long-retired Broadway entertainers living in a New York retirement community find purpose — and a great deal of hilarity — diving into a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Still Dreaming, the award-winning film about this elder troupe of troopers, explores the powers of creativity, and how engaging in art-making can deeply enrich our lives at any age.
Closing the gap requires us all to realize, as reverse mortgage professionals do, the truth that older people are just younger people with accrued wisdom — and a few more wrinkles to show for it. By adapting to their needs, just as we do with babies and children, we enliven elder lives with the deep connection, purpose and expansion they crave.
Bringing the world to them
Another heartwarming example: a 67-year-old man and his 58-year-old bride (seniors themselves, according to AARP) chose to wed at the groom’s 92-year-old mother’s residence — which happens to be a care community. The couple said they wanted his mother to be part of their wedding day, so they brought the ceremony to her.
The site’s executive director, staff and residents wanted to make sure the day was “unforgettable” for the happy couple. Residents baked the cake for the reception, and the local hospice chaplain officiated. This small effort to be inclusive of an elder’s needs had a positive ripple effect on numerous people connected with the event.
We’re becoming increasingly adept at using our existing technology to help seniors stay engaged. Television, for instance. Many seniors, especially those who live alone, have the TV on 24/7 for companionship, but it’s a passive form of entertainment.
Now a device called Any TV Companion transforms TV into true connection. Any TV Companion hooks up to the set, where a caregiver or family member can download the mobile app. After that, the television becomes interactive: family members can communicate with and keep tabs on their loved one across the miles via the TV. Bonus: like other elder care technology, the device sends an alert to the caregiver’s smartphone if it detects a medical issue.
With creative and caring people involved in elder lifestyle solutions, the so-called generation gap vanishes. Instead of being pasture-ized (i.e., put out to pasture), mature adults are being integrated into the tribe, where they belong.