Reflecting on two decades of specializing in psychology with a focus on older adults has been an incredible journey, one that has imparted wisdom and insights I hold dear.
Today, I’m eager to share with you five life lessons that have not only shaped my professional path but also touched my personal life in profound ways. These lessons, learned from the stories, experiences, and resilience of older adults, serve as guiding lights in both my work and daily existence.
1. Life Is Short, Embrace Each Moment
My career began with a general interest in psychology, but it was my connection with older adults that truly defined my path. This first lesson, about the brevity of life, hit home in a very personal way when I became a parent in my forties. The joy and chaos of raising children taught me the importance of cherishing every moment, even those that test our patience. A weekend alone with my kids, amidst their loud play and the challenges of navigating slick Vermont roads, reminded me to embrace the beauty of the present, transforming moments of impatience into opportunities for connection and understanding.
2. Connection Is Key
One of the most poignant lessons came from being with individuals at the end of their lives. The power of human connection, the warmth of a held hand, and the unspoken understanding between two people transcends words. This experience underscored the fundamental need for connection, a reminder that, in our final moments, the comfort of presence is invaluable.
3. Develop a Sense of Meaning and Purpose
Throughout my career, the pursuit of meaning and purpose has been a relentless quest. Inspired by older adults who continue to contribute and engage with the world around them, I found myself driven to create an impact focused on health and wellbeing. A striking image of a 73-year-old woman working on a Habitat for Humanity project encapsulated this lesson beautifully—her dedication to service and self-care a powerful testament to living a purposeful life.
Here are some questions to help you think about your life purpose:
- What do you value?
- What are you passionate about?
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
- What unique abilities do you have that set you apart from others- When do you feel like you’re in the flow? Or in the zone?
- What would you regret not doing in your life when you’re on my death bed reflecting on your life?
4. Love Never Dies
Working with couples, especially through the journeys of illness, dying, and bereavement, taught me that love transcends the physical realm. Witnessing the enduring love of couples married for decades and the profound grief that follows loss revealed the eternal nature of love. It remains woven into the fabric of our beings, influencing our decisions and future paths long after a loved one has passed.
5. Never Too Old for Healing and Growth
Perhaps one of the most transformative lessons has been witnessing the capacity for healing and growth at any age. From couples in their eighties and nineties seeking to improve their relationships, to an older individual taking steps to address substance use, these stories challenge the misconception that change is bound by age. They affirm that growth, healing, and transformation are always possible, a principle that has inspired my work and the foundation of the Center for Mental Health and Aging.
These lessons, gleaned from two decades of work with older adults, are not just professional observations but are deeply personal truths that have enriched my life. They remind us of the beauty, resilience, and complexity of the human experience at any age.
If these lessons resonate with you, or if you have your own to share from working with or knowing older adults, I’d love to hear from you. Together, let’s continue to learn, grow, and transform, embracing the wisdom that comes with age and experience.
For those in the mental health or senior care fields looking for resources or training on working with older adults, I invite you to explore the resources we offer at the Center for Mental Health and Aging. Let’s work together to ensure that every person, at every age, has the opportunity for healing, transformation, and love.
Until next time, don’t forget to cherish the moments that life offers.