Reflections on AgeSong, Aging and Eldership

I was asked recently  to talk about AgeSong at WoodPark for a film that is being produced.  Writing is a better way for me to fully express fully my views.  Following are interview questions and my responses.

What is the primary difference between AgeSong WoodPark and other assisted living communities?

Individuals are not their diagnosis. AgeSong at WoodPark moves from “assisted” to “community living,”  from “eldercare” to “eldership,” replacing medical labels, such as Alzheimers and Dementia, with “forgetfulness” and generally accepted assisted living terminology, such as “activities,” with  “meaningful engagement”  and “quality of life” at any age, stage or ability.

What is your personal view of aging?

Aging is an antedated term. Individuals can be an elder at any age. The importance of this view of aging  hit home for me when my granddaughter died at the age of four years, 11 months.  She was a true elder, living in the present, preferring to be outside, in the garden, dropping stones one by one to hear them ping, opening and closing the window blinds to see changing light patterns.  Olivia, born with neurological challenges, was slower than other children in traditional developmental stages of childhood, but she enjoyed life fully. Like Andy Galsworthy, the famous British sculptor and founder of modern “Rock Balancing,” she was brilliant in touch, sound, taste, and sight, though not in the usual child development stages, such as walking to running, bicycle riding, or climbing.

How was your granddaughter like the elders with whom you work?

In many ways, Olivia was like the elders with whom I interact every day, moving cautiously, because her eyesight was different from that of most children. Like a particular elder who has lived in AgeSong’s communities for over 20 years, Olivia needed to be changed every couple hours. But like AgeSong’s a respected community member, who is now in her 60s, this daily living need for help did not take away from Olivia’s full participation in life. I learned from both Olivia and from AgeSong’s elders how to slow down and enjoy the present, rather than being tied to my computer and need for daily accomplishment.

I’ve heard memory loss compared to meditation.  Could you tell me about that?

My yoga teacher said her mother, who had been an author running around the country on book tours, became much happier and relaxed when she slowed down after she developed rapidly increasing memory loss. Nader Shabahangi, AgeSong’s founder and CEO, compares memory loss to meditation, a state in which one doesn’t think about about the future and all the things one needs to get done, but rather allows oneself to experience a more peaceful state. He says that we start forgetting from the moment we are born and that we can aspire to, not fear, changes in memory.

What interests WoodPark community members?

Elders at WoodPark love children, music, and sharing stories about their lives with folks who like to listen to their stories – staff, Gerowellness interns (MFT and other therapists in training), volunteers, family members, and international visitors.  They come from a variety of backgrounds and enjoy celebrating multicultural holidays and learning about different spiritual beliefs. They enjoy exercising to music in the morning, taking daily walks around the picturesque Oakland neighborhood, and dancing (whether standing or sitting) to their favorite music.  Each community members also has his/her own special interests.

Why do you work with AgeSong?

Formerly AgeSong’s Regional Director of Engagement and Education, I now prefer to serve as a consultant, spending time socializing with community members and their families and friends and providing experiences in which they can gain self-respect and be respected by others. As a member of the same generation as many AgeSong elders, I have similar tastes in music – opera, classical, jazz, blues, folk and listening to oldies but goodies. As my body changes and as I experience more need to take care of my health, I turn to elders in the community to learn patience, self-acceptance, quietude, compassion, and other “Eldership” attributes. 

I work with AgeSong’s community members to learn how “to be an Elder,” rather than “to care for” Elders. Care is mutual. We learn from each other. I facilitate Elders Academy and provide training programs in which participants explore Eldership as a state to aspire to, rather than fear. I teach others in order to learn about being an Elder, myself.

I teach others in order to learn about being an Elder, myself.

Dr. Sally Gelardin



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