The Experience of Aging Loss and Opportunity – Eldership Video

This video is an excerpt from AgeSong Academy training on Eldership with AgeSong’s Nader Shabahangi,PhD, and author Liz Bugental, PhD. In this video Liz speaks about preparing ourselves for opportunity as we age.

Liz starts the conversation with the statement,”In our old age we are swimming in a sea of loss, and that this is the given.” It is not something we can avoid. We will age and that means different things for different people. We will lose some of our vitality, our looks, and our physical potency. We lose friends, family, children. We have to move into new surroundings. We are constantly having to deal with something that isn’t there anymore. It doesn’t mean that we have to be depressed or unhappy. It just means that we have to acknowledge that this is where we are. If we use the metaphor that we are swimming in a sea of loss, as we age were grabbing what will keep us alive and enhance our living with inspiration, joy and creativity. If we are not aware and awake we will not pay attention to those things around us and we wont pick the right things. This is the challenge of these later years, staying awake, staying aware, taking what gives us life. Enjoying everything that we can, not losing our capacity for pleasure. Constantly discovering and re-inventing ourselves so that this is a joyful swim. That is up to us.

Find out More!

Read more stories about Eldership on the AgeSongToday blog.

Explore more videos in the AgeSong Video Library

Spiritual Purpose of Aging Workshop Exercise

Faciltator Chaplain Renee, engages the Openhouse Community in this exercise that is a companion piece to the Spiritual Purpose of Aging Workshop video.

The Spiritual Purpose of Aging Workshop Presented by Nader Shabahangi
Workshop Exercise Facilitated by Chaplain Renee

Facilitator Chaplain Renee, engages the Openhouse Community in an exercise during the Spiritual Purpose of Aging Workshop. Chaplain Renee sets up an interactive exercise where she has the group imagine themselves in the future, 5, 10, or 20 yrs from now. She then encourages the participants to then look back at themselves at the age they are now. She asks them to imagine what their more mature self would say to their younger self: what words of wisdom might their more mature self have for their younger self?

The Openhouse Community participants share some of their Elder’s advice to them. The subjects that the participants talk about include their more mature self encouraging them to do “one day at a time,” to “not let go of those things that nourish you,” “listen,” to “not worry so much,” and “to relax, I have more to give.”

A couple of participants mention feeling fear and presenter Nader Shabahangi discusses what “might be right about feeling fear.” Nader proposes to the group what fear can do for us.

Facilitator Chaplain Renee
Chaplain Renee is interested in the spiritual dimension of her own aging, is a volunteer chaplain working with The Ministry of Presence and serves at assisted living communities. “Also known as Sister Jendra Uforia of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Renee has committed herself to serve the LGBTQI aging community by creating and holding space for those dealing with illness, dying, and death.”

Presenter Dr Nader Shabahangi
Dr Nader Shabahangi is an author, therapist, and Eldership facilitator who works on the forefront of humanistically-orientated forgetfulness care for those who are diagnosed with changing cognition conditions otherwise known as dementia/Alzheimer’s. Nader Shabahangi is CEO and Founder of AgeSong Assisted Living Communities in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

The Spiritual Purpose of Aging Workshop was Hosted by Openhouse SF in Partnership with the Ministry of Presence Institute
Openhouse SF –  is dedicated to serving elder LGBT adults located in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Openhouse enables San Francisco Bay Area LGBT seniors to overcome the unique challenges they face as they age by providing housing, direct services and community programs. As a result, we have reduced isolation and empowered LGBT seniors to improve their overall health, well-being and economic security.”

The Ministry of Presence Institute (MPI) chaplains serve the LGBT community and volunteer in assisted living residences including the ” AgeSong Assisted Living Communities – www.agesong.com. The Ministry of Presence Institute is a non-profit 501(3)c committed to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of those most often forgotten in the LGBT community. MPI offers non-sectarian chaplaincy programs for volunteers in the communities where they themselves live, love, work, and play, for the LGBT agencies or venues of their choice.

Find out More!

Read more stories about Aging here.

Explore more videos in the AgeSong Video Library

Spiritual Purpose of Aging Workshop with Nader Shabahangi at Openhouse

This Spiritual Purpose of Aging Workshop video is of an group interactive presentation by Dr Nader Shabahangi, facilitated by Chaplain Renee with the participation of the Openhouse community.

Spiritual Purpose of Aging Workshop with Dr. Nader Shabahangi

August 27th, 2015
Workshop Presented by Openhouse SF at the San Francisco LGBT Center on Market St, San Francisco

This video of the Spiritual Purpose of Aging Workshop presented by Dr Nader Shabahangi picks up just as Nader finishes his introduction to the workshop with a group interactive discussion on the “practical aspects of aging.”

Nader introduces the Spiritual Purpose of Aging as a way of shifting our attitude on the aging phenomenon. “Shifting it away from seeing it as a decline, as it has been, to basically to a continued “maturation”.”  Nader suggests a way to illustrate this is to replace the word “old” with “mature” in conversation. He encourages the group to introduce them selves to their neighbor  and share with them:  “I am ___ years mature.” And as a fun aside for the youngers in the group:  “I am _____years immature.”

William James, the wonderful psychologist of a hundred years ago, talks about how we can change our lives by changing our attitudes. Perhaps to help change our attitudes we could eliminate the word “Aging” completely from our vocabulary. Because the word “aging” has been coopted by the “anti-aging” industry. Nader suggests that “anti-aging” is another word for death.

Nader talks about seeing the process of maturing from one of decline instead to one of incline to deepening to maturation. Nader speaks about the Inner Elder that is residing within us…that Inner Elder inside of us, that pulls us along, that the purpose of maturation is to become our inner elder.

Nader proposes that  “Spiritual” means “learning to love.” And learning to love not just those around us but ourselves too!

Nader asks what the group view as “Elder Values.” The group provides a list of values, values that are gained through experience and maturation. How can society benefit from these values held by elders? How can we reinsert elders back into society to guide the young?

Presenter Dr Nader Shabahangi

Dr Nader Shabahangi is an author, therapist, and eldership facilitator who works on the forefront of humanistically-orientated Forgetfulness Care for those who are diagnosed with changing cognition conditions otherwise known as “dementia/Alzheimer’s.” Nader Shabahangi is CEO and Founder of AgeSong Assisted Living Communities in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Facilitator Chaplain Renee

Chaplain Renee is interested in the spiritual dimension of her own aging, is a volunteer chaplain working with The Ministry of Presence Institute and serves at assisted living communities. “Also known as Sister Jendra Uforia of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Renee has committed herself to serve the LGBTQI aging community by creating and holding space for those dealine with illness, dying, and death.”

Hosted by Openhouse in Partnership with the Ministry of Presence Institute

Openhouse SF is dedicated to serving elder LGBT adults located in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Openhouse enables San Francisco Bay Area LGBT seniors to overcome the unique challenges they face as they age by providing housing, direct services and community programs. As a result, we have reduced isolation and empowered LGBT seniors to improve their overall health, well-being and economic security.”

The Ministry of Presence Institute (MPI) chaplains serve the LGBT community and volunteer in assisted living residences including the AgeSong Assisted Living Communities. The Ministry of Presence Institute is a non-profit 501(3)c committed to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of those most often forgotten in the LGBT community. MPI offers non-secterian chaplaincy programs for volunteers in the communities where they themselves live, love, work, and play, for the LGBT agencies or venues of their choice.

Find out More!

Read more stories  about Aging here.

Explore more videos in the AgeSong Video Library

Aging Americans in Poverty

Growing numbers of older Americans are living in poverty and feeling the effects of the heightened cost of living—their housing, food, transportation, healthcare and supportive services. This web seminar features presenters who will frame the rising problem of senior poverty and economic inequality. Learn about some of the policies and programs that alleviate the impact of poverty on the lives of older adults. This web seminar is sponsored by CVS Health. It is free and open to everyone and includes complimentary CEUs.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER!


Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Start : 10:00 AM Pacific
End : 11:00 AM Pacific
Sponsored by CVS Health

Register Now
Includes Complimentary CEUs

Participants in this web seminar will be able to:

Understand the latest data on senior poverty rates, how those rates differ in particular communities and subgroups, and the factors that are driving senior poverty, as well as the social and health disparities in the aging population;
List the contributing reasons for the surge in poverty among older adults;
Understand the key needs that low-income older adults have and the role public programs play in meeting those needs; and,
Explain the gaps that remain and the role businesses can play in helping to ensure the needs of low-income older adults can be met, including through innovative workforce development programs.

Presenter:

Kevin Prindiville is executive director of Justice in Aging. He is a nationally recognized expert in aging policy, especially related to laws impacting the healthcare and economic security of low-income older adults. He is a member of the American Society on Aging and serves on the Generations Editorial Advisory Board.
Ernie DuPont is Senior Director of Workforce Initiatives for CVS Health. In this role, DuPont leads the team that develops workforce programs for CVS Health at the national, state and local levels. Under his leadership, the team builds strategic partnerships with government, nonprofit, educational and faith-based organizations. DuPont has helped establish CVS Health as a distinguished model for innovative workforce programs, making the company an employer of choice. DuPont joined the company in 1986 and has served in roles ranging from store manager to regional human resource manager and workforce development director. He has served on a number of advisory boards, including AARP’s National Employer Team, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), and the Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships, and has received CVS Health’s Paragon Award, the company’s most prestigious award for colleagues, as well as numerous industry partnership awards within the workforce sector. DuPont received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the Rockefeller School of Public Affairs, SUNY, Albany.

AgeSong CEO Speaks on Spiritual Purpose of Aging

[This post was updated October 9th, 2015 to include the videos of the workshop and exercise.]

AgeSong CEO and Founder, Dr Nader Shabahangi presents a workshop on the “Spiritual Purpose of Aging” to the Openhouse SF Community on August 27th, 2015. This interactive group workshop was facilitated by Chaplain Renee and hosted by Openhouse SF in partnership with the Ministry of Presence Institute.

AgeSong CEO Speaks on Spiritual Purpose of Aging

Video is now available of the workshop where Nader Shabahangi, the AgeSong CEO, interacts with the Openhouse SF Community the on Spiritual Purpose of Aging
Tune in and watch the Spiritual Purpose of Aging Workshop video created by AgeSong.

Watch the Spiritual Purpose of Aging Workshop Exercise video here. This is the companion video to the Workshop video.

Find out More!

Read more stories  about Aging here.

Explore more videos in the AgeSong Video Library

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 5.53.47 PM

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 5.54.07 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-04 at 6.03.03 PM

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 6.03.15 PM

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 6.06.33 PM

UCSF Geriatric Fellows Experience New View of Aging at Hayes Valley & Laguna Grove Communities

2015-05-01 11.14.11

Geriatric Fellows and related medical professionals from UCSF completed a tour at AgeSong’s Hayes Valley and Laguna Grove communities Friday, May 1 with a new view of aging and eldercare.

According to Elaine Chow, Education Coordinator for the UCSF Division of Geriatrics, the purpose of the visit was  “to provide Geriatrics Fellows from the UCSF Housecalls Program with a glimpse of assisted living facilities in San Francisco.”   Elaine continued, “Our goals is to show the Fellows the resources Age Song can provide to their patients.   Our Fellows are physicians pursuing advanced training in the care of older adults. We feel that it is valuable for them to have an understanding of your role and field in their care of adults in the last years of their life.” She continued,  “The Fellows spend every Friday morning with us to help care for Housecalls patients as a way to learn about home-based care in the community. As part of their training, we include a series of weekly didactics and site visits to help them learn about resources to keep frail older adults safe at home and in the community.”

Dr. Helen Kao, MD, Medical Director, UCSF Geriatrics Clinical Programs, contacted Agesong in December, 2014, to set up the tour.  She said, “We would love to bring our 4 fellows this academic year to Agesong for a site visit to see your model of RCFE care for dementia. We’ve had many patients over the years who live at Agesong and have always been impressed with the considerate care and in depth understanding of dementia that Agesong provides.”

Sally Gelardin, AgeSong’s Engagement and Education Regional Director, and Mona Moxley, AgeSong’s Gerowellness Intern Advisor, provided the Fellows and related UCSF medical professionals with an overview of the AgeSong philosophy and guided visitors around the Hayes and Laguna communities so that they could see first-hand how the philosophy is applied in the communities.

The visitors discovered that AgeSong’s view of eldercare is quite different from the generally held perceptions of residents of assisted living communities. “We respect members of our communities,” noted their guides, “no matter what age or stage.” Dr. Gelardin continued, “I learn most from those who talk and move the least. They teach me to slow down. Memory loss is similar to meditation.  Those with forgetfulness tend to  worry less about the past or the future and are more apt to focus on the present, to see the light streaming through the windows and feel the gentle breeze, as we sit and talk.  During our Elders Academy every Wednesday afternoon, we invite community members, as well as staff, volunteers, and visitors.  Guess who participates most in the discussions?  The elders!”

Dr. Moxley described AgeSong’s “Guru Project” to the visitors, noting that the goal of the project is to reduce the use of psychotropic drugs by applying psycho-social and other interventions that address unmet needs of individuals. AgeSong’s gerowellness interns meet in care plans weekly with staff to identify needs and develop strategies to meet these needs.

2015-05-01 11.59.55

As the visitors toured each floor of the AgeSong communities, Dr. Gelardin asked them to think about how they would want to experience eldercare at that stage of their lives. The group photograph above, taken at the end of the tour, shows the visitors’ impressions of their experience at AgeSong.

Reports or Rebellion: Aging at a Crossroads

Matt Perry, author of an article on healthycal.org called “Reports or Rebellion: Aging at a Crossroads” highlights AgeSong for it’s positive approach in elder care.

What we need is action, immediately and on multiple fronts. Brown should support the Aging Czar that Liu and Berg recommend, and that person should consult some of the progressive Californians who are dedicating their lives to solving the problems that beset older adults. Among them:

 

— Nader Shabahangi, who treats his residents as wise elders in his three AgeSong communities in San Francisco.


CaliforniaHealthReport

Reports or Rebellion: Aging at a Crossroads
by Matt Perry

In January, Senator Carol Liu’s office released a powerful, comprehensive report about the crisis of aging services in our state…

…Spawned by the intelligence and passion of former legislator Patty Berg – Liu’s lead consultant and the report’s true author – it includes dozens of recommendations for reform, including a state Aging Czar.

“A Shattered System” is impressive on many levels and a must-read for all state legislators and anyone who cares about older adults. The result of Liu’s year-long Select Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care, it’s an indictment of the way the state supports and cares for its aging population, or, really, the way it does neither…

The complete article can be read here.
http://www.healthycal.org/reports-rebellion-aging-crossroads/

Shabahangi To Speak at Annual Meeting of California Association of Area Agencies on Aging


Nader Shabahangi, AgeSong’s founder and CEO, will speak on “The Depth of Eldership” at the California Association of Area Agencies on Aging (C4A) Thursday, November 20, 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm.

C4A is proud to present the Annual Meeting and Allied Conference – the only integrated conference for aging and long-term care service providers in California. The conference features informative educational programs, meaningful exhibits, and stimulating speakers – a collaborative effort among consumers, community-based service providers, and area agencies on aging.

2014 C4A Annual Meeting and Allied Conference

“Preparing for a Changing Environment”

November 19 – 21, 2014

Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel

6101 West Century Boulevard

Los Angeles, CA 90045

 

The California Association of Area Agencies on Aging

The California Association of Area Agencies on Aging (C4A) is a nonprofit organization representing California’s 33 area agencies on aging.  The association is an advocate for meeting the needs of seniors and adults with disabilities, with the purpose to implement the provisions and intent of the Older Americans Act and the Older Californians Act.

Area agencies on aging, established by the federal Older Americans Act in 1965, receive federal, state, and local funds to contract with local organizations for service to seniors. There are 33 area agencies on aging designated by the California Department of Aging as the local Planning Services Agencies

The Mello-Granlund Older Californians Act (AB2800), signed into law in 1996, moved the primary focus for the delivery of services from the State to the local level. It identified area agencies on aging as the local units in California to administer programs in compliance with the Older Americans Act, the Older Californians Act, and other applicable regulations.

California’s area agencies on aging incorporated in 1979 as the California Association of Area Agencies on Aging—a statewide, nonprofit organization advocating for seniors and persons with disabilities.

For more information and registration, view:  http://c4aregistration.info/

Read Shabahangi’s Poetics of Aging Article in Caring Connections

Nader Shabahangi, AgeSong Founder and CEO,  talks about the Poetics of Aging in Caring Connections, a publication of Lutheran Services in America.

Caring Connections
Volume 11
Number 3

The Poetics of Aging  Nader Robert Shabahangi


To call aging poetic seems, at first glance, an attempt to sugarcoat what is commonly regarded as a burden we humans need to bear.


Our Modern Day Attitude Towards Aging

If I look around, I observe a culture replete with reminders of such burden awaiting us with age and old age. Much of the public and political discourse talks about aging as a load we must carry, which costs us individuals and our society large amounts of money and resources. In short: our human race would be better off if we did not need to face this phenomenon called aging and had to get old.

AgeSong_Poetics-Article-Nader-CaringConnections

Such an attitude stands in sharp contrast to the scientific understandings and wisdom traditions of human history. In fact, recent anthropological research shows that it is the rise of the elderly which was the main force in the so-called ‘cultural explosion’ establishing some 30,000 years ago our advancements in human civilization. How could it be otherwise? The more mature a person in years, the deeper the source of experience and knowledge this person can pass on to those younger in years. This insight deserves emphasizing: the more a society affords us human beings to mature through the aging process, the more such a society advances in the achievement of what is commonly referred to as civilization. Anthropologists Rachel Caspari and Sang-Hang Lee state this point in the carefully guarded language of the social sciences, namely that “the increase in adult survivorship would have considerable evolutionary impact.” Stressing the importance of transgenerational relationships, they continue to conclude the following: “Increased adult survivorship strengthens those relationships and information transmission by extending the time over which people can learn from older individuals and by the increase in the number of older people, which promotes the acquisition and transmission of specialized knowledge such as that reflected in the Upper Paleolithic.”


I believe – along with many others – that older people constitute the very foundation of our present civilization.


Elders – The Foundation of Our Civilization

Following the assertion of these anthropologists, I believe – along with many others – that older people constitute the very foundation of our present civilization. To become an older person we need to age. Aging is the prerequisite to becoming older. That this needs to be stated in a language and fashion more becoming of a two year old child shows the degree to which the present equation of aging as undesirable has permeated our culture and, so it appears, all levels of human learning and intelligence. However, paraphrasing Friedrich Hoelderlin, the 18th century genius of a poet, danger itself gives rise to what can save us. The current rapid shift in demographics, also variably termed the population explosion among older Americans or the ‘time bomb’ exploding our global economy in the years ahead, might just present the answer needed to face the plethora of planetary, economic, and spiritual crises present today.

To be ‘saved’ from the danger of our glaring misunderstanding of the value of our aging process, to ‘hear’ the answer this shift in demographics offers us searching for new ways of coping and living in today’s world, requires us to listen to what this new development wants to express. From a phenomenological point of view – literally, allowing what manifests speak for itself – this means that our elder population has a message in need of being heard. It is my bias here that the values and priorities of old age, substantially different from those of our younger, formative years, present our society with some of the potential answers able to save what we can of planet and people. I call the required attitudinal shift this viewpoint requires ‘the poetics of aging’. It is a shift that understands aging as maturation and elderhood as important and distinct a phase in human life as the phases of child and adulthood.


Using the metaphor of poetry, the many stanzas of our life undergo a continual process of re-writing and editing.


The Poetics of Aging

The use of the word poetic derives its meaning from the Greek word poein which means to make, to create. In this sense all of us are poets who write the verses of our lives, specifically here the verses of our final years. Most good poems are composed of multiple stanzas that form a complete whole. Similarly, the final years or verses of a human life are also needed to fully appreciate a person’s poem of life. The recent emergence of the discipline of narrative psychology refers to us humans continually writing and rewriting our life stories in order to create meaning for ourselves. This implies that the way we understood our lives from the perspective of youth is different from the way we look at our lives when we are older. Using the metaphor of poetry, the many stanzas of our life undergo a continual process of re-writing and editing before we are ready to submit our final poem in our later years.

While the poetics of aging refers to the individual human being working creatively on their own process of aging, that is living, it also refers to the collective poem or story we are writing as a society. For individuals are not creating their stories in a vacuum. Rather, along with many people now entering the decades of our ‘older years’, we are also creating a poem together. Collectively new verses are formed expressing a changed awareness about life and living. This awareness and insight contribute to what some have referred to as the making of an elderculture, of presenting America with the potential to deepen, to become a wiser, more compassionate nation and people.


… priorities set by elders are shaped by a more mature understanding of life.


Understanding Life Differently

The poetics of aging speaks to creating a new set of priorities for life. These new priorities are not meant to substitute the concerns of present day. Rather, they are meant to augment and enrich the often narrow and more surface oriented viewpoint of a culture based principally on values expressed through youth and materialism. This view marginalizes our human finitude and mortality, ignores the depth of the soul of the world, the anima mundi. As a result we remain unaware of what is otherwise important and essential for living our lives. In contrast to this constricted view, priorities set by elders are shaped by a more mature understanding of life. This understanding, made possible through this journey we call aging, is grounded in life experience. It is a process that entails a tempering of the human soul through the continual exposure to the vicissitudes of life, to the joys and sufferings no human can escape. A life that is poetic in nature awaits each new struggle with a receptivity that can already anticipate the richness such experiences will bring for the writing of the next verse. The poetics of aging shuns routine and monotony. It stays open to the richness of experience. It does not waste its suffering, does not neglect to celebrate its joys.

Towards a Sustainable Future for Planet and People

The poetics of aging looks at our aging as the vital process necessary for humans to mature and deepen, to become truly wise and human. The process of aging allows for the time needed to make who we are, to ‘create’ what the world needs from us. This stance might just represent the saving element able to alter the destructive course we humans seem to have taken vis-à-vis ourselves and the planet, our home. Such a stance is foremost characterized by the understanding of our interconnectedness to all life, that at our hidden core we discover an essential relationship to all beings. This discovery brings forth a deep recognition that as we harm the outer world, so we harm our own selves. As we look at the world through eyes of love, we nurture and love our own selves. Corollary, as we destroy life, we destroy our own being. The old dictum ‘as without so within’ expresses this reciprocity. Categories of outer and inner wane, labels intend to describe what shows itself to us dissolve.


For only if we suspend our desire and belief in knowing does what we call ‘awe’ appear.


The very idea of knowledge able to illuminate the unfathomable mystery of our existence has turned into a fable. Elders have learned the important statement of “I do not know.” The awareness of not knowing turns into an attitude towards life and world perhaps best captured with the word ‘awe’. For only if we suspend our desire and belief in knowing does what we call ‘awe’ appear. As we stand in awe facing the mystery of our own being and of Being itself, our senses and sensibilities now experience what presents itself to us as the miracle it really is. Once we allow ourselves to experience the miracle of life, we stop manipulating others and ourselves thinking we know best about directing our lives and filling our needs. We stop harming others. We begin relating and connecting with what is in us and with what is around us. Along with St. Francis, all of nature, inner and outer, begins to be seen as a mirror of the divine.

Renewing our Trust in Being: The Potential of an Elderculture

Many a thinker has referred to the twentieth century as the Age of Anxiety. This ought not be a surprise, as we feel anxious in the face of the unknown. The increased secularization over the last few centuries has shifted the origins of our existential burden squarely on the individual. We cannot make anyone but our own selves responsible for successes and failures. Worse yet, we cannot make sense of the vicissitudes of life, as within such a secular framework they must be interpreted as random, without meaning and purpose. We feel responsible for our own life and stay on guard against ‘bad’ things happening to us and those we love. Yet, the continued awareness of so-called catastrophes occurring all around us cannot help but fuel the anxiety that, ultimately, we are not in control of our lives. Within a religious framework – religion understood here as a connection to something larger, a respect for the sacred – humans share the burden life invariably presents with an unknowable force often referred to as God, the divine, Krishna, the Tao, or Nature. Here we believe in meaning and purpose of life, speak of trusting that there is something right about the events that occur, that a larger force will ‘know’ best what wants and needs to happen. The argument here is that as we grow into our older years, into elderhood, there is a natural tendency to move away from a belief in the individual shaping his or her own destiny to an understanding that much of life has really been out of our control and shaped by unknown forces. The process of time, of aging and maturation, thus allows for a deeper comprehension of the intricacies and complexities of human life, demands a needed respect for the unknown, the mystery, perhaps even the sacred.

Elders often teach us that we belong to a larger Being which directs our lives as much as we believe we direct our own. Such a teaching is urgently needed for generations growing up with the conviction that they need to look out for Number One, that they need to advance at all costs lest they will be considered a failure. This attitude places so much emphasis on individual achievement that the larger whole is neglected: people and planet are simply seen as tools to get ahead. Seen as tools, people and planet are instrumentalized. They lose their soul dimension. As such, this viewpoint leads to a disconnection with the world. We feel separate from it, we feel separate from our fellow human being.


… by valuing elders as wisdom keepers and teachers, we once again allow ourselves to deepen into the dimensions of our soul.


The root cause for much of our present world situation can be found in this disconnection. The way we care or do not care for our planet, the way we care or do not care for one another, all derive from the sense of connection and relationship we feel for people and planet. Is our life to be driven by personal achievement or collective well-being? Is our life governed by our own decisions or are we subject to larger forces? That these questions are unanswerable is not the point. That the questions are no longer questions being asked is at issue here.

The poetics of aging states that with valuing the aging process as maturation, by valuing elders as wisdom keepers and teachers, we once again allow ourselves to deepen into the dimensions of our soul. It is this deepening that allows us to find the perennial questions that might just offer the answers for changing the course of our present direction, for understanding more deeply who we are as people and planet.

AgeSong, Inc. – Growing Corn

Does it grow corn? This is the question native Americans would ask someone who spoke many a word in a row. Stated differently, can you actually translate those nice sounding words into practice? Can you make the abstract concrete? Certainly, it is easier to speak of a world of deep human and soulful relating then to make it happen, have it grow corn. For twenty years AgeSong has been managing eldercare communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, trying to put into practice its lofty ambition to help change the face of aging and to re-establish the role of eldership in our society. To start, such an undertaking seems overwhelming. A world where aging is welcomed and elders are revered for the amazing human beings they are, can hardly be imagined, let alone actualized. Moreover, to recreate eldership as a role in our society to which we humans aspire seems even more far-fetched given our present day attitudes. Yet, from the beginning, most goals seem unattainable.


Learning in an elder community is of depth, not information, of wisdom, not knowledge.


Let me try, thus, to paint some broad brush strokes as to how AgeSong is trying to attain its vision in everyday practice.

Foundationally, AgeSong conceives of itself as a learning organization. Herein lies the idea that all of us are continually learning, at all times and everywhere. This needs to be highlighted in a world obsessed with expertise and knowledge, a world where, all too often, we look to others to tell us what to be and do. Learning in an elder community is of depth, not information, of wisdom, not knowledge. The teaching we receive from elders is that the world is unknowable, will always remain mysterious. This awareness is so precious that it leads us to approach the world and others with a fundamentally different attitude from the one we learned in our mainstream upbringing and education: instead of thinking we need to know, we are directed by curiosity;we enjoy a beginner’s mind.

At AgeSong we literally practice saying that ‘we do not know’. Carepartners, interns and managers are reminded that not knowing is a higher state of understanding than pretending that we know. Such reminders set a tone of humility within the elder community. This tone signals to the world of elders that they are our teachers in this deep learning about the mystery of the world. It allows elders to be en par with those younger in years. Rather than feeling less, elders sense that they have something to give. Being able to contribute to the community of people surrounding them, our elders feel valued, respected, and seen.

Such a shift in attitude requires continual training and teaching. Every Wednesday afternoon the AgeSong community of staff and elders, of interns, volunteers and public, come together in our AgeSong Café to discuss topics ranging from our humanistic attitude towards aging, the difference between custodial and relational approaches to eldercare, the emphasis on following a person’s process rather than labeling, and a phenomenological approach to capturing experience. These topics try to speak to a different way of looking at the world and our elders, a world where all can be questioned and where a person’s personal experience has priority over intellectual understanding, categories and labels. Involving everyone at all times – from young interns, to Carepartners, volunteers, staff and our own resident elders – creates an air of inclusiveness, of valuing everyone’s participation and voice.

The AgeSong Gero-Wellness program of some thirty master and doctoral level psychology students learning to become psychotherapists establishes a school environment where sitting and listening to others – rather than task-list orientation and constant busyness – are seen as important attributes of care. Carepartners and staff notice that conversation, being with, is valued as much as doing, that going slow is as much appreciated as going fast, that listening is valued as much as speaking. These shifts seem subtle, at first. But over time they create an atmosphere wherein elders feel like people, not objects in need of care; feel relaxed rather than on guard; feel loved and appreciated rather than endured or tolerated.

Further emphasizing the attitude that elders are our teachers are continual public education programs that bring scholars and teachers into our eldercare communities. Such programs help to humanize and revision elder communities by creating alive centers of learning and creativity. Those who visit AgeSong often remark how their image of an elder community was quite different from what they experienced in our communities.

As important as our approach to elders and eldercare is our understanding that we are educators for the families of our elders. These families often feel a large burden when they have to place mom or dad into a care community. Helping these families through this transition by highlighting how their loved ones continue to teach our larger community of people with their rich experiences of life, that they are valued and cherished for who they are now as much as for who they have been, helps shift their attitude to aging and old age. They begin to look at their mom or dad differently. Many times, they become more engaged and interested in what mom and dad still have to offer them. This learning enriches the elder as much as it does the family. Moreover, these families now share their experiences within their own circle of friends and relatives and thus a slowly but steadily changing attitudinal shift towards aging and being an elder occurs within our smaller and larger communities of people. Thus, we hope that the AgeSong vision takes root and grows corn beyond the limits of our own communities here in San Francisco.

References:

Caspari, R. and S-H Lee (2004). Older age becomes common late in human evolution. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101:10895-10900. (Subject of that issue’s commentary by Rosenberg, K. (2004), Living longer: Information revolution, population, expansion, and modern human origins. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101:10847-10858. An Editor’s Choice for Science: Hanson, B. Ancient silver generations? Science 305:312.


Dr. Nader Shabahangi is CEO and cofounder of AgeSong. As CEO, Dr. Shabahangi ensures that the company’s vision drives its decisions and plans for elder care services. In 1992, he also founded the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit organization that defines its mission as one of helping elders live meaningful lives through an existential-humanistic approach to care. Dr. Shabahangi is a frequent guest lecturer, including presenting at international conferences focusing on aging, psychotherapy, and forgetfulness (dementia). In 2003, he authored Faces of Aging, a book challenging stereotypical views of the aging process and of growing old. In 2008, he co-authored Deeper Into the Soul, a book aimed at de-stigmatizing and broadening our understanding of dementia. In 2009 he co-authored Conversations With Ed, a book challenging readers to look at dementia in different ways and in 2011 he wrote Elders Today, a photo essay describing the opportunities awaiting us in our second half of life. In the same year he also edited Gems of Wisdom, a book of poems written largely by elders living in assisted living communities throughout California. In 2012 he published Encounters of a Real Kind, a compilation of stories highlighting his innovative Gero-Wellness program where young psychotherapy interns work hand in hand with often very frail and forgetful elders in elder communities. His recently released book Ambiguity of Suffering (2014) outlines his research on the importance of understanding the underlying meaning of psychological as well as physical symptoms for individuals and the world they inhabit. Dr. Shabahangi received his Doctorate from Stanford University and is a licensed psychotherapist.

READ MORE:

 http://lutheranservices.org/caringconnections_vol11no3ORdownload a PDF of all articles for offline reading.