“What we Learn from Elders” AgeSong 2015 Intern Training Video

This video starts the discussion about how at AgeSong we view Elders as our Teachers. We would like to help you have a shift an attitude in how you view elders. We want to re-vision how we view the residents, because our views will be picked up by them. We want to encourage ourselves to look at them in a new way, with new eyes. Re-frame our thoughts so we are honored to be in their presence irrespective of what their condition is. It is a privilege to be with them in all of these different situations. If they can feel that you have that kind of vision, they also feel valued and they also have a purpose. The elders feel they can be teachers and can help us become deeper, more grounded, more centered, more caring and more compassionate people.

Engaging with Elders Inside AgeSong Communities and Joining with them out in the Local Community

Interns at AgeSong have the ability to engage with residents in a myriad of ways that can be effective therapeutically. If you feel the resident can use some quiet time just let the Care Partners know. You are in charge in that way, you have permission to make that happen.

In America we do not see elders out on the street very often. So having the ability to bring elders out into the local communities is really positive. Give people the thought when was the last time that they were with an elder. We strive to have the kind of Communities that are desirable to people of all types, that are integrative and encourage age groups of all kinds to interact and engage.

Elders give to us.

They give to you. Let go of the worry that you have to give to the elders in the community. Be of the mindset that when you are around elders you dont have to give them anything other than who you are in terms of being present. You might not feel that until you have had some time to be immersed in this environment. Your experiences of being immersed here will stay with you.

Learning how to say I don’t know.

Sitting with an elder and you don’t have to feel that you have to “do something.” You will arrive. Everything slows down. Let go of the anxiety of having to say or do something. The client knows what is up, where to go. Follow the clients process. “Elders are our teachers,” is one the taglines of AgeSong. When was the Give them the gift of your presence. Have them be your teachers. One of the things we like to do at AgeSong is learn to say “I don’t know.” A foundational precept is that you do not have to do anything other than follow the clients process. To follow their presence all you have to do is be present. What is a foundational technique to being present? Slow down and be aware of where you are and how do we impact others. Be here.

Center Before you Enter

Come here and take a deep breath. Forget about the rest and be “here.” Now you enter. Saying hi to people and acknowledging them helps us to get into being here.

What we Learn from Elders? To summarize:

In learning from elders we realize that we do not have to give of anything but ourselves, our Elders give to you. The pressure is off for the rest of the year.

You have nothing to do, you don’t know. That is a big thing. You learn to say I don’t know, you learn to feel I don’t know. Only when you learn to know that you do not know can you be open to the other bringing you something in. This is because if you know something already the other cannot get in. Be open to the mystery.

We are doing an immersion here during the Intern and we are learning by doing. We are re-framing or re-visioning how we look at things. Finding other ways of seeing things.

At AgeSong we practice a non-pathologizing attitude. We do not look at something as disease. For example the term “assisted living.” Assisted Living gives the meaning of that which needs assistance. This is defining people by their needs instead of as individuals. At AgeSong we call ourselves an Elder Care Community or Elder Community. This allows us to view the community members as individuals and allow them to teach us. Elders help us to be here, to be in the moment. Be deeper and more grounded.

Find out More!

Read more stories about Elders as Teachers.

Explore more videos in the AgeSong Video Library

AgeSong Vision Training Video with Nader Shabahangi & AgeSong Trainees

In this AgeSong Vision Training video we join Nader Shabahangi, CEO of AgeSong, speaking with AgeSong trainees about the AgeSong Vision during the AgeSong Orientation and Training in August of 2015. This AgeSong Vision Training video is a great introduction to the inner workings of AgeSong and how the AgeSong Vision fosters the AgeSong Exceptional Assisted Living experience for both residents and staff.

An Introduction to the AgeSong Vision

Nader introduces the AgeSong Vision and discusses some differences between AgeSong residential communities and the “standard” assisted living residential model.

One of the main differences is in approach to resident life. AgeSong treats their residents as Elders; Elders are thought of as teachers who are giving to their community and to those working in the community. This is in contrast to the passive role residents experience in a more mainstream assisted living residence where the workers exert more control over the residents.

AgeSong Vision Training: Emphasis on Relationships

AgeSong Vision promotes relationships and relational care within the communities. As an example of relational care in an AgeSong residential community, Nader sets up a role play with the trainees where he plays a resident who does not want to put one of his shoes on.

One version of the role play really shows the “relational” approach used at AgeSong.
In this role play Vincent, in the role of Care Partner, did not make the shoe the most important point of contact when he realized the resident was having an issue with everyone wanting the resident to put on his shoe. Vincent made the “individual” more important; he made the relationship important. He asked the resident to put his shoe on and when the resident refused, Vincent asked if he could sit with the resident. By doing this, by sitting with the resident on an even level and having a short chat a connection was made and the goal was accomplished through “relationship” vs through controlling the resident.

The AgeSong Vision gives Control to Residents

Residents are given as much control in daily life as is safely possible. AgeSong works to increase an elders choices in daily life. Also there is a constant evaluation to try to find ways to increase residents choices to give them aspects they can control.

The AgeSong Vision is About Respect for the Resident and the Relationship

Respect for the resident as individual is important in the AgeSong Vision. Take entering a residents room. Build the relationship by showing respect to the resident when entering a residents home. Knock, introduce yourself, say the resident’s name before entering. If the resident does not answer, please announce yourself and inform them if you will be entering, giving them the opportunity to respond. The AgeSong Vision is to emphasize respect and relationship in all aspects of care and contact.

The AgeSong Vision Views the Residents and Elders who are Teachers

In AgeSong Assisted Living Communities we look at the residents as Elders; people who have things to give to us, they teach us, they are our school. AgeSong is like a university almost, a place to learn.

What can Elders teach us? They can teach us values: like Kindness, Patience, Love, Empathy and more. Elders are “related,” and are very interested in those around them. At AgeSong we can learn from them the values they have learned over a lifetime lived. We incorporate those into our working life at AgeSong.

The AgeSong Vision Promotes Mindfulness and Being Present

Elders teach us “Mindfulness.” Being present, be in the moment. You can show that by respect and consideration in our daily routine. How can we be ‘present’ in the moment? Come in leave our phone aside, engage and develop relationships.

At AgeSong we use “Forgetfulness” Instead of “Dementia”

AgeSong does not call changing cognition “dementia.” At AgeSong these conditions are referred to as “forgetfulness.” Why doesn’t AgeSong use the term “dementia”? There are numerous reasons to refrain from using the word dementia.

One reason is “the individual is not the disease” and the idividual is not a problem. We do not want to focus on a “problem” we want to focus on the whole individual.
Secondly there is stigma associated with dementia, it is a negative term that provokes negative responses and alienates that person from others.

Also if you say someone has dementia then you are actually saying that they are “different and separate” from everyone else. Using the term forgetfulness helps us stay related to one another. We are related to those who are forgetful as we all experience forgetfulness.

AgeSong Communities in the Bay Area

Nader discusses the structure of AgeSong and the emphasis on Community. In San Francisco, there is AgeSong Hayes Valley, AgeSong Laguna Grove, and AgeSong University Care. The Oakland community is AgeSong WoodPark.

AgeSong is not just a Job it is an Opportunity for Growth

Working at AgeSong is a paycheck but in some ways it is also like a Spiritual practice. You are growing as a person. Coming to work and learning. Everyday AgeSong employees come in and are working with vulnerable people, frail people, and people who teach them. Everyday they are coming to a class, they are coming to learn.

The Origins of AgeSong

Nader also walks through the origins of the word “AgeSong.” AgeSong: Meditations for our Later Years is a book written by Elizabeth Bugental after the loss of her best friend. She was reflecting on how one’s elder years can give us the opportunity to decide how we would really like to live the final phase of our life. How in our elder years we can have the courage to do life “our way;” freeing ourselves from the artificial restrictions that we accept in our younger years.

Find out More!

Explore more videos in the AgeSong Video Library

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

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The Lady in Number 6 Exemplifies AgeSong’s Vision of Elders as Teachers

Published: March 13th, 2014 11:33 EST
Agesong Assisted Living: Not just an Elder Community
Original story on theSOP.org

By Mimi A.

For many years Agesong has been embracing elders, sharing their wisdom, and educating families and communities that one may be teachers until their last breath is taken. Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest pianist and holocaust survivor in the world exemplifies the vision that Agesong`s CEO Nader Shabahangi strives to achieve at all the communities. Alice passed away at age 110, but not before she shared her wisdom and peaceful-loving heart in an Oscar nominated documentary called The Lady in Number 6, ” an 11-minute interview may be viewed at: Oldest Living Pianist, Holocaust Survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer – 109 years old

Not only has Shabahangi`s philosophy toward elder care inspired people locally and nationally it inspired Rose Wake to move from Australia to become a part of the Agesong community: My position as Executive Educator and Director of Enrichment allows me the privilege of bringing and sharing cultural change, spiritual awareness and growth, and enriching magical moments for our elders and care-partners. ” Wake was also awe stricken when she first met Shabahangi because he articulated confidently his belief that elder care communities could embrace a philosophical and psycho-social framework while using loving and spiritual descriptive language.

Additionally, Rick Stanuikynas, the Chaplin at Agesong, stated that: A chaplain co-creates meaning with residents by being with them in their story. Through the ministry of presence, we are companions. Through emotional and spiritual support, we carry their story into memory, “forget me not` moments hold us all together in the AgeSong community. In the end “being with` enriches and validates the unique experience we all have in the search for meaning. ” Stanuikynas then shared a few experiences he had with the elders at Agesong: An elder tells me she hums a little ditty when she feels lonely for comfort; we hum together. Another elder tells me, gratitude helps me cope; we thank together. And, another elder sits in silence; we sit together. ” Stanuikynas finished with: A chaplain`s empathic stance opens a sacred space to walk with elders wherever they are at, wherever they lead us. ”

Resident and Staff Currently Rose Wake and Rick Stanuikynas are also working on a project together at Agesong called: “Learning to Love.” The path of learning to love is described as being a spiritual path, one where each person seeks their journey toward love, spirit, and is highly individualized while being nurtured and accepted with unconditional-loving-regard. The philosophy is: Irrespective of each person`s path to love more deeply Agesong welcomes all religious denominations as an integral tenet for ecumenical collaboration ” Soul soars high when the acceptance of all faiths and beliefs occur side-by-side. ”

CEO Nader Shabahangi, choosing to expand on the original vision at the elder communities has also broadened the scope of care to include adults and elders who suffer from psychiatric disorders as well as terminal illnesses who are on hospice and walking through the end of life process such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar, cancer, epilepsy, congested heart failure, and other debilitating conditions. Through a cooperative, nurturing focus from the administrators, therapists, care-partners, student interns, and staff members Agesong is giving families an alternative option and environment to place their loved ones.

In addition to the care at the San Francisco community it was Shabahangi`s vision to connect the local community with the elders at Agesong by opening up the Forget me not café to the public. By doing so it opens a channel for the elders to stimulate their intellect, share their wisdom, and deeply connect. The café is open from Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and serves an assortment of soups, sandwiches, salads, desserts, and drinks. To view the philosophy behind the Forget me not café, and see the menu go to: Forget Me Not Cafe Menu

If you`re interested in learning more about AgeSong, Shabahangi and the AgeSong vision please contact Nader Shabahangi at: nader@agesong.com; and/or view AgeSongs many web-links at: AgeSong.com, AgeSongInstitute.org, PoeticsOfAging.org and PacificInstitute.org.

Encounters of a Real Kind Are Becoming a Rarity


In some ways it does not matter whether a person who spends time with elders is willing to allow him or herself to be touched or moved. Being within the field of elders who, as the rest of us, experience various states of forgetfulness, will change a person.

Nader R. Shabahangi, Introduction to Encounters of a Real Kind

How many times a day do you really feel alive? In the introduction to a new book,  Encounters of a Real Kind: Musings, Poetry, Stories About Elders, Forgetfulness and Life, Shabahangi says:

Encounters of a Real Kind are exactly that: deep meetings between human beings. Such real contact is becoming more and more a rarity in our fast-paced, productivity and achievement oriented world. Real encounters are meetings of the heart and soul, the places where we humans truly feel alive and live.

Encounters of a Real Kind are exactly that: deep, life-changing meetings between human beings.

A program of the San Francisco-based educational organization Pacific Institute, the AgeSong Institute Gero-Wellness training for psychology interns places graduate and post-graduate students in AgeSong assisted living communities. There these interns work from an existential-humanistic, processwork perspective with elders of all ages. Encounters of a Real Kind is a collection of musings, poetry and stories from these interns that speak to their encounters with these elders over the course of their one year training.

Many of the resident elders present with symptoms of forgetfulness, often referred to as dementia, as well as with so-called behavioral health issues and various forms of physical frailty. But rather than focus on symptoms, the AgeSong Institute Gero-Wellness training emphasizes that we need to ‘see’ and care for the whole human being. It teaches that symptoms are meaningful and important signals for a deeper understanding of each person, that these symptoms need to be met with curiosity and respect, with an attitude of wonder and love.

There is never anything ‘wrong’ with a person. Rather, we ask: what is right about what is happening now? Where does it want to lead us? How are we to understand its message to us? We see our elders with eyes of love, not with eyes that look for pathologies and disease.

Elders, with all of their richness, depth and life-experience, are the most beautiful teachers in this world. These teachers provide our interns – but really all of us who take time to be with them – the privilege to deeply experience and understand what it means to live a life, to have lived a life. Elders give those who will allow themselves to be present with them an exceptional opportunity to grow into a full human being.

This is not an easy journey. Interns face the complexity of the question of human identity and the fear and anxiety of disability and dying. They begin to understand the difference between being-with and doing-to and learn the art of unfolding a person’s process. They experience the many forms of forgetfulness and states of awareness, the many ways of communication, verbal and non-verbal. They begin to appreciate the quality and subjective nature of time, of slowing down, of being present and of listening deeply. They learn to establish a trusting relationship and experience the richness and challenge of hospice work. They learn about mindfulness, about focused attention, building community, and the meaning of isolation and loneliness. They learn to be with coma, trauma, and the many other forms and meanings of dependencies. They learn about the finitude of life, about what really matters – to them and others.

Interns begin to grasp the difference between information and knowledge, between knowledge and wisdom.

Hearing an elder speak about life, sitting quietly next to a forgetful elder holding hands, walking slowly with an elder noticing one’s breath, the breeze on one’s face – these are encounters of the real kind. They present us with an inkling of the dimension of the human soul and spirit.

These encounters change your life.

In the Preface to the book, Chris Schachter, AgeSong consultant, says, “The privilege of working with the forgetful has been a great gift to me.” She continues:

I become forced to learn a new language; one that is honest, apolitical; a language that includes an admission of “I don’t know”, when I don’t. I must learn to listen, not with my ears; see not just with my eyes, feel a message sent, without touch. I have to pay attention. I have to be present, now.

Throughout the book, Gero-Wellness Interns document their experiences, feelings, and understanding of life through poetry and stories, such as the following:

Uncertainty Melts Away

When I realized that you were no longer using your words to communicate, although you were still able, I felt uncertain about how to be there with you, and for you.

Each time, in my uncertain moments, you took my hand and put it to your cheek. I felt this was to let me know that you saw me, that you heard me. And each time it happened, my uncertainty melted away.

For this and so much else, I am forever grateful. 

 Felicia Less

The book is available in soft copy for $20.00. To order and for more information, contact Tom Ekunwe, 415.252.1128.






Youth and Elders Join Forces To Explore Their Potential for Growth

I totally buy into the concept of youth and elders joining together to learn from each other.  My granddaughter (10 months old) and my mother (93 years old) are my greatest teachers.  They both teach me to be in the present and to listen, not an easy task for an aging boomer, with a maternal heritage of strong-minded women who expressed their viewpoints on anything, asked or unasked.

But elders and youth learning together on a sail boat in the open sea? Okay for those who have navigated in the oceans like my father-in-law, who went deep sea fishing well into his late nineties.  But for a 60+, non physically adventurous woman who’s most demanding sport is yoga?

Yet there’s something that intrigues me about the seven-day adventure in the Baltic Sea that took place 10th June 2012 evening to 17th June 2012 noon. The trip was headed by an eclectic group of adventurous, forward-thinking, intergenerational leaders:  Benjamin Kafka, Impuls, GermanyMark Hessellund Beanland, Denmark,  and Erik van Lennep, Tepui, US/Ireland.  Perhaps the draw is the idea of community, meaningful workshops, and conversations on a learning voyage in the open sea under an expansive sky.

Is there another trip planned? If, like me, you are intrigued by the youth and elder project and voyage, join the SKYPE conversation to continue the intergenerational conversation virtually across seas and continents.

For more information, view: www.youthandelders.com.