Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's Great to Hear from YOU!

I am pleasantly surprised with the interest in my blogs about my career in Gerontology. Today on the radio there was a piece about the shortage of geriatricians and other professionals in the field of aging. Given the rapid aging of America's and the world's population, this is a crisis already arrived. However, young people, this is also an exciting opportunity for you. Enter a field that needs you. That is never boring. And that has endless possibilities.

I look forward to writing the next installment of "My Career in Aging" which will deal with "what do you do all day, anyway?" But this week, in addition to my "retirement" job as Executive Director of the New York Citizens Committee on Aging, I am also finishing up a chapter for a friend's book about ministering to the sick and dying. So tune in next week for more on my career.

Once again I want to thank you all for your comments. Thank you Maryellen for inspiring me. Thank you Teresa for reminding us that "the best age is the age you are". We need to take care of our health, body and soul, at any age. Tina, you are wise indeed - one can live, thrive and grow no matter what - life is precious, as you know. A special thanks to purpleflowerpatch for the Excellent Blog Award. I am grateful!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Philosophy of Aging: Part 2

Today I will finish quoting from my "ancient" paper on my philosophy of aging.

Working with Older Adults. When I graduated from college with a degree in Mathematics, I went to work for the Social Security Administration. I wanted to help people, especially older people, because they let you help them, they were so appreciative. Unfortunately, the federal government bureaucracy cramped my style (even way back then!) and choked my creativity in endless rules, regulations and red tape.

My next venture into the field of aging was as a community organizer with the Community Action Program. Here I learned a good deal about the diverse nature of elderly people and about “helping” people. They were still appreciative but they taught me that they wanted to help themselves. (Boy! Do I ever understand that now that I am “elderly” myself.) But I was needed to educate them and to show them how to mobilize against the establishment. I felt alive and young being with them. Maybe it was the contrast in our ages, but maybe it was their own “youth”, too, that made me feel that way.

Now (1981) I am back in the field of aging after eight years working with young people. The diversity of the elderly is even more apparent now that I have a formal education in gerontology. I see that not all elderly are poor and dependent, not all are disease-ridden and limited, not all are unattractive, not all are appreciative and understanding, as I once thought. I see the real differences and I rejoice in the discovery that aging is an individual experience, unique to each person. I think that I respect older people more now and that my philosophy of aging is less patronizing than it once was.

Impact of M.S. Degree in Gerontology. My studies at the College of New Rochelle have had a definite effect on my philosophy of aging as noted above. In addition to a greater understanding of the biology, psychology and sociology of aging, I have altered my views on a number of issues. My research into Social Security financing confirmed earlier views on retirement and the need – social as well as personal – for people to continue to be active past the age of 65. But the research also made me aware of the seriousness of the financing of entitlement programs and the need for careful consideration of the consequences of demographic shifts and inflation on future generations. Thus, while I am always an advocate of elderly causes, I must face the reality of a Politics of Scarcity and a dependency ratio.

I think my greatest moment of truth came during the Human Relations course with J. W. We were having a psycho-drama on aging. Suddenly I was aware that all of my fellow students of gerontology were interpreting successful aging in terms of how “young” one was for his age. Those most guilty were the two oldest members of the class. “What is wrong with being old?”, I asked. Why can’t we have an “old is beautiful” campaign? Why, indeed!

America’s orientation is on youth, alas! “Youth is in”, but not for long, as all of us find out sooner or later. Perhaps, as the old begin to outnumber the young in the next century and as medical science reduces the physical limitations of aging and conquers diseases of old age, age will be where it’s at. I hope so!

Forward to 2008. Looking back at this 1981 paper, it is interesting to note how my own aging has not changed my 40 year old views all that much. But I observed how my concerns about financing crises in entitlement programs have continued to become more and more critical over the years - during good as well as bad economic times. One thing is certain – the predicted aging of our society is now understood by all. Next time I will talk about my “practical” life as a professional in the field of aging.

Friday, January 18, 2008

My Career in Gerontology

My new blog friend, Maryellen has asked me to write about my career in Gerontology, working with older persons. To begin my “series” on what it’s like to work in the field of aging, I start with some excerpts from a paper I wrote in grad school back in 1981 “My Personal Philosophy of Aging”. Here’s what I had to say way back then.

I have always enjoyed being with older people. Somehow I was more comfortable with their ideas, morals, music and values than with those of my own turbulent cohort group. I felt secure in their unthreatening support, satisfied by their exuberant appreciation, comforted by their patient understanding.

These early images of the elderly were based on my relationships with my maternal and paternal grandparents. In childhood, I remember my grandmother’s unashamed physical demonstrations of genuine affection, spontaneous and with no strings attached. And my grandfather – he knew a million and one ways to delight us – from spinning yarns about giants to treating us to a candy surprise every night. Later, in my teens, it was my other grandmother who had the time to listen and understand when my mother did not. Yes, old age – to me – was always beautiful, wise and good.

As a teenager, I thought much about death but not at all about growing old. I have only recently faced the reality of my own aging – grays outnumber browns, sagging chin, sunken eyes. It was not a pretty sight. (Imagine how I feel now at age 66!) I began to doubt my pollyanna philosophy of aging. The negative aspects crept into the foreground: The dreaded diseases of old age – after 35, a pain here could mean heart attack; a pain there, arthritis – or worse! The losses of old age – finding that I had to hold the book farther away to see; asking someone to repeat what they said; running up the last few steps with leaden legs. Forgetting where I put things was no longer attributed to absentmindedness. I WAS GETTING OLD!

And as constant reminders, my children (now it’s my grandkids) were always there, growing into young adults, towering over me, bringing home questions that I could no longer answer, exploring the world out from under my wing.

I was annoyed with myself. Why should someone who revered and respected old age be so upset by her own aging? And it was with this realization, together with my education in gerontology and personal experiences, that I began to put together a more realistic philosophy of aging.

The experience of my own beloved grandfather’s retirement was what inspired me to choose gerontology as a profession. After retiring, he declined rapidly. One Sunday afternoon, we were sitting and chatting. Suddenly, he was talking about childhood friends as if they were right there with us. My worst fears were realized and it wasn’t long before he was wandering out into the night, losing control of his bodily functions, unable to recognize us. The diagnosis: arteriosclerosis of the brain. (Alzheimer’s had not leaped into the diagnostic spotlight as yet.) Finally, he had to be institutionalized. Visiting him in that cold, uncaring world centered all of my fears and hostilities about aging on their ultimate symbol – the institution. I carried this personal vendetta against institutionalization for many years in my work with the elderly until this attitude, too, was tempered by education and experience.

Now (in 1981) my grandmother is 89 years old. She suffers from organic brain syndrome (most likely Alzheimer’s) but she is not institutionalized. Instead my 63 year old mother cares for her at home. This has involved constant searches for untrained “baby-sitters” to care for my grandmother while my mother works. It involves paying these caregivers from an income that doesn’t qualify for Medicaid, but can’t afford quality services either. It involves answering my grandmother’s endless questions: “Where am I?” “When am I going home?” “Does my mother know I’m here?” over and over and over. It involves being awakened at 3 a.m., being unable to return sleep, and having to go to work the next morning. It involves getting seriously ill yourself. But my mother still will not consider a nursing home for my grandmother. Out of guilt? Memories of my grandfather’s institutionalization?

However, my philosophy has changed. I see now the need for SNF’s (skilled nursing facilities) and HRF’s (what today would be Assisted Living) and I am happy that my contact with nursing home professionals (in my classes), my field internship at Morningside House, my own study and research has helped me to come to a more informed grasp of this aspect of aging in our society. I am now working with my mother to enable her to make a wise and guilt-free decision about my grandmother.”

Back to 2008. It is amazing to me how much the above paper predicted the many varied challenges I would face in my future career: misunderstanding about the capabilities of older people; working with family caregivers; expanding benefits and support for the growing numbers of elderly; better training for home care workers; the changing nature of nursing homes, etc. etc. This is why the field of aging is never boring – there is so much still to be done. And the numbers of elders – “our” numbers are increasing. More to come!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Winter Poems

To celebrate this balmy January day, I will share one of my favorite winter poems.

A Walk in the Warm Winter Wood

Springtime in January
feels like an old friend
clasping me in her arms.

Shivering stillness drapes me
in velvety pine while
silver tongued twigs
beckon in the moonlit sun.

River paths come alive
with gray radiance,
bursting to spew secrets
I'm not yet ready to receive.

Not in January.
Not in winter.
Not yet.
Let's wait awhile longer.
Just be still.

Too soon the sun grows cold,
chilling me to my feet.

As I hurry away
stillness slips gently
from my shoulders
like a lost scarf.

copyright E. Ramos 1/11/2000

Sunday, January 6, 2008

One More Thank You Blog

I see that 2008 will be another rush rush year. Never got to do my series on gratitude. But I will take time today to publicly thank the Lord for my three children and six grandchildren. I am very blessed indeed.

Our three children are very close in age, only three years separate my son and my youngest daughter. We didn't plan it that way, yet I am convinced that it worked out great. I waited till they were in school to start my career track, getting my Masters in Gerontology at age 40 and going on from there. I don't know how mothers do it today, balancing career and family. Or having their career first and then starting a family. Raising 3 toddlers in my twenties was exhausting for me, in fact those years are a blur!

My son and two daughters were intelligent, talented, beautiful kids, who went to the best schools and who grew up to be good people, with strong values, social consciences and a love of nature. Those of you who visit my youngest daughter's blog know all about her artistic and literary achievements. My son is also talented in art and writing. And my daughter in California is a gifted photographer and poet.

Our children are all married and have given us six fabulous grandkids. Four of them live close by so we get to see each other often. Our two youngest grandsons from California just spent a few weeks visiting. All six are intelligent, gorgeous kids, with unique talents, who show great promise. When I learn how to post pictures, you will see that I'm not kidding.

Yes I am one grateful Grandma, as the year 2008 gets going. Now I'm off to indulge in my favorite sport: walking - in my favorite place, the Bronx Botanical Garden. And am I ever thankful for that piece of Paradise in my own backyard!