What does it mean to be a Silver Sage?

     Either my arms were getting shorter or something else was seriously wrong with me.  Reading was becoming an increasingly troublesome undertaking.  I couldn’t decipher the words on the newspaper page, or a can of vegetables or the directions on the bottle of Aspirin.

The eye Doctor announced those fateful words “Well, at your age, you have to expect these things to happen.  You need reading glasses.”  That day was a turning point in my life which I have never forgotten. At age 39 I was getting old and heading for all kinds of physical unknowns.

Each Doctor after that day, gave me the same speech about “at your age…”  I could not compute those words.  At age age 39 I gave birth to my son, an only child, so how could I be old enough to be considered “at that age…” 

My journey of changes led to a search for answers to all that bad press about aging. Modern technology has enabled us to live a longer life with improvements in the quality of life.  The stigma around seniors being frequently judged as having a mental decline runs rampant with tags such as old geezer, old lady, aged, young lady, elderly, and more I can’t be bothered to name.  My idea of saying “silver sages” comes from our graying hair and our enlightened wisdom. No matter what you know or how much you have learned, more insight and wisdom are gained from living every day.

Acknowledge that behavioral changes due to aging are basically indications of developmental needs. The communication habits of seniors are the tools they use to process end-of-life tasks. Without first-hand experience of having been a senior, how can we effectively nurture the elderly? Learn to give support, instead of judging and criticizing them during their current stage of aging. 

There are dozens of courses on child development. We long for courses to be available to the general public on geriatric development. It is a stage of growth unlike any other and will be better understood when time and caring are both invested in getting rid of the geriatric gap. Understanding and facilitating the developmental needs of silver sages can be difficult because every age band is focused on their own developmental issues and can’t see ahead to the next stage.

      Let’s review to find solutions. Always consider individual differences. One size does not fit all.  A numbered calendar age does not equal a set stage of development.

A display of a lack of urgency reveals a current stage showing how making decisions and quick sequencing are not what’s important. Seniors are more concerned with what has happened and the meaning of their life experiences. Their nonlinear conversations reveal how silver sages meander in conversations rather than focusing on the task at hand. They sort, discover, produce spontaneous revelations and insights while revisiting their life dramas.

Seniors use repetition to recall and revisit events that had a great impact on their lives.  It is a form of emphasizing past events. Instead of becoming frustrated and tuning them out, pay attention to what is being emphasized and ask questions about what you perceive as the significance of the story.

When silver sages uncouple, or disconnect from the conversation, accept these events as opportunities to ask open-ended questions to discover more about their current view of the discussion. Uncoupling does not have to signal the end of the conversation. It is not a hang-up, it is a disconnect.

     Why do they fuss so much about the unimportant stuff with so much attention to details? Realize that their story is not a factual historical record but a tool to minutely examine parts of their life that are significant. They are reaching for value and understanding of events and attention to detail is part of the way to get there.

Some of the best communication techniques you can use:

1.     Listen to understand what’s important to seniors.

2.     Don’t rush the conversation or create a panic. If pushed too hard too soon, many seniors will respond by digging in their heels.

3.     Pose questions and offer more than one acceptable solution. By doing that you not only give them control and independence, but you also involve them in the decision process and make it work for everyone, regardless of the choice.

4.     Keep it simple. Raise a single issue at a time rather than a complex group of ideas or subjects all at once.

5.     Be patient.

    We are expected to make allowances for the communication babbling habits of young children and awkwardness of teenagers, but we are less tolerant of the communication habits of older adults.  We tend to view silver sages as oppositional, irritating and slowing down, which is frustrating. Seniors, just like infants or teens or those in midlife, are on a journey in a new and unfamiliar world. Their drive to reflect on the past gives rise to new and unique communication habits which are not barriers, confrontational tactics, or signs of decline, but keys to development for this stage of life.

     Become more patient and creative in your interactions with silver sages. Learning never ends.


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