These are some advantages of aging that we learned about in our retreat on Saturday. Contrary to what I thought, aging does not seem very frightening. I used to be afraid of getting old – of losing my quickness, sharpness, and control over my body. I used to associate aging with losses and the negative age stereotypes often portrayed in the media. However, after Professor Lewis’s lecture on aging, I realized that I should connect aging to gains rather than losses. If the process of aging is inevitable, why not learn to enjoy it? Instead of talking about forgetfulness in old age, why not talk about the wisdom that you will have accumulated through experiences?
After the mini-lecture about aging demographics, we played the Life board game that illustrated how socioeconomic disadvantages at birth can increase exposure to adverse events or exacerbate the detrimental impact of these events on a person’s physical and mental health as he or she ages. An example from the game was that polluting factories are more likely to concentrate in low-income or minority neighborhoods whose residents lack political power to oppose construction of these factories. Moreover, while these groups are exposed to hazardous particles in polluted air, their socioeconomic disadvantages limit their access to appropriate healthcare. Although many adverse events in the game resulted from individual decisions (such as personal choice to do drugs), many others, including the polluted neighborhoods, were products of the societal environment and hierarchy that individuals have little control over. Although the media like attribute engagement in unhealthy behavior to individual decisions and put the individual at fault, these decisions oftentimes reflect the socioeconomic structure that we are chained to. On our first site visit, we chatted with a senior – a veteran – sitting in front of the Sara Frances Hometel and inquiring about services for low-income seniors. “I should stop drinking, but it helps with the pain,” he said as he held up his can of beer and disfigured hand. Should we blame people like him for heavy drinking? Definitely not. Do we do it? Probably yes. The challenge for our society is to stop blaming the individuals so fast and reform our system to promote healthy aging for everyone.
We then had the honor of meeting Dr. Benesh, the author of the book 7 Memories: Partnering to Write a Memoir that we will use to write a memoir of our extraordinary person. Not only did we learn about different approaches to interviewing our extraordinary person, collecting sensory information and objects to tell stories, and drafting a memoir; but we also learned the significance of a memoir and how it connects different generations in a family while preserving memories of our loved ones. This allowed me to understand the purpose of the oral history project and appreciate it more.