Wisdom from elders

Dr. Eleanor Barbera
Dr. Eleanor Barbera

I've learned a lot from listening to residents over the years, but it's rare that I request specific advice. This month, I decided to change that.

In private conversations, I told residents that I was writing an article on advice from elders about how to live life and I asked them if they had any wisdom they wanted to share with young people.

Their responses were immediate and enthusiastic, as if they'd been waiting for someone to ask. They were so pleased with the question that I decided to ask my own elder relatives for their opinions as well. One family member, inspired by the inquiry, called to contribute further advice after her initial offering.

Many of the comments focused on wellbeing and taking risks in life:

•  “If there's something you want to do, go for it. Even if it doesn't work out, at least you tried.”

•  “Do what you can while you can do it. Take a chance!”

•  “Do things you enjoy and keep as busy as your health will allow.”

•  “Don't overdo it.”

Others centered on maintaining independence:

•  “Do the best you can and save a dime, because now when they jump me for money, I got a little something to pull out.”

•  “Try to have something of your own, not your mother's, not your father's.”

Several people offered relationship advice:

•  “Pay attention to your spouse but be an individual too.”

•  “Pick your friends wisely.”

•  “Hang out with people who are supportive.”

•  “Respect elderly people because you'll be that way also one day.”

•  “I would tell the young girls — 17, 18, 19 years old — don't accept the first invitation. All a man sees in you at that point is in the bed. When you refuse a few times and he persists, then you take him home to meet Mommy.”

Some seniors addressed themes around work and education:

•  “Stay in school.”

•  “Prepare yourself in an area that interests you and then work will never seem like work.”

•  “Stay straight, stay clean — you don't want to wind up in a little box in prison.”

A few emphasized physical and mental health:

•  “Follow all the basic eating and health rules. It's worth it!”

•  “Try to be a good person every day and hope everything goes well — but if it doesn't, don't blame yourself.”

•  “If something goes wrong, acknowledge the feelings and try to be logical about getting over it. If you need to, ask for help.”

After hearing the question, one octogenarian joked, “Actually, I was looking for some elders to share their wisdom with me!”

It seems no matter how old we get, there's always something we can learn from those with more experience.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident's Guide, is a 2014 Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is the Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category of the 2014 American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with nearly 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.

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