Somewhere down the road, when I walk through the front doors of your long-term care facility on my first day as a resident, I hope to move with even half the vigor 80-year-old Barry Manilow showed as he trotted onto a Las Vegas stage earlier this week. 

My gosh, it was impressive, the way he appeared to defy every universal law of physics just to stay upright and nimble on his spindly little popsicle stick legs. “It’s a miracle, a true-blue spectacle,” I whispered to myself in awe and envy. “Could he be magic?” 

I’m similarly astonished by Mick Jagger, 80, and Paul McCartney, 81, who remain impervious to the ravages of time, and are able to still tour and perform at a high level without making a mockery of themselves. Tony Bennett continued to amaze and delight up until age 95, long after his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s. 

People like Barry, Mick, Paul and Tony make things tough for other seniors, and for me as I approach that time of life, because they skew the curve. Getting old should mean the pressures to achieve drop away, but after watching them onstage, I feel nothing but the growing panic of high expectations. Their performances make 85 seem like the new 70, but for most of us, that won’t stop 70 from feeling like 85. 

Fast forward a few years to when I’m your rehab patient, I’m already dreading the day I hit the wall and tell the therapist I can’t possibly take another step. Instead of reacting with acceptance and empathy, she’ll probably respond, “Of course you can. Don’t be such a wimp. I just saw Barry Manilow do it in Vegas, and he’s 100.” 

Actually, I suspect the secret to their unnatural longevity is wrapped around the self-sustaining nature of performance itself—the nurturing elation of feeling fervently loved and valued by their audiences. Even as my own pastor father aged into his mid-80s, I could see his energy spike and years drop from his face every time he stepped into the pulpit to deliver a sermon to a church full of true believers. When he was preaching, he was plugged in to the source, and it was a beautiful thing to watch.

You probably see this in your facilities every day, especially if you’re blessed with a great activity director who understands how to give each resident the opportunity to express themselves and be valued for it. Even just encouraging someone to tell you a story from their past, and responding to it positively and with presence, can offer them the sustaining warmth of an appreciative audience.

But I guess my main point is that while I don’t have a band, pyrotechnics or a literal stage, writing this column is also a performance of sorts. So as I enter my final years, your passionate loyalty and glowing feedback will be more critical and nourishing with each passing day. In other words, you hold my quality of life in your hands, and can only ensure my continued vitality by responding positively and passionately to my work. 

That means that in the absence of a literal performance space, and instead of screaming and waving glowsticks, you’ll each need to inundate the McKnight’s editorial team with emails, texts, social media posts and phone calls extolling my writing and rhapsodizing about how it has changed your lives for the better. 

Share from your hearts. Don’t hold back. Because my life depends on it, and I can’t smile without you.  

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the APEX Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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