“At your age …” At the beginning of life and near the end, it’s one of the most discouraging phrases any of us are likely to hear. 

As children, although it’s annoying to be constantly made aware of the many things we can’t do “at your age,” we sense we’ll eventually grow out of it. But when we get old, there’s an entirely different list to be dreaded, and those three words become nothing but a curse. 

A beloved elderly family member of mine was diagnosed with a serious disease, but remained optimistic about recent treatment advances — at least until he heard the doctor preface the options with, “Well, at your age …” To say the least, he was demoralized to learn he’s too old for many potentially life-preserving protocols. 

About 10 years ago, I had the misfortune of attending a keynote speech by renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson. He told a packed audience of senior care professionals that he chose to devote his prodigious surgical skills only to children because, “I like a return on my investment.” 

Those words still raise my blood pressure — the offensive notion too pervasive in our society that time and effort spent on seniors doesn’t yield justifiable outcomes and rewards.

That’s why I so admire any administrator able to inspire a facility-wide obsession with ensuring residents live their best lives possible, and willing to take on initiatives and expenses that might not seem defensible when measured by the typical outcome-obsessed ROI of healthcare energies. 

That’s also why I’m so in awe of the wonders our rehab therapists achieve with elderly residents at a time in life when actual progress is not assured. They exert the same positivity, focus and vigor that a sports therapist might employ with athletes in their prime. To these miracle workers, “at your age” seems to mean nothing but another opportunity to be maximized.  

“Anything that can help bring my patients one more moment of happiness is worth it for me,” said one of the occupational therapists I admire most. “When I lose my personal investment, I’ll know it’s time to retire.”

Each day, in a world that places such a stigma on the act of merely growing old, long-term care professionals validate as worthwhile every effort on behalf of any senior. In their eyes, “at your age” is where the conversation starts, not where it ends.