In his book, “How to Say it to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with our Elders,” David Solie explores the developmental crisis we experience as older adults.
As children, teens, young adults, and mid-life adults we advance our development by experiencing and resolving a series of life-stage crises. It could be easy to believe by the time we reach our older years, our development has been completed. Not so, according to Solie. Human development continues until our last breath.
Solie suggest that the developmental crisis for seniors to resolve is the desire to maintain control and the need to discover their legacy. On one end is the need to hold on and control things amid all the losses that inevitably occur with aging. On the other end is the need to manifest a legacy which requires letting go and deep reflection. Their thoughts, feelings and behaviors reflect their attempts at resolving the conflict generated by simultaneously holding on and letting go.
Recognizing the fact that even in old age people continue to develop is important when speaking with older adults, particularly about things like their money and their options for care. Valuing what motivates and drives them in their late years can have a significant impact on how we approach them and help them with important life-phase decisions they have to make.
As observers and caretakers we often misunderstand an older person’s repeated telling of a long-ago story as a slip in cognitive function when in reality it could simply be their struggle to share a piece of their legacy through the telling and retelling of the tale. We can come to see that their slowing pace isn’t a sign of infirmity but a transition from the frantic pace of youth into a more contemplative phase of life. We can recognize that they feel losses every day and allow them some control over those things they can still control.
Whole family dialogues, as discussed in this column last month, is one way to learn what seniors really want and need as it relates to their money and care. These facilitated conversations may also help the senior navigate the crisis of their developmental stage. Family members can help them look at things from different sides and offer them opportunities to be in control of a decision. Or they can ride along with them as they journey through their memories in search of their legacy. In short, by appreciating what they need – maintaining control and solidifying their legacy—you can help them get to where they need to be on their terms.
Published in The Racine Journal Times, September 2016