by Mary Jane Longtin
As a person ages, their world becomes smaller and smaller. Their ability to drive anywhere, anytime disappears. Their friends face health challenges or pass on. They are faced with many closing doors. This is why the concept of mindfulness can become very important to the quality of life for a senior citizen. Mindfulness is described as the state of being conscious and focusing one’s awareness on the present moment. Mindfulness, as I interpret it, means embracing every aspect of your surroundings. As an example, when Barbara and I go grocery shopping we marvel at the selection of fruits and vegetables, we ogle the desserts and speculate as to how they might taste and the deli counter offers untold opportunities to appreciate the sight and scents of a variety of foods. While driving to the grocery store we notice the clouds, the trees, flowers and the dogs we pass. We comment on the color and design of cars on the road and of the driving habits of certain people. By the time we have finished our errands and return home, we have been fully engaged with the world around us, expanding the experience to create a larger world.
Another aspect of the shrinking world syndrome relates to a person’s state of mind. Spending a lot of time alone tends to foster a sense of melancholy. The old adage “laughter is the best medicine” is certainly applicable to senior citizens. I once told a friend of mine that Barbara and I laugh our way through the grocery store. Barbara has some delightful stories she tells about the days when her three sons were little and they would all fit in her VW Beetle along with two carts of groceries. People would look on in astonishment at this feat! We laugh about the shapes and sizes of fruits and vegetables, packaging labels, anything that catches our fancy. Barbara has a great sense of humor and only needs a little encouragement to bring it out.
In the book Ageless Soul by Thomas Moore, he discusses the idea that an older person’s identity diminishes because they are often overlooked and undervalued. One more sense of a shrinking world. He encourages direct eye contact and engagement in a conversation surrounding the senior citizen’s views on life and memories. I always practice this listening skill with Barbara. She has so many wonderful stories about her dear husband, travel, parenting, her crafting skills, her gardening skills and on and on. She has had a full life and enjoys sharing her views about how blessed she has been. It is my hope that her sense of identity is enlarged and reinforced by our conversations.
Aside from the necessary aspects of grocery shopping and running errands, it is my intention to expand Barbara’s world and enhance her quality of life through the small measures mentioned above which hopefully add up over time to making a difference in her life.