After age 65, we are more likely to feel love and less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. And yet we fear aging.
This was the thought-provoking opening from Dr. Atul Gawande at Hebrew SeniorLife’s recent EngAGE event at the Institute of Contemporary Arts/Boston. EngAGE, now in its third year, is an event to cue the conversation on aging. Through dynamic speakers and multimedia content, the 350-plus HSL supporters in attendance were spurred to break down stereotypes about aging and re-examine how we treat seniors in our culture. You can see photos of the event on our Facebook page.
Dr. Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and author of the best-selling Being Mortal, joined Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post; Tony Award winner Ben Vereen; and journalist and gerontologist Dr. Alexis Abramson as the featured speakers at this year’s EngAGE. The event raised nearly $1 million for HSL’s health care, communities, research, and teaching that is redefining the experience of aging. We’re incredibly grateful to the sponsors and donors who contributed so generously.
Dr. Gawande went on to note that perhaps we fear aging partly because many nursing homes have historically been hospital-like places where residents’ choices and purpose were taken away. While residents in these nursing homes may have been physically safe, they were missing something.
“We’ve lost sight of the fact that well-being is bigger than health and safety,” Dr. Gawande said. For true well-being, all of us – even the frailest seniors – must have a sense of purpose and feel like we’re contributing to something bigger than ourselves.
Dr. Gawande spoke about the recent visits he made to Boston-area senior living communities with his mother. This included HSL’s NewBridge on the Charles and Orchard Cove, where what his mother saw “blew her mind” and was so contrary to her preconceived notions. “The most innovative work in America isn’t technology,” he said. “It’s on living the best lives possible to the very end,” something he saw happening at HSL.
Guests at EngAGE were also treated to a Q&A with Dr. Abramson and Ben Vereen, who highlighted the role of creativity in spirituality and living a fulfilling life. He earned a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd for an acapella performance of The Impossible Dream.
Arianna Huffington ended the program by discussing her most recent book, Thrive, which outlines what she calls the “third metric” for evaluating success, beyond the more traditional measures of money and power.
Huffington described the pillars that make up the third metric as: “well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.” She encouraged the crowd to celebrate not just the go-getters, but the “go-givers.” She also addressed the positive aspects of aging, which is celebrated in her native Greece (unlike in the U.S.) “One of the greatest gifts of getting older is letting go of what’s not important,” she said.
Our goal is to make EngAGE just one part of a long dialogue about how we can rethink aging – through the way our culture deals with the issue to the services and supports we provide for seniors and their families. To join the conversation, please share your thoughts below – and be on the lookout for information about EngAGE 2016!