The Old Celebrate the New

Including all generations may be best for some

While I had high hopes for a scientific blog today, I find myself more reflective on a wonderful experience I had this weekend and its impact on the work I do.

I was lucky to attend the wedding of a close friend and his new bride.  It was under the relentless but magnificent sun in the scenic foot hills of Mt. Hood, Oregon.  We were hot, some of us even burning, but we joyfully celebrated with the graceful couple, twice— once with her family’s religious traditions, and once with his family’s religious traditions (welcome to the US!).  Beautiful, inclusive, rowdy and sweet, it was a wonderful series of events over two days.

I noticed, too, that the couple was fortunate to have, along with nephews and nieces and friends and parents, many of their grandparents and older relatives there. I couldn’t help but notice one older gentleman who attended every event.  He walked formidable distances to the meals and the ceremonies, but often one or two relatives would help him.  He walked slowly but deliberately.  And if anyone looked over at him, he smiled from ear to ear.  Despite clear difficulty, he was an undeniably positive force and seemed to spread cheer.  The groom acknowledged this man, his grandfather, in his wedding speech.  He said despite a recent broken bone in back and being 95 years old, he got up every morning and declared, “I’m going.”  And he was very grateful that his grandfather had come.  And I was amazed that, as far as I could tell, his grandfather stayed later than I did at the party!

As I watched the groom’s grandfather enjoy and take part in the exhaustive events of the weekend, I had a couple thoughts.

  • Many of my patients, when faced with difficulties that come with aging– pain, mobility issues, health problems– will talk about what they look forward to as what keeps them going, and it is commonly a grandchild’s graduation or wedding.  I thought I understood this, but it was beautiful to see.  And many of the other bloggers on this site have written about how having things to look forward to maintains psychological health and well-being.  That was clear to me this weekend.
  • For so many reasons– physical and cognitive function among the most important– I routinely try to identify and encourage patients to stay as socially engaged as possible.  Watching the engagement and joy of the groom’s grandfather, I thought about the recent and influential article by a colleague of mine at University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Carla Perissinotto.  She found that feelings of loneliness led to a higher rate of death and functional decline in a cohort of elderly US adults, independent of whether or not these adults actually lived alone.  This finding means that for us as geriatricians, knowing that our patients live alone is one thing, but actually asking them if they feel lonely and trying to find ways to help them feel less lonely is just as important.

At this spectacular wedding it was wonderful to see everyone of all ages celebrate and be together, but for one person, the groom’s grandfather, it may have actually prolonged his life.

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About agannac

Agannac is an internal medicine trained physician, currently doing further training in geriatric medicine. She enjoys working with vulnerable elderly in the health care setting and thinking about ways to improve health care for the most socially and medically complex. She hopes to make innovations from around the world relevant in the US.

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