During the past 28-29 years as a physical therapist working with older adults, I have had the opportunity to see the physical, mental, emotional and social aspects of aging. It has been a journey that has enriched my life in so many ways. The things I will always remember most are the relationships and the stories shared with me.
And no less striking than the stories were the frequent feelings of isolation and a lack of purpose in life. Even though many of these older adults were living in their own homes and “aging in place” as it is called today, there was something crucial missing that is vital to overall health and well-being. Social isolation and depression often go hand in hand with loss of mobility. So what is the answer?
My conclusion is “community” is the answer. With a supportive community network, aging is a far more positive journey. And likewise, the gifts, talents and wisdom of the aging population are indeed a gift to the communities it lives in.
Timebanking is a tool that helps build community networks. In a timebank, one hour of volunteerism is paid with one hour of volunteerism. No one skill is more highly valued than another. Every individual is an asset and reciprocity is promoted. No one is considered “too old” to have something of value to offer. By matching my gifts and abilities to another’s need and vice versa, community is nurtured.
All generations benefit from interaction with one another. And isn’t that what “community” is meant to accomplish? To care for each other at all levels of the age spectrum, and in a variety of areas of need? During the next decade, as our aging population increases exponentially, a strong community network will only be more important.