Growing Older

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    • 00:01


    • 00:33

      MARY: He was in high school [INAUDIBLE] came home.So you missed.[INAUDIBLE] he was gone on a Sunday.That was 12 years ago.

    • 00:57

      MARY [continued]: In the beginning, I didn't even know [INAUDIBLE]when he came from the funeral.There were so many people.They were eating.I was dead.It just didn't hit me, not until everybody left,and the house is empty.

    • 01:19

      KAY ROBERTS: I lost a son 11 years ago,and it takes a lot of getting over,because we're not meant to bury our children.And it was sudden.That was also hard.You've got to get tings out of yourself.Whether you're saying them aloud or putting them on paper,it all helps, because you've got to put that out

    • 01:41

      KAY ROBERTS [continued]: there in the universe to be heard, or else, it stays in youand rots.

    • 01:47

      MARY: I went home with my daughter.That's my story.

    • 01:54

      COUNSELOR: We really thank you for sharing that.

    • 01:57

      MAN: Thank you, Mary.

    • 01:59

      COUNSELOR: It may not feel good now.I know it doesn't.I know it's painful.But it's good that you got this out.

    • 02:09

      NARRATOR: When Ina Hillenbrandt firstcame up with the idea of starting a groupto help seniors cope with the loss of a loved one,she realized one thing early on.That group, which would later cometo be called Grief Lifters, neededto take the form of a support group.

    • 02:25

      INA HILLEBRANDT: One of the things thathappens when you do a grief counseling group--and that's basically I guess what you could say it is--is that the people support each other,and they have a place to go.They look forward to it.They form not exactly club, but in a sense,it feels like that to them, and they have a sense of belonging,

    • 02:45

      INA HILLEBRANDT [continued]: because they are exchanging information,and they're exchanging real, deep, life problems and issuesand how they will overcome them.

    • 02:56

      NARRATOR: They're able to overcome those problems,at least in part, because they feel comfortable sayingwhatever is on their mind, somethingthat those who have suffered a loss can't always do.

    • 03:08

      KAY ROBERTS: My son died in Colorado,and my two daughters that live here, we allflew up to Colorado.And first thing when I came back to California,I called for some kind of help to lookfor a group and everything.And I was told because my son was a suicide,you have to go someplace special,because nobody will sympathize with the mother of a suicide.

    • 03:32

      KAY ROBERTS [continued]: Wasn't that sweet?That was so hurtful, I cut myself offfrom people because of that and lied for many yearsabout what had happened to my son.My solace is my son's jacket with his bloodon it was hanging on one of the dining room chairs,and I pull the sleeve of his jacketand go to sleep like that.

    • 03:54

      NARRATOR: Eventually, Kay Robertswould find Grief Lifters.

    • 03:58

      INA HILLEBRANDT: You can say anything you want.You're not going to bother anybody.You're not going to be a burden.This is where it's appropriate to get it out.

    • 04:05

      ELDERLY MAN: [INAUDIBLE], she said, Craig just died.

    • 04:11

      INA HILLEBRANDT: People find oftenthat their friends are either unable to hear whatthey have to say, unwilling, don't know how,and they also don't want to be a burden,so they need to find an outlet.

    • 04:23

      NARRATOR: Although Grief Lifters encourages seniorsto express their feelings about losing someone,it also teaches them the benefitsof moving on and getting involved in life again.

    • 04:34

      HOWARD WESTLEY: I think there are healthy ways of grieving,and these are being urged.These are being demonstrated all the timein the class that allow you to confront and deal with and thenput aside the feelings of grief, because there are others thatare expressing the same kinds of grief,but then they are also expressing

    • 04:56

      HOWARD WESTLEY [continued]: ways in which they have found respite from their grief.

    • 05:00

      KAY ROBERTS: After my son died, I got this new attitude.I was faced with my own mortality.If I don't do it now, when will I do it?And I got busy, and one of the first thingsI did-- people will think, oh, boy, there'san old crazy lady-- is I started taking lessons,

    • 05:20

      KAY ROBERTS [continued]: for god's sakes.Anything to get outside of myself,so I didn't sit home and cry.

    • 05:30

      INA HILLEBRANDT: Her ways of dealing with her lossesare to say, I'm going to start living.I need to do X, Y, and Z. I need to write.I need to be on stage.I need to act.I need to be a stand up comic.I'm not going to just sit around.I almost died.

    • 05:47

      NARRATOR: Coping with the loss of loved ones,as well as with the inevitabilityof one's own eventual death, is a natural partof the aging process.For a long time, though, that processwasn't given much attention in medical and academic circles,because the number of people who actually lived to be oldwas relatively small.

    • 06:08

      NARRATOR [continued]: In the last 100 years, however, the number of elderly adultshas increased enormously, something expertshave called the longevity revolution.

    • 06:19

      LINDA GEORGE: The longevity revolution refers to the factthat life expectancy-- that is the average length of lifefor American citizens-- has nearly doubled since 1900.In 1900, the average life expectancywas right at 47 years.Now obviously, many people live beyond 47 years.

    • 06:40

      LINDA GEORGE [continued]: That's the average.Currently, life expectancy is about 78 years for malesand about 82 years for females.That's a tremendous increase, just an incredible increase.Personally, I think that's the probably greatestaccomplishment of the 20th century.

    • 07:03

      JAMES BIRREN: More was added to life expectancyin the 100-year period than was added from the Roman daysup until 1900.The proportion of older people is going up so quickly,and also, fewer children are being born.Instead of having six to eight children in a family,you have two children or barely two children.

    • 07:25

      JAMES BIRREN [continued]: So people are living longer.There are fewer children.This means that old people are becoming an increasingpercent of the population.

    • 07:36

      NARRATOR: But while the size of America's elderly populationmay be changing, American attitudes about seniorsoften remain mired in a morass of outdated stereotypes.

    • 07:46

      DEBORAH GOLD: There are lots of stereotypesabout older adults that suggest that as we get older,our cognition is worse, and we can't remember things.We can't interact with people in a social manner.And in fact, most of those are myths.We do have Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, whichcause real problems for people, but those are diseases,and they're limited to only about 5% of the elderly.

    • 08:09

      DEBORAH GOLD [continued]: So we take a little longer as we grow older to learn new things,but in terms of our intellectual capabilitiesand our personalities, we stay pretty stable.

    • 08:19

      LINDA GEORGE: One of the best waysI know of making sense of stereotypes,where they're wrong and where they're right,is the distinction between what we call the young oldand the old old.Old age now, if one uses the conventional definingpoint of age 65, is a very long period of time.

    • 08:40

      LINDA GEORGE [continued]: It's often 30 years or more, and really, those 30 yearsencompass a lot of change, development, growth, decline,and so forth.Stereotypes of the elderly as poor, lonely, poor health,isolated have very little truth in general,

    • 09:02

      LINDA GEORGE [continued]: but they certainly have virtually no truthfor the young old.And the stereotypes are very damaging,because they keep us from recognizing that these peopleare productive.

    • 09:14

      NARRATOR: Productivity can take many formsfrom making a difference at work to forging a new relationshipwith a grandchild.

    • 09:22

      GLEN ELDER JR: I think it is the association with a youngergeneration and their family that gives them this.Just being around younger people and beingable to share their life enriches their life.And I believe that is a very large part of this.

    • 09:40

      GINGER OSBORNE: When a man becomes a grandfather,he is often much more nurturing to his grandchildrenthen he ever was with his own children,so that's a real positive change that I see in getting older.

    • 09:56

      GLEN ELDER JR: We've done a lot of studies in Iowaon grandparenting, and we had grandparents,who would sit down and write poetrywith their granddaughters, and the granddaughter wouldbe in college, and they would send their poetry backand forth by email.And they shared a great deal.They would send letters to each other.

    • 10:16

      GLEN ELDER JR [continued]: This happened over and over againas we studied grandparenting.So it's an enriching experience from both sides.

    • 10:27

      NARRATOR: And with the average life expectancy in the USedging towards 80, it's an experiencethat can often endure for more years than was once the case.

    • 10:37

      WARREN LIPSON: If you look at photographs of 47-year-oldsin 1900 and look now at people who are 78 years of age,they look very similar, and they're probably as robust.You have to remember it wasn't that long ago whenthey called pneumonia the old man's friend,but the old man was 50.And we have changed a lot.

    • 10:59

      WARREN LIPSON [continued]: And so the people who are 78 are much more functional, alert,alive, and doers than 47-year-oldsprobably 100 years ago.

    • 11:09

      NARRATOR: There are a number of factorsthat have contributed to the increase in longevityin the US.Among the most important are broadadvances in public health.

    • 11:19

      WARREN LIPSON: Just getting rid of a lot of epidemicsthat used to kill people.I think certainly ease of getting quality food, vitamins,inoculations, antibiotics, and still people will die at 25from pneumonia as they did in the past,but there are many people who don't.

    • 11:38

      NARRATOR: That Americans are livinglonger than they did in the past and managingto largely remain productive in the process is beyond question.But there are certain challenges that do inevitablyoccur during the aging process.

    • 11:51

      DEBORAH GOLD: Living to be older is a wonderful thingif you're in good health, but without question, poor healthis the biggest challenge any people face as they age.

    • 11:60

      LAURA MOSQUEDA: Common diseases in the elderlyare some of the what are called neurodegenerative diseases.These are diseases that affect the nervous systemlike Alzheimer's disease, like strokes, like Parkinson'sdisease, so these are more common in the elderlythan in younger people.Osteoarthritis or the arthritis that

    • 12:21

      LAURA MOSQUEDA [continued]: comes with older age, the wear and tear arthritisbecomes more common as people grow older.Heart disease, particularly thingslike congestive heart failure, where the heartpump isn't working very effectively,also becomes more common.

    • 12:36

      GINGER OSBORNE: For most people, theydon't experience any decline until theyare in their late 60s or 70s.The changes for most of them are going on very gradually,but they don't reach a threshold level of awarenessuntil the later years.Other changes that occur-- and this

    • 12:57

      GINGER OSBORNE [continued]: is one of the most well-documented changes thatoccurs with aging-- is the slowingin the nervous system that shows upin experimental tests in terms of slowing of reaction time.And how that is experienced is that it takeslonger to process information.

    • 13:19

      NARRATOR: In some cases, owing to either physical or mentalissues, many elderly adults are forcedto accept an often painful loss of independence.

    • 13:29

      DEBORAH GOLD: As we grow older, we're no longer able to drive.Sometimes we're no longer able to be functional, go outand do our shopping and take care of ourselves.That's embarrassing.That's humiliating in addition to being a problemthat we have to solve with money, which is not somethingmany older people have.

    • 13:46

      LINDA GEORGE: There is a common sayingthat older people have picked up and used and say,if I had known I was going to live this long,I would have taken better care of myself.And what that refers to is not only physical health, but alsoeconomics.The greatest fear and worry of older adultsis that their money will not last for their lifetime

    • 14:07

      LINDA GEORGE [continued]: and that they will become economically dependent, perhapsphysically dependent as well, but economically dependent.

    • 14:16

      SON: Need some help with that?

    • 14:18

      FATHER: No.

    • 14:19

      NARRATOR: The issue of dependence,whether due to medical, economic, or other issues,is a major concern not only for the elderly themselves,but for family members, especially in caseswhen the spouse is no longer living.

    • 14:32

      SON: The hospital called while you were asleep.They want to push your therapy session back to 3:15 tomorrow.

    • 14:39

      LAURA MOSQUEDA: It's very American.I want to be able to do what I want, when I want, how I want,and even though it seems really nice and cozy for a momto move in [INAUDIBLE] loving family,mom often feels like, well, now you'retelling me when I have to have dinner,or you're concerned because I sleep in,and sometimes I feel a little bit like a family counselor,because I'm dealing with a 90-year-old lady

    • 15:01

      LAURA MOSQUEDA [continued]: and her 65-year-old daughter, and they're really going at itover these kinds of issues.And a lot of it then focuses on, I just want to be independent,and how can I maintain that?

    • 15:14

      WARREN LIPSON: Do not live with other family members,because automatically, if you're a little bit enfeebled,people feel they have to help take care of you.And I've seen people, who are controlling types, who reallyend up trying to control their parents,and their parents are trying to control them, because parentsdo that sort of thing.

    • 15:32

      NARRATOR: Excessive dependence on adult childrencan be especially problematic if those children areraising families of their own.

    • 15:40

      GLEN ELDER JR: There is this notion of the sandwichgeneration that's this generation in between theyhave their own children, and their children are growing up.Then they have their parents, and their parents hopefullyhave good health, but if not, then youhave this middle generation caringfor both these generations, trying to make sure

    • 16:02

      GLEN ELDER JR [continued]: that their kids establish themselves and haveenough to support themselves, and then caring for, makingsure that their parents have the health care they need to have.

    • 16:15

      WARREN LIPSON: They have to earn moneyto send the kids to school and college,and they have to earn money sometimesto support their parents.And they get very little respite, because the olderand the younger generation are both taking of them,and there's very little to give back.So it's a difficult situation.

    • 16:34

      NARRATOR: Clearly, living arrangementsthat foster dependence on already overburdened adultchildren are not a good alternative,but living totally alone is not necessarily the answer either.

    • 16:46

      WARREN LIPSON: And so it's important, again, to socialize.Sometimes congregate living may bemore healthy than just living by yourself,and that's what we see in some of our assisted livingfacilities, that the fact there are other people around,and even though you have your own room or your own apartment,you still have people around you, and there's a society,

    • 17:07

      WARREN LIPSON [continued]: and there's a norm function.And that makes you more functional I thinkthan just being by yourself.

    • 17:14

      LINDA GEORGE: In assisted living,the individual has his or her independent living situation.They have an apartment.He or she has an apartment of their own.They have their own space.It is not basically an institutional setting.What differs from other forms of residential careis that there are services on site

    • 17:36

      LINDA GEORGE [continued]: that are provided to individuals in these living units.The services needed may be housekeeping services.It may be meal preparation services,transportation services.All of these services are provided,and yet the individual remains independentin his or her own home and just in control of what

    • 17:60

      LINDA GEORGE [continued]: services they do or do not get.

    • 18:04

      EDITH SADEWITZ: There are so many programsthat are offered here, I just was overwhelmedwith what is offered.I'm doing painting here, which is offeredto me, which I am learning.I've never held a brush in my hand before,and they said, you don't have to know,

    • 18:25

      EDITH SADEWITZ [continued]: and they say that I'm doing nicely.And I do enjoy it very, very much.I call bingo also.I was trained to do that, and I like doing that.That's on the lighter side, of course.But it's fun.And that keeps me busy.Oh, and they had an election last year,

    • 18:48

      EDITH SADEWITZ [continued]: and I was asked to take the presidencyof the Council of Residents.

    • 18:53

      LAURA MOSQUEDA: Some places are very busy, very active.They have a lot of things going on,and some places are much more quiet.You walk in, and usually, the clients who live thereare sitting around reading the newspaper,maybe playing cards, watching television.So what kind of person is your loved one?What kind of new society do they want to live in, if you will?

    • 19:14

      LAURA MOSQUEDA [continued]: What kind of environment would be most helpful for them?

    • 19:20

      NARRATOR: Regardless of where and how theylived during their latter years, at some point,nearly all elderly adults will experiencesignificant medical problems.If they lack the capacity to make difficult decisionsconcerning diagnostic tests or treatment,it is often left to family members in concertwith physicians to make those decisions.

    • 19:41

      LAURA MOSQUEDA: An example of a testwould be somebody who has multiple chronic illnesses,such as congestive heart failure, diabetes,what's called vascular dementia or dementia that'sdue to small strokes, dementia due to lack of blood flowin the brain, and now maybe the heart failure is getting worse.She's 93 years old.

    • 20:01

      LAURA MOSQUEDA [continued]: I'm giving you a real example of a patient now.She's 93 years old.Has pretty significant heart failure and these other medicalillnesses also.How aggressive should we be in looking into her heart disease?

    • 20:15

      NARRATOR: As the end of life draws near,family members may again be called upon to make oftengut-wrenching decisions.This can be especially traumatic if their lovedone hasn't previously made his or her wishes known.

    • 20:29

      GINGER OSBORNE: Most people deny the prospectof their own death.They say, yes, I'm going to die, but they reallydon't think about it until it's thrust upon them.And even then, our tendency is to say, not me.

    • 20:47

      LINDA GEORGE: American society is not a societythat likes to confront death.We are compared to other cultures.For example, we exhibit higher levels of death anxiety,of being anxious about death, wanting not to talk about it,either in general in terms of public dialogue

    • 21:07

      LINDA GEORGE [continued]: or personally in terms of our own personal hopes,fears, wishes, and so forth.

    • 21:16

      NARRATOR: This reluctance to talk about or planfor the end of life puts an enormous burdenon family members, who are alreadystruggling to cope with the impending loss of someonethey love.

    • 21:29

      WARREN LIPSON: I think it is importantwhile you're mentally with it and youngerto sit down and advance directives,what you do not want and what youdo want done with yourself if you should be incapacitated,and also set up a durable power of attorney with peoplenot only who are relatives, but people whohave like minds as yourself.

    • 21:49

      WARREN LIPSON [continued]: I've seen situations where the senior obviouslyhad certain wishes, and the personwho had durable power of attorneyhad ethical, religious, and moral differenceswith what that person wanted.

    • 22:00

      ALEX CAPRON: It's a somewhat difficult thing for many peopleto talk about.I think it's best raised as early aspossible, because if it's raised in the context onlyof a particular illness, the tendency isto focus on the treatment techniquesand so forth that are particular to that illness.

    • 22:20

      ALEX CAPRON [continued]: But what's really at issue is what are your values?What are your objectives?What do you feel about the prolongation of life itself?Are there things which are very important to you,where you would really go through a lot simplyto be alive at some future date?

    • 22:40

      ALEX CAPRON [continued]: Or is the quality of the life, your ability to interact--is that more important to you?

    • 22:48

      LAURA MOSQUEDA: One family that Iworked with had a father, who was clearly dying.He had very advanced lung disease called COPD,or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.And there were four children.All of them really loved dad and wanted to do the right thing,

    • 23:09

      LAURA MOSQUEDA [continued]: but there was quite a bit of conflictabout what the right thing was to do.

    • 23:13

      ALEX CAPRON: The real issue is being stimulatedto talk about this with your physicianand get some sense of the things you should be thinking about,the kind of choices that might arise,and then being able to talk with a spouse or your childrenand so forth about that so that it'll never be easy for them,

    • 23:34

      ALEX CAPRON [continued]: but that it would be easier if they had some sense of whatyour wishes were and they had talked it through.

    • 23:45

      LAURA MOSQUEDA: For a number of reasons, two of the childrenhad a lot of guilt about unresolved issueswith their dad, and because of that,they wanted to keep him alive as long as possible.And what it really took was a family conference.I'm a big fan of family conferences, where we allhad to sit down and say, you know what?

    • 24:06

      LAURA MOSQUEDA [continued]: Everybody is arguing here, and you'regiving me different directions on what to do.But the reality is we're really all hereto help your dad with this.And at that point, he was really no longer clearenough to talk to us, so it was just me with the four kids.And what we were able to understand from the familyconference is dad's wishes were to go peacefully and quietly

    • 24:28

      LAURA MOSQUEDA [continued]: and not be kept alive.

    • 24:34

      NARRATOR: And so while death remainsthe inevitable conclusion to life,that doesn't mean the time leading up to itcan't be productive and happy.And if the last 100 years are any indicationof what the years ahead may hold in store,there's at least some reason to be optimistic.

    • 24:53

      LINDA GEORGE: The future is always difficult to predict.I believe it is generally acceptedthat we have probably not seen the end of the increase in lifeexpectancy.I think we're going to continue to see it rise,but what does that mean?

    • 25:13

      DEBORAH GOLD: If we can enable moreolder people who are healthy to stay in their jobs,to be active and participating members of communities,churches, school systems, et cetera,and if we can teach the kids about howwonderful grandparents and great-grandparents can be,we can make a change here.Most people in my generation, the baby boomers,

    • 25:35

      DEBORAH GOLD [continued]: certainly didn't know their great-grandparents,and many of us didn't know all of our grandparents.Now it's routine to have four generations in a familyfor a long period of time.Let's learn to treasure all four of those generations.[MUSIC PLAYING]

    • 26:27

      NARRATOR: "Our Families-- Ourselves"is an 18-part series about marriages and families.For information on this program and accompanying materials,call 1-800-576-2988, or visit us online at

Growing Older

View Segments Segment :


Our Families, Ourselves presents a documentary on growing older. It focuses on elderly dealing with grief over outliving children, loss of friends, and stereotypes. The video also discusses life expectancy and decisions that will need to be made about elder care and quality of life.

Growing Older

Our Families, Ourselves presents a documentary on growing older. It focuses on elderly dealing with grief over outliving children, loss of friends, and stereotypes. The video also discusses life expectancy and decisions that will need to be made about elder care and quality of life.

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