Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How I Acquired a new Superpower at Global Action on Aging By Marium Abdul Sattar

From the first day I came to Global Action on Aging in April, I knew that I would be offering my services to help older persons by researching issues concerning them and advocating for their rights. What came as a surprise to me is that Global Action on Aging also helps the younger generations: the interns. The various research topics assigned to us, and the experiences we shared has enabled GAA to change our perspectives.

Finding articles on pensions and elder rights for the global aging website is one of my responsibilities. On my first day, not knowing what pensions were or how they worked presented a challenge for me. I soon realized that pensions support people in their old age when they no longer have a steady income and is often provided by an employer or insurer. Yet, that is just the icing on the cake since there are several more sources of pensions such as the state and unions. While preparing a report on pensions I learned that Germany was one of the first countries to pioneer this practice. In fact, Otto Von Bismarck suggested this idea as early as the 19th century in hopes that it would encourage Germans to work harder and create a stronger national economy.

Spending time at GAA gave me a certain superpower; it enabled me to see life from the perspective of an older person. After reading vast amounts of material about issues affecting older persons, I was able to learn about some of their primary concerns. I learned that society has the potential to be much friendlier to older persons, and that the word ‘elderly’ is a blanket term which categorizes people. For example, although it is used to describe a range of ages, it puts those aged 60 and above into a category despite the fact that it refers to a huge population; one which is ever-growing as the baby boomer generation begins to retire.

One of my most daunting experiences during my time at GAA occurred when I was near our office and I met an old woman who seemed lost. She also seemed to be tired from standing in the summer heat, and was unable to locate her home. When I asked her how I could help her she became more agitated and upset. I realized that I was not prepared for handling the situation at all! In hindsight, I learned that in this situation, it is best to seek out a police officer and inform him or her of the senior citizen who needs help to locate their place of residence. So I feel that we all have the potential to help our elders, as long as we know how to help them.

Another topic which I have researched is ‘Elder Rights’ which monitors some of the rights that older people enjoy but also, unfortunately, describes the infringements on their rights. At this time, I came across several articles that identify the point when a person needs some form of assisted care. One author indicated that immobility experienced during old age causes some people to lose weight due to their inability to even pick up heavy groceries or travel to the supermarket – something most people take for granted. I realize that this is the difficult side of aging, however, society usually only focuses on this bleak side of aging.

For example, did you know that by volunteering with older persons, you are more than likely to have a rewarding experience? Some have even termed it the ‘volunteer’s high.’ During my time at GAA, I have certainly learned to become more aware of my surroundings and older persons which might need help. On my way crossing a large intersection the other day, I noticed an old gentleman using a walker who was having trouble crossing the road in time before the traffic light changed from red to green. I saw through his eyes, and a seemingly normal road suddenly became a rocky path full of hazards. The gentleman said to me: “It feels like each of these potholes is out to get me.” Those who are shy don’t even need to speak to the older person crossing the street, but just accompany or be aware of them to make sure they are able to manage it.

By becoming more empathetic to the needs of older people, and seeing through their eyes, both old and young can benefit from these experiences. The younger generation can learn from the experience of older persons. We need to know how to help older persons and channel our superpower of empathy rather than sympathy.

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