Vitality is important to consider when speaking about the elderly.
The term evolved from the Latin word vita, which means life. People with vitality are often seen as ‘having a lot of life’, or perhaps being the ‘life of the party,’ or ‘living life to its fullest.’
But vitality is not limited to the elderly. It is commonly used to describe those who are not taking a back seat to their age. Older people in the workplace who pull their weight or more are often referred to as vital employees. Those who retire but take up new hobbies, new volunteerism or new travels are deemed as having new vitality in their lives. And those who stick closer to home, but continue to be productive in some way, through supporting themselves or supporting others, while maintaining a good sense of humour and a positive outlook on life are often admired for their vitality.
There is little doubt that good health and natural personality characteristics contribute to vitality. An 80-year-old with no discernible health issues and a willingness to get out the door and breathe in the fresh spring air is bound to be admired by those who, at any age, are confined by health problems.
The real question for relatives and caregivers is whether steps can be taken to improve vitality in those who lack it. While the simple answer is yes, the effort necessary to do so is a bit more complex, as a challenge to the caregiver. It takes a great deal of energy and enthusiasm on the part of a caregiver to generate vitality in an elderly person who is not generating it for him- or herself. As well, it may take a long time to see progress or the progress might be in very small increments, regardless of the volume of energy put into the process by others.
Vitality is driven, for the most part, by having a purpose. The person who gets up each day with a goal tends to muster the energy necessary to achieve it and tends to enjoy the emotional reward of a completed job at some point.
This is the strategy that caregivers must apply, helping in the process of establishing small tasks that can be accomplished and celebrated. Even the tiniest tasks, posed as a challenge and celebrated when complete provide encouragement and satisfaction that might ensure continued goal-setting, perhaps on an even grander scale.
Vitality has both a physical and mental side, but I believe the mental side is the greatest. Once the mind is engaged in a sense of purpose, the body tends to follow and do what is necessary.
It’s not enough to simply care for the physical health of an aging person. We need to engage them, regularly, in determining a purpose or task for the day and then join with them in the celebration of completing that task.
Often the elderly lament about what they can’t do and their vitality wanes. It’s better to remind them what they can do and encourage them to get on with it. That’s what brings life to every day.
Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare (firstname.lastname@example.org).