I recently read an article about an exceptional nursing home that excels in care of persons with dementia. One of the staff was quoted as say, “when I get dementia, I want….” Maybe she thinks in terms of the inevitability of cognitive impairment because of working in memory care or maybe she thinks that way to reduce emotional distance from the residents with dementia. However, I got mentally stuck when I read that quotation. I realized that I don’t want to believe that cognitive impairment is inevitable. I’d rather aim for clear thinking and functional memory for as long as I live. That’s why I cherish the models of very old people who continue to grow intellectually and challenge themselves.
Agnes Zhelesnik is a case in point. At 100 years of age, she’s teaching home economics full time at Sundance Elementary School in New Jersey. She got bored with playing bridge, so she found her present job at age 81. She hasn’t even called in sick in the last two years. I believe that a deep sense of purpose and meaningful pursuits help us to remain healthier, live more happily, and ultimately live longer. I want to be like Agnes! Sue Sweeney, Chair, Gerontology Department, Madonna University