Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
Over the holidays we were prepping for a family ski trip. Our children are not yet skiers, and were asking us questions about our upcoming adventure. My oldest daughter asked my husband “Daddy, have you ever fallen when you ski”? His response was “Of course…that is why I am a good skier – if you are not falling you are not learning anything”. So true.
His comment got me thinking about fear, risk and how people learn. We need to fall to know how to get back up. We need to fail to know how to succeed. We need to make bad decisions to know how to do it right the next time. We need to lose money to know how to keep it.
Humans seem especially good at falling, failing and learning as children, teens and young adults – provided the people in their environment provide them with these valuable opportunities. As adults we tend to fall and fail in our early careers, social and personal lives while we learn how to behave as an adult and to manage our growing responsibilities like work, families, homes, etc. Then we seem to reach an age where we become teachers, leading the younger generations to grow as we have. We still need to gain knowledge during this time, but ultimately we might be revered as wise for all we already know. But then do we stop learning? Or stop having the will to learn? Do we reach a point of “knowing it all”?
I will use another example to explain why I ask these important questions. I have a close friend whose elderly grandparents are struggling to manage in their home. They both have health issues and struggle to mobilize, access their upper level, get into the community, and cannot care for their home as they need to. Family is providing a significant amount of support while living in a state of constant worry. Really, the couple are one fall or new health problem away from losing their home and being institutionalized. My friend mentioned to the daughter of this couple that an Occupational Therapist could provide valuable insight into how they might be able to manage more safely and independently so they can stay at home. The daughter replied “Oh, they would never go for that”. How sad. This couple are unwilling to learn.
With a background in Gerontology (the study of aging), I understand fully the challenges most of us will face as we age. And as an Occupational Therapist (the study of human function) I also understand the difficulties of living with a physical, cognitive, emotional or behavioral disability – age related or not. But the big difference I see between my younger and older clients is their willingness to learn. My younger clients seem to want to learn what I know, they appreciate how I can help, and engage in the process of working with me to make things better. Yet my older clients are historically much less open to suggestions. It is more difficult to get them to consider alternative ways to manage, devices that might help, or to accept assistance to do activities that are now unsafe for them to do on their own. My funniest example of this was a 96 year old client that told me “scooters are for old people”.
I consider myself a life-long learner. I recently finished my MBA, am constantly reading books about business, health and wellness, I take great interest in the stories and experiences of other people, take courses, attend conferences. I just hope that when I reach that wonderful age of ultimate maturity I will continue to appreciate the value that other people can bring to my life and situation. And hopefully I will accept suggestions, input and ideas proactively. Because while falling is one way to learn – like when skiing – the older we are the harder it is to get back up again.