This morning, a beautiful bright day, I glanced out the window of my office and saw a woman making her way to the door of our rehabilitation center. Even from a distance I could see that she looked a bit frail and that her steps were halting and somewhat uneven. She had a quad cane (a cane with four tips at the bottom for stability) that she was relying on as she slowly made her way from the parking lot. A moment later I saw a young woman (my guess was granddaughter) walking behind her with a small, transport wheelchair. The young woman stayed at a short distance and, while I could not hear their conversation or any that had preceded this moment, it appeared clear that the older woman was fighting to be and stay independent and that her loved one respected and honored that.
Far too often we make assumptions and draw conclusions about what someone can or cannot do. Someone told me the other day about their father who is driving at 90 and my immediate reaction was concern rather than acceptance. That is not to say that every 90 year old is a good driver but neither is every 20 year old or 50 year old. Age is not the only indicator of ability. Age does not necessarily equate to disability or inability. Age is, as we always say, just a number and how we age and what we can do and continue to do is as individual as our fingerprint.
Recently we cared for a woman in our aquatic therapy center. Living with a progressive neuromuscular disease, this woman had, over the course of the past 5 years, limited her life in many ways. Reliant on a wheelchair, she no longer went out to lunch with friends or shopping. Social activities dwindled to almost nothing and her world became a very small place. On the recommendation of her physician, she began aquatic therapy and, for her first session, was wheeled down the ramp into the warm water. A month later she is walking. She is climbing the steps into and out of the pool and she has reclaimed a great deal of both her independence and her self-confidence.
We see success stories like this almost every day. Yes, we do a great job with therapy. Yes, physical, occupational and speech therapy at the hands of highly skilled professionals can work wonders. But equally as important as the care that people receive is the way in which they see themselves and the way in which others see them. Do we see someone’s potential or just their limitations? Do we see them differently, and interact with them differently, because of their age?
The woman I watched this morning may not be training for a marathon. She may not be qualifying for the Olympics. But she is clearly retaining and maintaining her strength. She is holding firmly onto her sense of self and those around her are supporting her in that effort. We can achieve far more if we believe and we can achieve even greater heights if those around us believe as well.