New experiences

Whether you celebrate Chanukah or Christmas or both or neither, there is no question that this is the “gift” season.  For most of us that means lists and shopping (online or otherwise) and a month that includes some sort of giving and/or receiving of presents.  I know that in some families gifts are focused on the children and that’s great.  I also know that my inner 5-year-old likes to open boxes and be surprised just as much as the actual 5-year-olds in the room!

Over Thanksgiving I was having a conversation with my daughter-in-law about gifts for their kids, who are now 6 and 4.  I asked for ideas and she, rightly so, pointed out that the kids already have more than they need and that perhaps we could think about a different kind of gift this year, one that is experiential rather than another “thing.”

I loved the idea but also worried about how to make it exciting enough, special enough.  Is it exciting to open a gift that is for next month or three months from now, even if it is a trip to a Broadway show or a weekend away somewhere special and filled with fun? It occurred to me that we could present it in a novel way, packaging it with all kinds of elements including calendar pages to track the days between now and then, in essence, building a memory with both anticipation as well as the experience itself.

Of course, that led me to thinking about the world of our older adults and how we can continue to keep both anticipation and joy not just in their holidays but in every day.  As an example, we often ask people about places they loved to visit or places they want to visit. Sometimes we use our technology to show travelogues, sometimes we use Virtual Reality headsets to transport them to that place. But what if we took it a step further? What if we created that scrapbook with pictures of the place they want to visit or revisit? What if we took photos of them and added them to scenes, making the moment more vivid and real? What if we broadened the experience and found sounds and smells and flavors that would be part of that experience?

So often our older adults lack the ability to travel, they have medical or physical limitations. They may have financial limitations.  And more than likely, they have no one to plan, organize and care for them on their journey. But that’s no reason why we can’t make a dream become reality. That’s no reason why they can’t anticipate, enjoy, savor and remember an experience, an experience that we help to create for them.

Experiences are as valid for us at 94 as they are at 4, excitement is just as real at 86 as at 6.  It is up to us to open our minds, and our eyes to help create a richer life for our elders.  It is the gift each of us can give.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is chair-elect of LeadingAge and past chair of the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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