As part of my Caregiver Smile Summit, I have had the pleasure of interviewing more than 50 experts in the health, aging and caregiving fields. Dr. Maria Zayas, a practicing psychologist and a faculty member of the Psychology Department at Brenau University, is one of those experts. Together we explored the topic of conscious aging.

Caregivers Are People Too – Respect Them

With the population living longer and healthier lives, it often happens that partners are thrust into a caregiving situation when they themselves are in their 50s and 60s.

Caregivers are beginning to deal with the aging process for themselves and need to be conscious of their own needs. Dr. Zayas shares that this is a time for people to reflect on their life and look at their legacy. She urges people not to lose sight of that in the midst of a caregiving situation.

It’s Deeper Than Having Purpose – We’re the Stewards of Our Society

We know that in certain countries and cultures societies do not place a lot of value on older citizens. Yet in many indigenous cultures, elders are revered. Certainly, purpose is important to maintain that value in society. But Dr. Zayas cautions that purpose alone is not enough.

Yes, being a caregiver is an important commitment. On a larger level, however, she says that being older brings with it a responsibility to be stewards – sages even – for our society.

Conscious aging is meant to bring the idea of sages back to western cultures and realize the gems we have in our oldest citizens. After all, they can contribute in ways younger people cannot.

Rethinking the Aging Process Starts with Awareness, Slowing Down, Taking Inventory

I once had a colleague put me through an exercise. At the time, I was wavering in my sense of accomplishment, self-worth, etc. He had me stop and reflect on my life and accomplishments and actually write them down.

Taking the time to do it was essential. After three pages of typewritten notes, I had a deeper sense of who I was as a person and how I had evolved.

Taking the time to really know yourself, positions you to better understand what it is that you can contribute to society now as a mentor/sage. Unfortunately, not many people realize their worth to society until the very end of life, when there is little they can do about it.

Pass It Down and Pay It Forward Consciously

This kind of “life review” accomplishes many things. It helps you bring closure to issues and truly become insightful with what you can contribute. It sets you up to strategically contribute to society.

Dr. Zayas also says that once you are at this place of being able to pay it forward, it is best to work with other people in your community who are struggling with the same issues and desires to contribute.

I don’t have far to look than to my colleagues in the Dementia Action Alliance who have early onset dementia. Still capable of many things, and certainly conscious of where they have been, they are using their collective abilities together to advance society’s understanding and behavior toward people with dementia.

Manage Your Stress So You Have Energy for the Journey

As a caregiver to my mom, my doctor was concerned about my stress level. I was too, but I was also concerned with my life’s work of educating people about aging issues and helping health care providers be more person-centered.

I had to work hard every day to lower my stress and remember my mission. You can’t do that unless you are consciously paying attention. It’s as simple and complex as awareness.

Caregiving is certainly a gift, and looking at it that way can help you be more fully conscious of the opportunity. It can easily become the time when you not only get to know mom or dad better, but also resolve issues, learn from your elders, and in turn, be able to share even more life lessons with others.

Part of conscious aging is also about being inclusive, valuing all beliefs and cultures and moving ahead together.

Dr. Zayas says you can reach this level of consciousness through many paths: Work with mentors. Read books. Yes, it’s even OK to seek counseling.

Google “conscious aging.” There are online groups you can join. Just take the first step. It’s our responsibility to leave this world in better shape than we found it. We have not finished our story just because we finished our time in the workforce.

Do you think that society puts a value on its older citizens? Have you ever done a personal life review to assess in a conscious way the things you have accomplished? What are you doing to experience positive aging? Please share your thoughts below.