We’re Adjusting - Three Basic Senior Adult groups.....One Common Experience

Recently I talked with a senior couple who had experienced a deep loss. When I asked how they were doing, they responded, “We’re adjusting.” That captures the essence of what it means to be over 65- we are adjusting., and often in the midst of loss and change.

Churches, and society in general, tend to divide people according to age such as: infants, toddlers, children, teens, young adults and onward. In this structure, the 65-and-over crowd are often viewed as one composite group: the retirees and/or the “aged”.

However, another more descriptive model, views the 65-and-over crowd as pilgrims, each on a personal journey, with service in their hands. Even secular agencies, like the Financial Post, place over 65’s into three distinct groups, as noted in the following groupings. In short, think of senior adults less by their age and more by their common stage in life: adjusting.

(1) The Go-Go's (independent people, active, maybe still working part-time or full time, love to travel, eat out frequently, engage in sports, seek educational and spiritual opportunities, do hands-on ministry). In senior care communities, we refer to these as “independent living”.

(2) The Slow-Go's (transitional people with energy levels and/or health issues requiring them to slow down, but still enjoying learning, worship services and ministry opportunities). Within senior care communities, we refer to this group as “assisted living”- those senior adults who need some assistance with the matters of life. Their adjustments increase. In the local church, you will hear them quietly admit, " I don't have the energy I once did."

(3) The No-Go's (dependent people who are home bound or in a care center, seldom get to church, but still desire to fellowship with others and match their capacities to the needs of the community). As would be expected, this group is called “residential care”, those senior adults who need significant assistance due to declining health and/or mobility. They have very significant adjustments!

Seventeen and seventy five are two very different ages.

Most seventeen year olds are homogeneous, or very similar: finishing high school, learning to drive, working a part time job, enjoying friends and embarking on a journey that distances them from their parents.

But because of the aging process, seventy year olds are heterogeneous: very distinct. Some have good health, retire sooner, have families nearby and travel more; while others have health challenges, less money and freedom and live lonely lives.

However, all senior adults, regardless of their journey, share at least one common experience. Adjusting to Change. While each personal story is unique, they have all transitioned out of work, sold their homes for smaller condos, shifted from parent roles to grandparent roles, experienced loss of health and loves ones, just to name a few. In short, senior adults deal with countless changes and, as the couple said to be, “learn to adjust”. The caring church enables them to enjoy life and ministry even in the midst of many transitions.

Wise congregations and senior homes develop and promote a ministry BY the go-go's, a ministry WITH the slow-go's, and a ministry FOR the no-go's.

Matching spiritual, educational and service opportunities with the gifts and capacities of the 65-and-over crowd  is a challenge in the midst of their changes. In fact, for a growing number of congregations, this age represents the largest single age in the congregation, due in large part to the aging of the Baby Boomers.  Congregations have the joy and privilege in assisting older persons to come to a new understanding of worth— not so much on who they are, but rather on whose they are by the grace of a changeless God.

The mission of the local congregation is to become an advocate and ambassador for continued discipleship and spiritual growth toward maturity. Such churches encourage senior adults to keep growing til our last breath! We’re Adjusting!

Written by Daryl Busby, Ph.D.