Talia Chait: Life lessons from the Lifestyle Leaders

by Taylor Patskanick

Do you ever think about aging and what exactly that word means? When working at the AgeLab, the word “aging” is a constant focus. Most people automatically think about getting older and the negative impacts of age on their body and mind. When will I stop being able to drive, what will I forget or how will others view me as I get older?

Working at the AgeLab has completely changed my opinion of the word aging. Sure, there may be physical and cognitive challenges that can be difficult or even debilitating in older age, but there is so much to learn from the older generation. I have been observing the Lifestyle Leaders, a panel of adults ages 85 and older who participate in focus groups and surveys, for four years. They inspire me and make me think about how I can emulate their positive spirit. I have compiled a list of life lessons that I, a Gen Z person, have learned from them. Many of these lessons highlight the positive side of aging.  No matter our age, if we all implement just a little of their spirit, we can live happier and more fulfilling lives.

Enjoy the little moments and laugh often

I think the biggest thing I have seen in the Lifestyle Leaders is that they enjoy the little moments. By observing them, I have learned it is important to find joy in even the smallest interactions. Recently, the AgeLab had a few of the local Lifestyle Leaders come into the office for group photos. The entire time, they were so happy to interact with everyone in the room. I learned it’s easy to take a relatively mundane task and turn it into fun.

Find your hobby and continue to do it

I have seen time and time again that choosing to do something you love will bring you joy. It gives you a purpose and a connection to other like-minded hobbyists.  During a Lifestyle Leaders in-person group luncheon a few years ago, the hot topic at every table was related to hobbies. Whether it was spending time with family or reading a book, it was clear that hobbies are incredibly important to the happiness of this generation.

Be resilient and know you can do anything!

Whatever life throws at the older generation, they always find a way to continue with a smile on their face. I remember the first Lifestyle Leaders meeting I attended in 2019—there was one attendee who was turning 100 years old. Despite his advanced age, he showed up sitting in his faded black wheelchair with a huge grin on his face. He wasn’t mobile, but his excitement and exuberance filled the whole room. The moment he came through the door, the entire AgeLab staff knew he was ready to give his thoughts and opinions on our monthly topic even at 100 years old.

Carry the important memories with you, and share your stories

Whether this be on a phone or printed on photo paper, it is important to carry memories with you. Recently, one of the Lifestyle Leaders pulled out an old and crumpled printed photo from her wedding fifty years ago. As she turned the image towards us with a smile, we could see the love she shared with her spouse. The physical representation of an important person or event enables happy memories, richer storytelling and connections between peers and younger generations.

It is ok to ask for help

It is always okay to ask for help, whether that be getting something from a bag or needing someone to help walk with you. It is better to ask and be safe than to not ask. The Lifestyle Leaders are a perfect example, since they regularly ask AgeLab staff members for technology assistance or help getting to a certain location.

As a member of Gen Z, I have learned a lot from observing the older generations, both in my own life and by working with the Lifestyle Leaders. I think it is important to have intergenerational connections between the young and the old so that we can look at aging from a different perspective. I also think that by fostering intergenerational connections, the young and the old can learn valuable lessons from each other. I hope that these lessons inspire younger generations to embrace life with joy, hold onto happy memories and keep moving forward.

Finally, I’d like to thank all the staff for believing in me for the past four summers and for allowing me to work on major AgeLab projects including MISI/MIT Portugal, CareHive, PLAN, and AEGON/Transamerica. I first started at the AgeLab four years ago as a rising high school junior, and yet even then, I felt like I was a part of the team. I have learned so much this summer, more than I ever imagined I would, and I will take the lessons I learned from my colleagues and the Lifestyle Leaders with me as I age.

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About the Author

Photo of Taylor Patskanick
Taylor Patskanick

Taylor Patskanick is a Technical Associate at the MIT AgeLab. Her current research explores preventive health and vaccination practices of older adults. Taylor co-coordinates the MIT AgeLab 85+ Lifestyle Leaders panel and contributes to the AgeLab’s AGNES program. She also manages OMEGA, an intergenerational summit and scholarship program. In addition to her work at the AgeLab, Taylor is the president of Boston Bridge, Inc., a Massachusetts-based professional development organization for leaders in the field of aging and is a licensed certified social worker (LCSW). Taylor is an adjunct faculty member at Simmons University in Boston, MA. Taylor earned her MPH and MSW from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and received her BSW from the University of Georgia.

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