Engagement & Purpose: Essentials for Well-being
by Felicia Juntunen, MA, CMC, ECM Director of Care Management
Aging Life Care Professionals regularly observe the value of engagement and purpose in the lives of older adults, as we serve clients in various settings, at home and across all levels of care. Engagement can be defined as any activity that provides opportunity for connection with others, also known as social support. Purpose is the feeling derived from an engagement that transmits the idea that a person is valued and important to others, and that their contribution is meaningful. Sources of engagement include family, friends, faith community attendance, organization membership, hobbies, opportunities for continued learning – any activity that helps an aging adult remain active and emotionally connected to others.
Research supports the connection between social relationships (engagement) and longevity, as well as the impact of isolation as a risk factor for poor health. (Successful Aging, Rowe and Kahn, 1998). The social isolation experienced by so many older people during the Covid shutdown helped underscore the influence of engagement on health. Among seniors (as in the rest of the population) depression and other mental health crises were amplified. Care managers are sensitive to the reality that the management of the physical needs of aging can lead older adults to forgo the activities that formerly provided them with meaningful engagement. As the aging process continues, declining health and change in vicinity can also impact participation. However, engagement at each stage of aging is important and variations on earlier interests and themes can continue and support and positively impact well-being. Health and Disability is one of the eight knowledge areas of expertise for Aging Life Care Professionals and represents a significant part of the work we do with older adults and their families. Individuals and their loved ones often come to our practice in a healthcare crisis, and we work together to find the best resolution possible. Because of our holistic approach, we also seek to help our clients understand the benefits of engagement and purpose on their overall health and well-being and work to help them identify sources of both.
Aging Life Care Professionals understand that the effectiveness of social support and engagement is highly individual, dependent upon circumstance and particular needs. As we develop familiarity with a client, we seek to identify sources of engagement and purpose in their life story. Exploring vocation, pivotal life experiences, spiritual beliefs, community connections, values, and family roles help us discover opportunities that might provide meaningful engagement and purpose to the client. Many older adults demonstrate tremendous resilience and interest in continued engagement and need little encouragement, but they still benefit from assistance with support that helps them remain engaged. Transportation and respite from caregiving (usually for a spouse) are two examples of needed support. A senior who has experienced a move to another setting – for instance from home to assisted living – may need help identifying activities of interest and encouragement to try something new. An individual living with dementia can benefit from the skill of a care manager to identify strategies that will provide them with enrichment. Families and caregivers of those with dementia are often amazed at the positive impact on well-being that occurs after the introduction of meaningful activity. Engagement that is meaningful and provides purpose for older adults is essential for their physical and mental health and the benefits extend beyond to those who love and care for them.