The process of aging is like farming. There are inherent cycles from birth to death, and during the latter years, four seasons are apparent.
First, there is a season for renewal and new beginnings - Farmers renew their fields with fresh, new crops, while folks reaching "retirement age," usually around age 65, have the opportunity to renew their lives with fresh, new activities that are recreational and voluntary. Furthermore, they now have time to renew family, social, cultural, and spiritual connections. This renewal is apparent regardless of health status, as those who are ill or relatively well seem to recognize the mid-60s as a time of reflection over past roles and responsibilities, with the purpose of re-examining priorities and being cognizant of the finality of life on earth. This renewal period can lead to the "birth" of a new awareness and an effort to modify their lives in terms of how they spend their time, energy, and money. Which leads us to the second season.
In the second season, growth and nurturing occur. New, emerging crops need diligent nurturing and care for productive growth to occur as the plants mature and age. Similarly, older adults need support and direction as they struggle to grow by making changes in life patterns that have been ingrained for decades. For example, many may have their self-worth and identity connected with employment or family responsibilities that are no longer present.
Growing in a direction that shifts their life purpose to a more personal, lessstructured direction can be confusing and uncomfortable unless this transition period is viewed as positive and is nurtured by friends, family, and society. In addition, diminishing mental or physical health can direct the older adults' focus to that of self-preservation, which leads us to the third season.
The third season is one of gathering and preserving. Farmers may be a little weary when it is time to harvest. Nonetheless, they diligently gather and preserve the crops so life sustaining food will be available to us all. Similarly, older adults may be a little weary because of their aging bodies. However, they are persistent in their efforts to gather mental, physical, social, cultural, and spiritual resources to preserve function and independence. During this third season, the old saying "You reap what you sow" is somewhat relevant. For those whose lifestyles over the years has included such behaviors as cigarette smoking, overuse of alcohol, overeating, unmanaged stress, and limited physical activity, preservation of health status in the latter years will probably be compromised.
Finally there is a season of rest and death. After the crops are gathered and preserved, the plants that gloriously produced a variety of fragrant flowers, tasty fruits or vegetables wither and die. The field is then left to rest until the cycle of four seasons begins anew. However, the dying plants left seeds behind that will be the source of new plants and during their lifetime, the dying plants* contributions were immense. Their flowers provided beauty, while their grains, fruits and other produce provided sustenance for man and animal alike. Our world could not exist without them. Similarly, the aged reach a point of death whether it be through terminal illness, accidents, or natural death. They too leave behind important footprints. Their contributions through raising families, preserving cultural heritage, maintaining spiritual convictions, nurturing friendships, protecting our environment, challenging political systems, and dedicating time to employment impact the world from generation to generation. Therefore, during this fourth season of rest and death, it seems appropriate to thank our aging population for giving us the opportunity to serve them as nurse practitioners. One important way of showing gratitude to our elderly patients is by providing wholistic health care.