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Ep. 125: Phyllis Ayman

Advisor, speaker, author, and radio host Phyllis Ayman has dedicated her life to aging and longevity and is a voice of elder care advocacy. 

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Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. And this is another exciting show about topics that are very intentional around the senior living industry. Today we have on Phyllis Ayman. She’s the voice of elder care advocacy. She’s an advisor, a speaker, an author, a trainer. She has a radio show. She’s got a TV show. She has dedicated her life to aging and longevity. And we’re really glad that you’re on the show. Welcome.


Phyllis: Oh, thanks so much for having me. I really think this is a great opportunity to talk about older people.


Lucas: Well, we’re going to get into a number of different topics. And specific ,we’re going to get into intergenerational, which as a really fun topic to talk about. Before we dive into that, tell us about how you started your show, the type of people that you interview and kind of what you’ve learned through that process.


Phyllis: Sure. Thanks for asking me that. Well, the show really came out of me stepping into the advocacy space and writing a couple of books. And I said, how am I going to bring this message to a larger audience? And so I had this idea, I had never done anything like that before. Really. I said, you know what, why not start a podcast or radio show? And I contacted, actually VoiceAmerica because I had been interviewed on a couple of VoiceAmerica shows and it went from there. 


And originally the show’s purpose was to interview thought leaders and we did interview many thought leaders. And then we realized that we had a lot of information to share to people that, that they would benefit from. So it’s a three segment show. We generally have somebody that we interview for two segments and then the last segment, my cohost and I whose in California, I’m in Connecticut. We have a conversation about the issues that were raised in the show.


Lucas: So, let’s get into longevity and our, excuse me, intergenerational, talk to us about why this is important to you.


Phyllis: Well, I’m actually an older adult. And, you know, I’ve thought a lot about the words that we use. I’m a communications person, I’m a speech pathologist by profession. So words and communication are important to me and as we all know, words matter. So I really started thinking about how we view older people has a lot to do with the words that we use and the phrases that we know. I know when I turned 30, and I have children who are older than 30, I said, oh, I’m over the Hill. And they have said those things too. And then there are other phrases like, oh, you’re not a spring chicken, you’re an old fart. I’ve gotten, you have a smartphone? I’ve gotten that one too. You’re a woman of a certain age, whatever that means. And so I started to really realize that, that this affects our attitudes towards our older people and, and the treatment they get. 


Interestingly enough, when I thought about other languages, do either of you speak another language?


Josh: I do. I speak East Tennessee. It’s a language, not too many people understand. It’s like hillbilly lingo. But no, I don’t speak in actual, a real language.


Phyllis: Okay. Well, anyway, in Spanish, when they ask a person their age, they say, how many years do you have? In other cultures that I know of, other language, they say, what year are you living? And I think that that sets a mindset of the fact that, you know, it’s we say from the time where little, how old are you, we’re always reinforcing that word old. And so I think that affects how people look at older people, you know, it’s those people over there. We don’t want to be bothered with them.


Josh: Phyllis, so I think I totally agree with you and, you know we had an opportunity to chat a little bit and, and you brought up a point and we, we had this in some of our notes that how we’re raised, you know, in our culture, you know, we just kind of grow up with these phrases, these terms, and we don’t really often even think about what their meaning is, right? And so you’ve talked about that a little bit. What’s your impression of like our culture and how we’re raised has shaped some of those phrases that you’re talking about?


Phyllis: Well, it’s just what you say in this culture, whatever that culture is in this country. And I’ve lived in various parts of this country. We don’t value older people as they do in other cultures. In other cultures, older people are revered for their wisdom. My first blog post was called The Wisdom Keepers because these real people who are older have lived in a considerable life, have a wealth of experience. And it’s really a resource and natural resource. I know it’s sometimes younger people I’ll say younger, you know, think that, oh, what do you know? I remember saying that to my mother or thinking, well, I couldn’t say that to my mother, cause I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you, but I, I remember thinking it and it wasn’t really until I got to be 40 or 50, I’m way older than that, I realized that she will always know more than I do because she’s lived that many more years. 


I think if we start to bring this topic to the forefront of the conversation, hopefully that we’ll be able to have people see that these are really a cherished resource and, and people can look to older people for, you know, advice or, or information. It doesn’t mean they have to take everything, but the insights. I’ll just, I think that there are many people who live with grandparents and I have found in interviewing people that those people have a much, I’ll say healthier attitude towards older people. And don’t think of them as, as you know, bygone person, you know, some old fart, but they, they realize the value that they bring to their lives. I found that repeatedly.


Josh: I would, I agree with you. And you know, it’s, it’s really interesting how our, the value we place on elders, I think is evident of that in other cultures, in how they’re living situations, you know, if you go anywhere else and in other parts of the other countries what we call now intergenerational that I think in our culture here in the United States we’re trying to figure out how to make that work, it seems to fit so naturally in other cultures and, and it’s not something that’s necessarily cutting edge over there to them. It’s something they’ve just kind of always grown to do to take care of their elders and to interact with them and to learn from them. 


So it’s really interesting this movement that I’ve kind of observed over the last few years where I know many senior living operators and leaders have actually gone to Europe and different places to try to figure out how they’re making that work. And I think the feedback I’ve heard is when, when you go visit, they’re all kind of scratching their heads and thinking, well, this is just the way it works. You know, this is what we’ve always done it. 


So I think it’s really valuable a personal experience I’ve had and maybe this adds to your, your points,  when I first got in senior living, I remember we built independent assisted memory care and adult daycare. We built them all over the Southeastern United States. And it was really interesting to me to see how in South Texas, for example, our adult daycare programming and centers, extremely flourished. Whereas in other parts of that were further East, they, they didn’t have as much Hispanic population and they were not as successful. And what we kind of boiled it down to is that the Hispanic culture, they were used to caring for their own until they absolutely could not do that anymore. So they were very much happy to keep their loved ones at home. And if they were working full time, they would gladly use a resource like an adult daycare center, but they were not willing to relinquish them to move them out until they absolutely couldn’t care anymore. It seemed to prove the points that you’re making.


Phyllis: Yeah. You know I’d like to comment on something that you just said about adult daycare centers, because I’m trying to encourage or bring the conversation to changing the verbiage for that as well, because what do we identify daycare with? Children. 


Josh: Children. 


Phyllis: And so it’s like, okay, those people, you know, they need somebody to take care of them. They’re, they’re not useful adults anymore because maybe they’re not working or contributing in that kind of work environment. I prefer community services or even day service day centers, but the whole idea of daycare that, that terminology kind of fits into this whole thing about verbiage and attitudes.


Josh: Well, and I totally agree. And thank you for bringing that up. And, and I’ll just further go to even from a regulatory environment, I was shocked in one of the States when we wanted to have a licensed, the license was under adult daycare centers and that was the name of your license. Well, when you applied for it, what they, this, the entity, the state had done was taken the regulatory language directly from children’s daycare centers- 


Phyllis: There you go! 


Josh: -and dropped it into the adult daycare. And it even had references. They hadn’t even changed the reference to your child. It was still in the adult daycare language, the word children. And I could not be more shocked. So to prove your point, absolutely. That, that is the reference. And I think that that further just echoes your points.


Phyllis: You know, the- I was going to say, talking about, let’s say those kinds of community centers and people who can keep people at home any longer, let’s say and let’s say they have to I’ll say go into an environment that, where they need to receive more care. I’m trying to choose my words carefully because we kind of had this conversation before we started. And when people get to that point, often they say, sorry, I’m nursing homes. It takes away people’s autonomy and makes them less of a person. And, you know, we talked about this, we all transitioned in our lives from the time we’re young. Maybe we go away to college, or then we move out of our parents’ house or with a friend or a partner or get married and buy a home, whatever. And then maybe we downsize.


So we’re always transitioning. But then when it comes to that stage of life, you’re put someplace. And I think a lot of older adults feel like they’ve just been put someplace the decision was taken away from them. And it makes you feel like less of a person. It kind of dehumanizes you. And that’s a very sad thing because people in nursing homes there are have lived very rich lives. I mean, I’ve met boxing champions. I met a woman who was one of the original models of Coco Chanel. I mean, I’ve met, I’m sure other people you’ve probably met people and other people who’ve worked in this space. I just was in a facility a couple of weeks ago. I met somebody who was a renounced physicist. I mean, these are very, very accomplished people and we shouldn’t think of them as anything less. They’re just continuing life’s journey. They’re just advancing in years. Aren’t we all? We are from the minute we’re born.


Josh: I, yeah, you’re exactly right. I think one of the things that, so we’re talking about, you know, whatever this American culture is, right? Which obviously is a fluid thing, but one of the things I have noticed and I would love to know your opinion on this is this-how do I refer to it- I’m going to call it the principle of retirement, right? Our idea of what retirement is, which I think is changing from what, what my grandfather, the greatest generation planned for in retirement and how he financially was prepared for that versus my generation, right? I’m 40 years old. But one thing I have noticed is it seems like to me, so many people live for this destination of retirement and their whole identity has been wrapped up in what they do each day of their lives. 


It kind of becomes for my grandfather, it was kind of like his purpose. It’s why he got up and what he did every day. And it seems like we live for this point in the future called retirement. Whatever age we decide to retire. Maybe those early at 55, maybe regular 65. Maybe others are a little bit later whenever it may be, but once their daily routine or their daily purpose or their job that they’ve kind of identified themselves with their whole lives, who they are, gets kind of almost removed, whether they self remove it, or people remove that from them. I have witnessed this kind of stumbling and struggling over what do I do? And I’ve also seen this digression on if, if they don’t have a strong sense of purpose in who they are outside of that identity, once they retire, they almost stop living. They don’t identify with a purpose. And it seems like what I’ve studied from the more intergenerational communities that they, they have this sense of purpose and value. That’s kind of already upon them that the value isn’t lost after retirement. Do you, do you get where I’m coming?


Phyllis: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I agree with you 100%. I, you know, if people want to do that, okay. I mean, that’s a personal choice and they go to retirement communities or people save their whole lives. They feel they don’t want to work anymore, but it has been demonstrated in the research that without purpose, you can advance your cognitive decline. You know, your cognitive decline, your intellectual ability. You know, you lose some of that. You know, it’s like losing your mojo. How many times, if people let’s say lost their jobs, especially in this environment, right? Where people have been forced to not be able to work, they lose a sense of purpose. You lose a sense of yourself and, but it is a choice, but people have said to me, Oh, when are you going to retire? I say, retire. What’s that like, but that’s, that’s me personally.


And there are so many other people that I’ve met and interviewed working into their 70s and 80s and 90s, they’re productive, they’re vibrant, they contribute. And, and I, I think it’s, it, it would be wise, I’ll say for people that are younger to think about the value that these people bring and, and to make an effort to kind of have this intergenerational connection because connections, connections matter for all of us, right? And the intergenerational connection is important for the older people to older people learn from younger people and younger people have the benefit of hearing the wisdom and the advice that older people can you know, that older people can bring they don’t have to take it all, but it can, it can open your eyes. 


You know I had read an article last year, sometime, I think it was an Uber driver or a Lyft driver. And he spent, he spent his time. It was the course of a year. I think he said he was going to publish a book. And he used his time to interview each person on what they thought the value of life was. And you know, people who are older who have lived through, you know, so many years, certainly have a different idea of what that is. That could be so eyeopening for younger people.


Josh: I feel like I should just be saying amen or something over here. Like every time you say something I think there is an amazing I’ve personally witnessed it. I’ve personally experienced it in my own life, kind of a, almost like a, this positive chemical reaction of energy that happens when I’m older and younger come together, just listen to each other. And it’s amazing. I’ve seen and witnessed older adults that when I just simply ask them about something about their day or life, and actually not just do it in passing by, but do it in a conversation where I’m engaged to actually listen. How much their facial expressions, their emotions, their shoulders lift. 


And I, you know, I hope for those community leaders that are out there, we have so many awesome leaders that listen to our show that give us great feedback and great ideas and challenge us. But I hope we don’t underestimate what we’re talking about here today and just the value of human engagement across generational lines. And as you’ve said, add value to each other regardless of age. We take time to listen, and, and I think by doing that, it shows a high sense of value to older adults, people of all ages, and we’re all better for it, right?


Phyllis: Yeah. I agree. And I’m, I’m thinking or hoping to a certain degree, you know, they say that obviously positive things can come out of very negative circumstances. And while the, the coronavirus has, has been a horrible situation for everybody in our country, it has highlighted, highlighted the situation for older people and their families, the older people in nursing homes, especially. And you know, I said earlier about connections, you know, people are not allowed to visit nursing homes. People are isolated from their loved ones. And I have seen in the facilities I’ve been in and, and spoken to colleagues of mine, they can see the cognitive decline when people are isolated and don’t have those connections. I actually started a GoFundMe campaign. Is it okay if I mention it? 


Lucas: Sure. 


Phyllis: It’s called Senior Connections Matter, connecting seniors through technology, and I’m raising money to purchase iPads and mobile devices to facilitate those connections. Not only for those people who are live near their families and their families are now banned from visiting, but also people who live very far away from their families and the importance of connection is so important. 


And a program that I want to start to I don’t know talk about or initiate. I know my cohost in California, they’ve kind of started something like this. I think it’s called Olive’s Friends because her organization is Olive Community Service. And it’s the idea of getting younger people to maybe engage with someone in a nursing home who doesn’t have family, or has family that lives far away. And that promotes that intergenerational piece and maybe visit them every once in a while or bring them something that they, that they want, or don’t have a chance to get. And once the nursing homes open up, I’m hoping that with this new awareness that people will either want to choose a career path in that direction, or maybe we’ll think about having those connections and maybe going to a local facility and saying, hey, listen, I’d like to come volunteer, or is there anybody that doesn’t have somebody and I I’d like to have that connection with them? And that will start that whole intergenerational piece within the nursing home setting.


Lucas: Yeah. That’s a beautiful concept. And definitely something that, that we would support. We’ll definitely connect to all that information in the show notes. Phyllis, this has been a really wonderful conversation about things that are really important in this industry and to our audience and our listeners. You know, we have a growing sector of college students that are learning about intergenerational and careers in senior living. And I think that this is a very helpful piece of content for them to learn from. So I know that our audience is going to want to connect with you. So we’ll make sure that we connect with Phyllis in the show notes to all of her organizations, including the GoFund me, Phyllis, thanks for being on the show today.


Phyllis: Thanks so much for having me. I really enjoyed it. And I appreciate you guys for elevating this conversation. So it’s terrific.


Lucas: It’s our pleasure. And thanks to everybody for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap. 

Ep. 125: Phyllis Ayman