When one walks into the Martha Stewart Center for Living at Mt. Sinai, the first thing to notice is what is not there. No loud noise, no chaotic waiting room, no bright lights shining in your eyes. It was here that I met Dr. Audrey Chun, associate professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine, who told me that the facility was designed that way to bring a sense of calm to the patients. At the reception desk, an ancient bonsai tree, a symbol of strength, beauty, and the value of aging, greets visitors. It seems appropriate, since Mt. Sinai was the first hospital in the United States to establish a department of geriatrics.
Dr. Chun’s patients’ average age is 87. More than 200 people in the group are 90 or older, and there are more than 50 centenarians. Over the years, Dr. Chun has observed these “superagers” and noted that they all have something in common. “In addition to genetics and how [they] take care of [themselves], they share a purpose-filled life, a reason to get up every day that fills them with joy and keeps them busy.”
For some, volunteering is that purpose—giving something back to the community. The Engage community is one that serves this purpose for thousands of people. Our own life skills and experiences empower us to address the needs of the Jewish community of New York City. Because of the aging baby boomer population, according to Dr. Chun, there is a great deal of research taking place in the broader community of academic geriatrics. “You can’t do a blood test that says you have purpose, but when we really try to figure out what makes ‘superagers’ tick, the sense of purpose is a theme that emerges,” she notes.
This article was originally published in the fall 2015 Engage Connect printed newsletter.