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Our granddaughter is learning about senior living

Our 14-year-old granddaughter is visiting us this week. No parents. No younger sister. She is here solo. And we are delighted.

It was her mother’s idea that Bella do an “internship” with Age-Friendly Innovators Inc., the nonprofit organization we started after my husband and I retired several years ago.

Age-Friendly Innovators (www.agefriendlyinnovators.org) is dedicated to identifying solutions to aging-in-place challenges. So, in one well-designed week, Bella is getting full-throttle exposure to an array of elders and all their proclivities and obsessions. I’m having Bella read and edit this column before I submit it, and I suspect she might ask what “proclivities” means. I looked it up, and it refers to “inclination,” “tendency” or “leaning disposition.” My husband might identify it as an aging adult’s “stubbornness.”

Our nonprofit’s emphasis lately has been on fall prevention, so we are intent on ensuring that our smart and ready-to-learn granddaughter is absorbing the importance of well-placed bathroom grab bars and the danger of loose scatter rugs. It didn’t take her long to realize that falls and the fractures that often accompany them are life-changing, that 61-percent of falls occur in the home, 80 percent of homes have one hazard, and 40 percent have five or more (National Safety Council, 2014).

We've taught Bella that these in-home risks are easy to address, and she is taking her new knowledge, and the fall-risk assessment tool our organization has developed, into next week’s visit to her other set of grandparents. She has what I call “listening leverage” with them, so I suspect she can make all the necessary points about in-home fall prevention in a way that gets results. She has undisputed leverage with them — and they probably have it with a few of their friends. So it goes.

As you get older, there’s always someone you listen to more attentively than anyone else — someone who queries or informs you and, as a result, you change your behavior or think more thoroughly about a situation. Maybe it’s your doctor, your pastor or your best friend from high school. Very often, it’s a grandchild.

“Grandma, I think you should get rid of the throw rug in front of the sink. And those dog toys lying everywhere around the kitchen are a real trip hazard. ... Grandpa, I think you should make an appointment to have your hearing aids tested."

Listening starts with listening. Or maybe it starts with intent to listen. Of course, you want to hear every word your grandchild says. Experts on listening remind us that “listening is not the same as hearing.” Listening requires focus and receptivity, “paying attention not only to the story but how it is told.”

When you have the joy of welcoming a visiting grandchild into your home, adjust those hearing aids, tune out any stubborn and distracting thoughts and just listen. Listen well. Use the opportunity to leverage life-change.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.