The Wise Elder Report


What does it mean to be a wise elder in our polio circles?

Denise Linn writes, “Becoming an elder is a hallowed task that can lend meaning to all aspects of life, from celebrations and victories to times of difficulty and defeat. Asking yourself questions such as “What can I learn from this that could be of value to someone else?” or “How can I explain how I got through this difficult time in a way that is helpful to my grandchildren?” can provide you with a unique and invaluable tool for sorting through your experiences. It can make your everyday actions, even the most mundane ones, significant and sacred.”

Below is a link to the formal report on a study of 15 polio survivors living in different regions of America who revealed their secrets about what makes life with polio work. They were chosen by their support groups as the best role models for living well with polio into their later life years. They have been the ones who stand out as most admired. For the sake of this study, I call them “post-polio wise elders.”  In 2006 I traveled across the country to interview these individuals. I conducted the study in my role as as a Distinguished Mary Switzer Research Fellow. It was sponsored by the National Institute on Disability Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research.

Many of the wise elders agreed that, in spite of new functional losses, life is somehow better now, than when they were younger and physically stronger. Perceptions have changed. There seems to be a new freedom that an evolved perception of disability and not being in the workforce both bring. When asked for a word or phrase that describes life for them now, their responses included:

  • Comfortable
  • Flourishing
  • Grateful
  • Excellent
  • Open
  • Wonderful, full, happy
  • Satisfying, good
  • Hopeful–filled with a sense of anticipation
  • Good, fulfilling
  • Better than expected–like a dream come true

I found them to be gracious and humble–basically a joy to listen to. They had many valuable life lessons to share. The map below shows where these wise elders lived.


This final study report is rather long and a bit stuffy, but it tells the story.

blackeyed susans 2

Read detailed report here…

Roller–Final Switzer Report Narrative

If you would like a hard copy of this lengthy report, please contact me with your name and address and contribute $10.00 via the donate button on the right sidebar of this blog. That will cover our printing and mailing costs. 


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