Complete Wellness

A Place for Healing MindBodySpirit


Aging Gracefully ... or at least trying the best we can.

I believe Irma Bombeck said it best; “Be nice to your children because they’ll be picking out your nursing home”. In my experience in talking to thousands of people over the years, I’ve gotten to see an interesting perspective on life. The more I look at it the better it fits. It seems that the beginning and end of life really mirror each other in so many ways. The jokes we idly toss about regarding the inability to walk, the needing to be fed, and to be babysat…and the diapers returning to us on our dotage are funny. But it’s no joke.

A 106 year old lady once called her home health aid close. She wanted to impart some sage piece of wisdom. As the aid leaned in, this blessed matriarch said “You never know.” When you really think about it, you begin to understand how essential these words are.

It starts out with subtle slips here and there. We may be no more forgetful, but we worry so with each lapse. Our bodies begin to be a little less able, lacking some strength and flexibility. If you are the adult child, nephew, niece, or other caring person seeing these changes in your parents or elders, just remember, if you take good care of yourself, you’ll get to go through it too. Yikes.

It isn’t exactly a slippery slope, because the progression can be so unpredictable. A fall can cause an irreversible loss of function. A flu can turn into dehydration which can turn into a stroke. Sometimes, the progress can be imperceptibly slow…until something happens. And then sometimes, everything changes.

It’s a cool little thing when neighborhoods work out little signs among the people, like, if my newspaper is still in my driveway at 10 AM, or your window shade is still down at 9AM, we’ll check on each other. It’s not intrusive or complicated and it gets the job done. Often, local social service agencies or your local police will have a “reassurance system” in place which entails you calling in at a certain time, or them calling you. If no contact is made, someone goes by to check on you. If no such system exists in your area, consider trying to get it started with your neighborhood, bridge group, book club, church, synagogue, or any such organization.

Memory -Work with me here. If you really have a problem with memory, you may not know it. It makes sense here. If you can’t remember stuff, you won’t remember the things you have forgotten. I am totally not being cute or facetious here. You have to trust the people around you to be honest…and kind and supportive. The honest part may not be too welcome. The patient here has to be trusting. And the non-affected person has to be patient.

My sainted mother used to say, “You’re only as smart as you know how dumb you are.” That is to say, if you know you always lose your keys, have a spot for them. If you have been known to be late paying a bill here and there, create a file system to keep you on track.

Driving -Driving is a big deal. It represents independence. If you have ever gotten lost in a familiar area or if you’ve ever hit the gas instead of the brake, think seriously about giving up driving. This is no longer just about you. This is a lethal weapon you are managing. Don’t even try to make the argument that teenagers have more accidents. Teens are inexperienced, distracted, hormone-impaired, but they are going to get better. Aging drivers are on the decline physically; not getting better. Just the facts. If you don’t feel thoroughly confident on the road you shouldn’t do it. Look, if people you love, who love you and want you to be safe and happy, tell you that you should not be driving, please listen respectfully and consider it.

There are some driving assessments for seniors. Sometimes this can be helpful in being objective when there is uncertainty. The ones I know about are through larger physical therapy/rehabilitation centers and some states licensure centers. It costs money and is not a medical insurance covered service. A pretty firm guideline is if you have been lost while driving in a familiar area, even once, you should not be driving AT ALL. Let the doctor be the bad guy and determine that an elder can’t drive. When the discontent arises, blame the doctor. You don’t have to agree or disagree. You don’t have to take sides. You don’t have to directly take the heat.

Remember the comparison of the curve toward independence in the beginning of life being reflected by the loss of independence as we approach the end of life. Just as difficult as puberty is, with its fits and starts and uneven path, the reflection is pretty fitting. The conflicts, the brilliant moments, the frustrations

When is it time to say that a person cannot live alone? (Liken it to the decision of when is it OK to leave kids home alone.) I’ve said it for years, if you can’t get up off the toilet by yourself, you can’t live alone. That’s an easy one. If you’ve fallen more than once this year and gotten significantly injured, that’s a clue. If you’ve left something that was cooking on the stove more than once in the past three months, think about it.

So, what do we do if you are not safe to live alone? What if your husband or wife has died and you find yourself responsible for a whole new set of chores and responsibilities. Can you manage with some help in your home?

When you can no longer live alone is not a well-defined moment in time. The road can be sometimes bumpy, with no clear indication that you (or your loved one) are not safe at home, with lengths of time when it seems just fine, no problems, smooth. But those smooth rides do not negate the fact that the unsafe conditions or events occurred.

If you are trying to stay in your own home so you don’t impose on your family, think again. If’ you’re home alone, your loved one will worry about you, and sometimes have to really go out of their way to check on you. If you have a good loving relationship with the people caring for you, trust them to do the best for you. Trust them if they say your memory is an actual impediment to safety.

If you have a memory problem, you won’t remember the issues that arose as a result. I’m not talking about regular lapses, like misplacing glasses and keys. I’m not talking about not remembering somebody’s name. Have you found your mail in the freezer? Have you gotten confused while driving? (Keep in mind that you might not remember such an event.)

This is no joke. Bills have got to get paid. If you get fidoodled while driving, your focus is impaired and that is dangerous, not just for you but for everyone on and around the road. How many times have you driven others around? Did you take care of your elders in their later days? Please let others take care of you. You’ve done so much over the years, let people who want to do it take care of you.

Asking for or accepting assistance is so difficult for some. Again back to the puberty analogy. As the caretaker, be prepared to meet resistance when you bring up the idea that your elder or partner needs support. Sometimes you have to be mean and firm. I strongly suggest you find a fall guy. It is perfectly acceptable to get a doctor to insist on neuro-psychiatric testing to quantify the mental capacity.

The thing to hold on to if you have put your elder or partner into some supported living situation and he or she complains bitterly about wanting to go home, just wait. Usually, within a month or two, when asked where he or she wants to go, the answer will not come. “Here, I guess.”

There are skilled nursing facilities, assisted living centers, memory care units, progressive living situations, and home care, in your home or group homes. Your local Elder Services or Senior Center should be able to help you

Try to keep that mirror image of life in mind. Babies don’t need much to be entertained. (I think we overstimulate infants as a product of aggressive commercialism, but that’s another story.) In the beginning and end of life, we seem to be content to be peaceful and comfortable. We don’t need to “get out” for the sake of getting out. We don’t need great variety of food or scenery. Mother Nature is kind in this regard. I’ve seen it in people who’ve had strokes or other dramatic diminution of ability. They seem to accept the new mode of existence.

My father often said that if he were given some mortal diagnosis, he would take out a loan and buy a ridiculously expensive car and drive it into a brick wall at top speed. Ironically, his first stoke affected his right side and he was left unable to drive at all. He spent the last eight years of his life without driving and didn’t seem to mind.




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