Be Prepared

As a boomer who married late in life, has no children, and who will probably outlive her husband who is older than she is and is presently battling cancer, I fall in the category of the 40% who will probably end up in a nursing home.  Well, maybe not since I have a community of friends who may pull together to create an environment where we can all age together, providing each other the social and emotional support we may need and pooling our resources to take care of our physical needs.

[by the way this picture is of a girl scout, not me, although I was a girl scout for a couple of years. I am using this picture to reflect the girl scout motto, “Be Prepared.” That explained, back to my entry…..]

I am hopeful.  These friends have been very forthcoming and helpful with my circumstances with my husband.  Since we are all aging at the same time, we may recognize the need to be pro-active in preparing for our twilight years, which is the point of this article.

Mostly, we boomers, especially at this age, are not really thinking about the time when we may become more frail.  The fact is, we are very much not prepared for that time in our lives.  At this stage, we are probably loosing parents and possibly friends or spouses.  But we are still thinking about hiking with friends or traveling rather than being fed by somebody else or having a portable commode next to our beds.

But, and I can’t repeat this enough, now is the time to contemplate where and how we want to be spending those last years or months because NOW is when we can do something about putting everything in place.

According to presentations at the 4th Annual Symposium on Policy and Health, the complexities of family structures in today’s society does not lend itself to the traditional forms of caregiving for the elderly within the family units.  Presently, families perform about 75 percent of elderly care. This can be anything from running errands to full-time caregiving.  We are the group that is doing this caregiving.  But with the out of the box way we have proceeded with our lives,  we need to ask ourselves who will be taking care of us when we need that help?

Then there are the sub-groups such as the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) who may have a more difficult time with care in their more frail years.  Recent research suggests that LGBT seniors are more prone to isolation and psychological distress than their heterosexual peers. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles’ Center for Health Policy Research reported in a study that half of Californian gay and bisexual men aged 50 to 70 live alone, compared with only 13.4 percent of straight men. More than one in four lesbian and bisexual women in California live alone as well.

Studies show that ethnic minorities rely on family members much more than their white counterparts.  But they are also less likely to seek outside help through social services or the medical establishment. According to studies provided by the American Psychological Association:

Studies show that ethnic minority caregivers provide more care than their White counterparts and report worse physical health than White caregivers (McCann et al, 2000). Several studies have found that African American caregivers experience less stress and depression and garner greater rewards from caregiving than White caregivers (Cuellar, 2002; Haley et al, 2004). Hispanic and Asian American caregivers, however, exhibit more depression than white caregivers (Haley et al, 2004).

Being boomers, we may end up causing a paradigm shift in how we approach our twilight years.  We may even affect how our society looks at the aging process.  We may develop creative ways of approaching support systems to serve our needs as we become more frail.  But unless we focus on this question now, we may end up in a nursing home, with strangers [sometimes — when they are not being pulled in 20 different directions] responding to our needs.

Anyone for the idea of a Commune for the Aging?

Is Aging an Attitude?

A senior citizen in trying to slow down his process of aging by physical fitness exercises

A senior citizen in trying to slow down his process of aging by physical fitness exercises

Now that I am on the cusp of the “twilight years” in my own life, I have been actively contemplating the question of aging.  The outcome has been to want to try and present an alternative to the image of aging that so dominates our society (ah, yes, I am a typical baby boomer through and through!) and provide a more palatable embrace of a thing that is, ultimately, unavoidable, i.e., the aging process.

Yes, we have to confront that aging and decline are part of the life experience.  We will all go through decline either because of disease or as our body parts break down. But as a society, we have pushed back the idea of “old” from 60 to 80, which brings me to the title of this article.

In the end, the aging process really is more about one’s health and outlook on life than on the years one has lived.  No question that those who are dealing with health issues as they age will have a less pleasant time than those who do not and it may be harder for them to have a positive outlook, but the same could be said about a 20 year old confronting health issues.  Ironically a healthy 80 year old can feel as young as 50 and an unhealthy 50 year old can feel 80.

There are also those things that do occur naturally as we age and which we need to accept as part of the aging process (although the health industry is working hard at finding ways to keep those tendencies pushed back).  The neuro-modulators in one’s brain do slow down.  One tends to find oneself in greater frequency making the statement: “I have the name, place, whatever on the tip of my tongue.”  And, yes, there is an increase in the question “Now why did I come into this room?”

The old injuries tend to make themselves more noticed.  Arthritis starts to creep into the joints.

The ability to do in a day seems to only become more challenging.  Things we used to do with ease may not be as easy to do or may not be done with the same vigor.  Body parts do start to sag.

But as soon as you look away from the mirror or get involved in an activity that you love, poof, out of the window goes the sense of, “Jeez!  When did I get so old?” and that person who is at least ten years younger than my birth date tells me I am  [See: How Old Do You Think You Are?] takes over, enjoying and interacting with life.  And, I certainly would never trade the who I am now to the who I was when I was 20.  Sure, I do think that the 20-30 year old body is more attractive than the 50-60 year old body, but I think the 50-60 year old mind is much more interesting than the 20 year old mind.

Our connection with life continues regardless of age and we have the opportunity to explore these years of aging with the same curiosity and gratitude we had when we were younger.  The outcome will be to find out that life is just as rich in experience now as it was then.  Maybe even richer.  But, and this is important, it really has to do with the attitude in which you enter your twilight years.

So although we do change mentally and physically as we age, our attitude going into the aging process is key to how we relate to these changes.


© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed  2011


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