Dealing With Getting Older
Dealing with getting older is a worry of many adults. As a caregiver of an aging parent or a spouse who has hands-on experience, dealing with getting older can be a challenge for many reasons. Watching a loved one decline and then feeling powerless to change the situation is a concern when dealing with getting older. While aging parents and spouses may experience feelings of denial, actions can be taken to respond positively to dealing with getting older.
Getting Older is Part of Life
While none of us want to think about aging or dealing with getting older, aging is a fact of life. We age and before we know it, time has passed. We are 5, 10, or 20 years older. Friends start to pass away. We talk about events like the landing on the moon and JFK’s shooting. Those who are younger look at us with blank stares.
We are not a society that embraces getting older or having conversations about needing care or caregiving. Older adults shun thoughts of being classified as old, feeble, or frail—even if they are.
Aging Parents Are in Denial
At the time our parents become older, and our bodies begin to have parts that slow down, some aging parents accept the changes with grace. Other aging parents are in denial and refuse to adapt to these changes.
Regular physical activity is the best way to prevent chronic disease. Even though the benefits of exercise are publicized, many adults, especially older adults, remain physically inactive.
In a study by Mcewan (1) even though aging adults admit to behaviors that have negative health consequences, they do not want to be classified as having poor health. Aging adults view stereotypes associated with aging as a negative.
This sense of denial may be based on the concept of Social Identity Theory that states that belonging to a group perceived to be inferior can threaten well-being. We perceive ourself to be in the “in” or the “out” group. Preference is not to be in the “out” group which is viewed to have undesirable characteristics.
Social identity theory is described as being similar to the idea of being in a peer group in school, in a social group, or with friends with whom we associate. Within these groups, we have common interests and common thoughts. Being in a group of people like us can be comforting. On the other hand, participation in one group or another can be limiting to our personal growth.
The way that aging adults perceive themselves affects their well-being. Positive thinking results in positive well-being. Negative thoughts have the opposite effect.
If I Don’t Think About It – It Isn’t True
The downside of seeing ourselves in one group and not another group can lead to a lack of insight, becoming defensive to justify our actions, and rejecting ideas that might be helpful. One example of this lack of insight is older adults who are physically weak. Physical weakness increases the likelihood of a fall. In lieu of physical exercise and strength training, the use of a walker or a can can improve safety.
In a situation where physical weakness exists, the idea of dealing with getting older makes aging adults hesitant to take actions that others might perceive to be good for them. This good for you activity is using a cane or a walker to avoid a fall.
For some aging adults, the social stigma associated with being seen using a walker or a cane is too embarassingt. Responses like, “It makes me feel old. I don’t like it, and I don’t always need it” (2) are common statements made by aging adults when thinking about using a walker or a cane.
Dealing with Getting Older
Dealing with getting older means dealing with the possibility of health declines and injuries. Falls in aging adults that result in fractures have serious consequences. A hip fracture is a serious injury from which many aging adults do not physically recover unless the person was physically active before the injury.
I had clients, for whom I was legally responsible, who fell and broke a hip. One client was physically active all of her life. Even near the age of 90, she walked 2 miles a day.
The other client was fairly sedentary. She sat on the couch all day and watched television. As the result of an ankle fracture, years earlier from which she did not recover, her walking was limited to the interior of her home.
The 90year-old broke a hip, had surgery, and experienced a total recovery within a week. This client returned to normal activity and continued to walk daily for exercise.
The other client did not fare as well. Because she was inactive before the fracture, the doctors refused to perform a total hip replacement. This client never returned to standing or walking. She was confined to using a wheelchair for the rest of her life and living in a care community because she could not manage to care for herself at home.
Feeling older and dealing with getting older are states of mind that benefit from seeing ourselves as we are and taking action. Why is it difficult for us to do things that we intellectually know are good for us but for which we lack motivation?
Part of this—I believe—is that the consequences of not taking action are not serious enough. I was blessed to have a mother who was sick my entire life and who passed away at the age of 69. She was ill most of her life. I witnessed the struggles that were associated with the extent of her poor health.
In my early twenties, I joined a gym and became very serious about health and wellness. Why? Because I was motivated NOT to have the health issues of my mother. Other family members, mainly her brothers and sister, were experiencing similar health concerns; heart attacks, and strokes.
Being witness to this rash of ill family members in my teens changed my life in more ways than one. I remain committed to a healthy lifestyle, and the death of my mother led me to a 20+ year career as a caregiving expert.
“It’s No Good to Be Old”
On visits to see my 90-ish grandmother, she frequently said to me, “it’s no good to be old.” Even in her 90’s she got up every day, put on a dress, did her hair, said the rosary, and participated in regular activities. She was the picture of grace.
Even with arthritis that gnarled her hands, knee pain, and other health issues, she never complained. She also walked a tall flight of stairs every day—on purpose. There were days when I found her on her hands and knees, pulling weeds out of the flower garden in the yard. She wore a floppy sun hat to shade her eyes from the sun.
Besides making the statement, “it’s no good to be old,” I never heard grandma complain. I can only hope that when I am in my 90’s, I am as positive and graceful as grandma.
If You Don’t See It – You Can’t Believe It
Many adults today, by the age of fifty have not experienced the loss of a family member or significant health issues. Aging, caregiving, and dealing with getting older is part of life. However, if you don’t see it – you can’t believe it will happen.
The health of aging parents can change in the blink of an eye. Caregiving becomes a role and a responsibility overnight with a 3 a.m. phone call. The role of caregiver can feel like a roller coaster ride. Constant changes in the health of loved ones result in greater responsibilities and more time devoted to caregiving.
Until you become a caregiver, you have no idea of the daily challenges that other caregivers experience. Looking in from the outside, it may look easy. Looking out from the inside, the life of a caregiver can be a lonely and isolating experience.
Caregivers devote the majority of their free time to caregiving. Working consumes daytime hours. Evenings and weekends are spent being a caregiver. Little free time exists for enjoyable activities or spending time with friends. Caregiving steals time from the life of a caregiver for 3, 5, or more years.
While caregiving is a commitment that is viewed as a duty and a responsibility, the role is not without challenges and stress. In the beginning, caregivers are unsure how caregiving responsibilities may progress and consume the life of the caregiver.
What is The Role of a Caregiver?
Depending on the care needs of an aging parent, spouse, or family member, the question of what is the role of a caregiver may be different. Spouses care for spouses. Adult children may be caregiving support to one parent caring for another. An adult child may be the sole caregiver for an aging parent.
The roles and responsibilities as the years pass grow in significance. Over time, many caregivers take on hands-on care that can feel uncomfortable and embarrassing. The first time one has to bathe an aging parent can feel uncomfortable for the parent and the child. Thoughts of not knowing all of the steps to take, what to do, or how to help arise.
When needs progress to helping with incontinence, the realization of the scope of hands-on care provided becomes more personal. Changing Depends is one example.
This type of care can feel like an invasion of privacy for the aging parent and even more of an embarrassing task for the adult child. Helping with incontinence may bring back memories of babies, diapers, and wipes except that this type of care is being provided for a parent.
Caregiving Can Be All Consuming
By the time the care needs of aging adults progress, the caregiver can be performing tasks that are considered medical or nursing in nature. Advancing health conditions may necessitate the use of medical equipment and health monitoring.
Medical and nursing type caregiving tasks include taking blood pressure, monitoring blood sugar, changing catheter bags, using transfer lifts, making special diets, and more. Add these responsibilities to the role of a caregiver and fear and doubt exist.
Because caregiving is considered a family responsibility, little discussion of how caregivers are to perform the role and responsibility exist. There is no job manual for a family caregiver. Family caregivers learn by trial and error. Caregiver burnout and exhaustion result. The likelihood of making mistakes or harming a loved one increases.
Help for Caregivers
Caregivers don’t know what they don’t know. They rarely hear anyone say, “let me give you some caregiving information that might be helpful to you – would that be okay?”
Instead, all they hear is what they are not doing right, or that they shouldn’t be complaining about being a caregiver. Caregiving is hard work. It can feel thankless. Caregivers rarely receive enough appreciation.
Help for caregivers and aging adults is on this website is Internet-based. Caregivers and aging adults can participate in the online library, watch videos, or take a course from anywhere in the world. To participate in an online support group or course, one needs a computer and an internet connection.
It’s not uncommon for family caregivers to say; I’m so tired of being a caregiver when they have no idea that hope, help, and support exist. Family caregivers believe they can handle all the issues when the reality is that caregiving responsibilities are more complex than ever imagined.
Being Ready for Change
Learning to navigate change is the impact of dealing with getting older. We can choose to struggle or to succeed. Succeeding requires that we grow to join other peer groups of caregivers who are positive about caregiving.
Being ready for change means that caregivers willingly step out of their daily routine. Caregivers go outside of the normal circle of friends, family, and acquaintances. Seeking different points of view and feedback about caregiving activities occurs through participation in support groups and courses.
The Internet has changed caregiving. Years ago, caregiving support groups and courses were only available in brick and mortar locations. Today, caregiving support groups and courses are available online.
Caregivers who one had to spend hours driving to support groups and courses can now access this valuable information from their home. Dealing with getting older is now made easier for those willing to take a step forward to be proactive.
Looking for more help with aging? You’ll find what you are looking for in Aging Issues & Solutions.
(1) Mcewan, T. et al. Perceptions of Sedentary Behavior Among Socially Engaged Older Adults. Gerontologist, 2017. Vol. 57, No. 4, 735-744.
(2) Luz, Clare et. al. Do Canes or Walkers Make Any Difference? Non-Use and Fall Injuries. Gerontologist, 2017, Vol. 57, No. 2, 211-218.
©2019 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved