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Some Things I’ve Learned About Aging

June 8, 2016

160521-Phyl_drawingCRBR

Above: A quick ink and watercolor sketch of Phyl as she colors in her adult botanical coloring book. (She likes one from Lisa Congdon—and frankly I think Lisa’s are the best as the images are NOT psychedelically rendered with minute spaces too small for elderly eyes to color in. Besides having nicely sized shapes they are pleasing designs.) This is in a 5 x 8 inch Moleskine Sketchbook with the new whiter paper. Read the Moleskine Sketchbook review here.

Besides showing you this sketch of Phyl done with a fine point Sakura Pigma Sensei (probably an 04 as I use that a lot) I wanted to make a couple points about aging—because it’s always on my mind these days, as I help and sometimes just sit with the folks.

If you have parents or in-laws who are entering their elder years you’ll soon discover that there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of small but involved tasks that you have to undertake on their behalf. Or if you don’t live nearby and therefore can’t do these tasks you’ll have to hire someone to do them.

Things may start changing as early as their fifties. And at first the accumulation of tasks will be small and you won’t notice it. After a decade or so it will even seem simply normal.

I’ve written about all that before.

What I want to draw your attention to today is a list of things you need to hear about yourself!

You are aging too.

And while you may not like to be reminded of this fact you need to start preparing as well. I’m not promising that you can avoid some of the effects of aging that have plagued Phyl and C.R., but I can tell you that if you do a few simple things right now, you’ll be in a far superior position to them when you are 95.

Why start to think about these things now when you are in your forties, fifties, and sixties? Small actions can actually yield high results.

You’ll hear some of this stuff from other people—maybe even seen an article on it that either tries to scare the shit out of your or candy coat things. But many of you might have no experience of aging, have no friends who've been through it with their parents yet, and many of you may never had helped someone through their elder years.

Just as I write a lot about art materials and things changing I feel I have to give you a heads up about these life changes, because all around me I see friends, acquaintances, and strangers acting and talking as if none of this can happen to them.

It all can.

Some of it you can’t escape. Be very careful about watching the final episode of Wallander with Kenneth Branagh if you think that Alzheimer’s can’t happen until you’re old, and that then it somehow won’t “matter.” (Branagh did a wonderful job—it’s just a difficult episode to watch as viewers will be invested in this character.)

There are obvious things that you can do to make your future life better.

You can stop smoking.

Let’s talk about that for a moment. Phyllis smoked for 40  years. She wears an oxygen mask and coughs and has little energy, as she has no breath. She doesn’t complain about any of this as she was never very active and she's not a complainer. But it does effect her health prospects.

C.R. smoked cigarettes and then switched to a pipe, which he likes to claim is better, or actually no health risk at all.

Dick, however, remembers going into his dad’s study and not being able to see his dad, or the opposite wall of the room, because of the density of the smoke filling the room. Smoking, in C.R.’s case led to bladder cancer which is an ongoing battle, and heart problems (triple by-pass), and hardened arteries. He didn’t attend to a blockage in the neck artery feeding his brain, so by the time he was in his 80s his mental functions had deteriorated—a difficult result for a man who lived his life proud of his mental capabilities. He has vascular dementia and has no short term memory (things flow through him in less than a minute). He can’t remember what he did five minutes ago, let alone earlier this morning, or yesterday. He is also losing past memories. Frequently he has vivid dreams or mishears someone and then believes something is true that isn’t—that Phyllis has died, or his daughter, or that someone has it in for him.

I watched both of them give up smoking almost 40 years ago. I know it’s a difficult thing to give up. If you smoke I hope you can find the help needed to give it up.

Here are some other things to think about that no one may have talked to you about yet.

Hearing

When you lose your hearing your brain starts to forget how to put language together and you not only lose your hearing but your comprehension! I didn’t know this until I took Phyl in for hearing aids several years ago.

C.R. won’t wear hearing aids. Even with sound augmentation during testing he can only score 56 percent comprehension. He’s lost that much.

If you’re having difficulty hearing, get help. It will only get worse and have ramifications you don’t want to deal with.

Weight

Everyone knows that as you age it is more difficult to maintain a “healthy” weight, even if you have a healthy diet full of good foods. Your body just doesn’t process things as well as it did when you were young. For women you’ll probably see metabolism shifts during menopause. Keep this in mind as you put off giving up the candy for fruits and vegetables. (I’m not saying give up candy completely, heck, you would know I would never say that, but think about your diet and how it fuels you and enables you to do all the things you want to do and need to do.)

Habits—Good Ones

Make good habits NOW, because if you think you’ll be able to start doing something when you’re elderly you’re just kidding yourself. Humans are creatures of habit and if you don’t have good habits now, they will only get worse.

Water

Drink as much water as you can. Obviously not so much that you become lightheaded—but enough to keep hydrated (your doctor will tell you how to tell when enough is enough).

Why? Because as you age you’ll forget to drink water if you don’t have this HABIT of drinking water now. You'll also perhaps have incontinence problems, but if you're hydrated now you'll be able to come up with options for that later!

You need water to do all the things a body needs to do, but you also need it so that you don’t get dizzy, lose your balance, fall and…well you get the idea.

Physical Therapy Exercises

Start doing Physical Therapy Exercises for lifting your feet, using your shoulders, and a thousand other things you’ll depend on when you are old NOW.

You might tell yourself, “but I walk x amount each day” or “I ride 18 miles a day on my bike,” whatever.

It doesn’t matter. Participating in the latest endurance Mudder isn't indicative of your overall health. You aren’t practicing the necessary activities.

One of the main reasons elderly people fall is because they don’t lift up their toes. There are exercises you can do to keep your foot “action” healthy.

As you age, if you can’t use your shoulders you can’t get up out of chairs; you may not be able to use a walker; and you can’t dress yourself. You may even need help in the bathroom.

Talk to a physical therapist sometime in your 50s and learn the types of exercises (such as toe and heal lifts, and seated marching), as well as the proper way to get in and out of a chair (yes there is a proper way) NOW, so that you can get into the HABIT of doing things this way so that you have this habit as you age. You’ll stay mobile and independent (if you’re fortunate to avoid other issues) and you won’t have to learn new habits.

C.R. Is increasingly frail. I sit and do his exercises with him on every visit because if I don’t, he won’t, but he’ll tell me he has. We’ve tried charts to be ticked off, we’ve had helpers come in. Nothing works. Because he didn’t have a habit of doing any of this before he moved into advanced old age. (At this point his memory is so bad even if he had the habit it wouldn’t matter, but for the past 7 years I’ve been helping him with his PT because he wouldn’t do it without that input.

Most important start in on some balancing exercises. I have some that I do with a rubber cord attached to a door knob. (They actually also help my shoulder, so it’s a two-for-one type thing.) Again, talk to a physical therapist and find some that are suited to your current situation.

Eat Less Sugar Now

Look—I’m not telling you to give it up (we’ve been through that) just eat less sugar. If you live into your 80s or 90s all you’ll want to eat is sugar and you that will spoil your appetite for the protein you need to eat in order to keep your muscles from wasting too quickly.

The other day I took mini muffins over to the folks for a celebration. (Believe me these were mini, mini, mini. Much smaller than a regular cupcake size even. Basically 2 small bites.) I explained what each was. Phyllis chose a banana-chocolate chip muffin. C.R. chose a pumpkin and walnut muffin. Later he announced that it was really good and made with really good chocolate! There was no chocolate in his muffin. His taste buds hardly function at this point. He responds to sweet, maybe to salt, but really to sweet. Candy sweet not fruit sweet. His apartment is always littered with candy bar wrappers (because of his blindness he can’t see where they have fallen).

Eat the foods you need to fuel the activities you need to do. Get into this habit now so that later you can do it automatically. Because believe me you won’t be able to switch that habit on your own later.

Exercise

Get some real cardio and strength exercise right now. It’s another good habit you need to form now, so that you can do it seamlessly in later life. (Your doctor can help you define what is "real" for your health and situation.)

Like Nike says, “Just do it.” You want at 85 to just get up and go out the door and run, walk, bike, whatever.

I should point out that if you can bring yourself to SWIM laps in a pool it’s the best thing you can do. Dick will tell you this himself if you ever meet him and exercise comes up. I’ll admit to it here but don’t tell anyone I said it or I’ll deny it. Here’s the deal— swimming is less stressful on your body. You can get a great cardio workout, but remain flexible (something key for the elderly) and injury-free.

I haven’t been in a pool for 30 years. I had an ear infection in graduate school that was a pain to get rid of. And then I got tired of dealing with all this hair and the chlorine. Green-blonde is a nice shade on Dick, giving an interesting complement to the ginger flecks that still remain, but I’m not interested in going there. Yes, we’ve reached the point where MY vanity kicks in.

Also I don’t care to shave my legs. Since I almost always wear slacks there isn’t any need, as long as I don’t go swimming. (Do you know how many HOURS of my life I have saved and used productively in drawing, exercising, and just having fun because I refused to shave my legs!?) I am still at the point where going swimming without shaving my legs would be "traumatic" in some way for me. Silly as that might seem. I recognize this, laugh about it, and continue simply to cycle. (Which of course means wearing cycling shorts at least part of the year and I still don’t shave my legs—what’s the difference? I like to tell myself that I’m going so fast no one has time to register anything about my legs, shaved or not.)

And while we are on the subject of cycling let me say something about cycling shorts—everything I own is about 2 sizes too large, except for my cycling shorts (and tights for fall). I like my clothing to be LOOSE. I like to be comfortable. I like to be able to MOVE (i.e., run, if chased by spies). But if you cycle, let me tell you—go out and buy some cycling shorts. Yes they are tight, but you can get them so they are form fitting not constraining, and your legs will love you for it as they will actually make it easier for you to pedal.

When I returned to cycling in 2008 (after a break while we had dogs) I wore cut off sweat pants for awhile, and then some combo shorts that looked liked regular shorts but had a cycling pant inside. Both of these options worked OK, or so I thought. But one day on a whim I used my REI member dividend to buy a pair of Pearl Izumi Select cycling shorts for women and my life changed immediately! I could stand up and pedal wildly up a hill and not have to “rearrange” myself when I sat down. I didn’t get any chaffing, ever. My cycling times and distances improved. I immediately went out and bought another pair, and then another. Now I have multiple pairs all the time. I wash them in cold water and put them on a drying rack. They LAST FOREVER. I have put 6,000 miles on one pair and they still function as intended.

If I, who am claustrophobic in tight clothing, can wear these shorts, so can you. And you will see an immediate improvement in your riding speed, duration, and enjoyment.

I might wear t-shirts filled with holes and covered with ink and paint stains when I cycle, but where it matters (shorts and shoes) I encourage you to buy-in. Your body will thank you. (Oh, and yes I have some jackets that are for cycling, but I don’t have to wear them much.) What I’m saying is, you don’t have to dress in a full body cycling suit covered with lime green and pink logos and endorsements. You can still be stealth and incognito. But you’re going to want to have some cycling shorts and shoes.

But back to swimming, if you swim and walk now (for the weight bearing aspect that will help your bones), and get that habit, by the time you are elderly you’ll have a habit that will keep you fit. 

Maybe that’s worth a little green hair. Or maybe you can tolerate hair-care-product fragrances enough that this won’t be an issue for you?

Think about it.

Do something now that will ensure you’ll keep moving later.

And if for some unfortunate reason you get injured as you age, GO IN TO THE DOCTOR and get physical therapy immediately. It only takes two weeks (TWO WEEKS) for an injury-induced gait change to become permanent. Toughing it out is never a good idea.

Putting Your Things in Order and Clearing Your House/Home

If you are seventy or older and you haven’t done this already—shame on you. You are basically egotistically deciding that your kids or other family members will do this. Don’t pass this task on to someone else. It isn’t about you giving up control and having to move “to an old folks home.” It’s about you getting your life organized so that someone who is helping you (typically for free) can get into your environment, make sure it’s safe, find important tax and medical records they might have to start filing for you, and not have to use their life to wade through yours.

If this job has been relegated to you, you have my deepest sympathies. I recommend that you work extra hours to be able to afford hiring someone who then does this task.

And when it does come time for someone to move out of his/her home, there are companies you can hire who will also clear out the house and prepare it for sale. You want to hire them as well. Save your time for spending with the elderly, and not injuring yourself by doing work that shouldn’t have been left so late. I learned this first hand.

Save a Ton of Money And Talk Things Through with Your Family

Yes, I know this isn’t going to be possible for most people who read this. I’m just saying it because I wish someone had said this to me when I was in my 20s. And at the same time shown me eldercare examples—dire examples. Something concrete that the logical mind, even a young and “invincible” logical mind couldn’t argue around.

Care is not cheap.

You can have kids who help out. (If of course you have kids, and they are willing and able to help out with their time.) But if you don’t have kids, eldercare is going to cost you.

In the past 25 years Dick and I have been doing the things we do for the folks because in the previous 10 years for me, and throughout Dick’s life for him, the folks did things for us. And we are kind of fond of them. But we’ve also been fortunate in that my job as a self-employed person, and Dick’s work have allowed us flexibility so that we mostly lose time while doing things for the folks. I can work in the evenings (clients don’t need to know) and Dick has lots of vacation days he can use.

We talk about the choices we make often. We refine where our efforts are going.

Be sure that you talk to your family about what you can or can’t afford to do financially to help your elders.

Basically just talk and look for options. There are options.

When we got to the point that it was obvious the folks were unsafe at home and needed to go into assisted living there was a lot of discussion. And that discussion is ongoing, and will be, because their health situation is constantly in flux.

So start talking with your partner and your family right now about all of this. You have some hard choices you need to make. But they are easier if you start talking now.

And be prepared to make hard choices. You have to set boundaries that work for your life.

And talk to your FRIENDS. Talk to anyone you know who is going through eldercare. And if you have just started eldercare, ask everyone you know questions. There really isn't a manual for all this and you will daily be amazed at two things.

1. How many of your friends have already solved, or have options for a problem you are experiencing.

or

2. How what seems obvious to you is something your friend hasn't thought of yet and will need to think of pretty soon. And can be thinking of sooner if you mention it.

Protect Your Teeth and Eyes

The way the health of your teeth goes, so your health goes. This is true for dogs and PEOPLE.

The eye stuff goes without saying. Know the signs of retinal detachment and macular degeneration, go in for yearly checks.

Why I Wrote About All This Today

I didn’t write these things to scare you or bore you. You may be both.

I wrote them because even with several friends going ahead of me through eldercare with their parents, and honest discussions with them, no one ever talked to me about any of this stuff. Maybe it is so self evident people think they don’t need to talk about it, but when you are standing next to a 95 year old man who is almost too frail to walk, and when he does walk he’s in danger of falling, and you have to remind him to do his physical therapy, you’re glad that you sat down and did toe and heel lifts with him because you know you’re getting that habit NOW. (And I’m pretty fit and let me tell you some of the exercises he has are difficult even for me!)

I just want you to start to think about all this.

People tend to believe that one of two things will happen—they will die before any of this extreme old age stuff kicks in, or it simply won’t happen to them and they will die in their sleep.

Good luck with that. I’ve been involved in end of life with five people. Not one of them died in his or her sleep. I’m not saying that’s a large or even significant sample, I’m just saying I’ve never seen it. And young or old something happened to each one of them that severely limited their quality of life. The one person who came through it the best ate a healthy diet (with treats), kept her weight down, didn’t smoke, kept active, kept her flexibility. She did all that on her own. It was her habit! In the last 10 years of her life she had four adults on-call to help her, take her shopping, and eventually cooking for her. But the basic work, the habit building stuff that got her through, was all her doing.

Dick’s maternal grandmother was a great role model for living well into her 90s.

Of course she was also a role model for the hubris of man—“Dickie, I just had to get that pan from the top of the fridge right now,” she said, after she stood on telephone books to reach it and slipped and broke her hip. “And I’d do it again,” she continued. (Even though we were right upstairs and she could have just asked us.)

We might also all get into the habit of asking now and then.

Postscript 5:10 p.m.—Other Things To Think About

Readers of this post have brought up some really good points and I encourage you to scan through the comments on this post in case I have overlooked something, or someone adds something in the future.

There are a couple things I want to call to your attention that their comments reminded me of.

UTI—Urinary Tract Infections—Ask your doctor for the signs, and have them run tests to check for these if there is any doubt, as they can a huge problem with the elderly and lead to other issues.

ALWAYS carry a list of all hospitalizations and illnesses. Doctors will always ask you about this and you can't count on the elder to remember. CR has a metal valve in his heart and he would happily let people put him in an MRI which would not be good! We even have the part number on his info sheet. You also want to have a list of all medications (even vitamins) that your elder is taking. Dosages are important. I carry PDFs of both of these lists on my iPhone so that I can email them to the doctor if they want to print them out. (I also carry hard copy but sometimes you need more than one copy.)

    • Diane McGregor
    • June 8, 2016
    Reply

    GREAT POST, Ros– you might want to add learning the symptoms of UTI’s in the elderly — the delirium threw us for a loop when we witnessed it the first time. We had no idea and were blindsided– ER people guessed before testing was done– they see it all of the time!! When cognition changes dramatically in a short period of time is isn’t always a stroke — it can be a UTI. Thanks for taking the time to record all of your insights!! Your advise will save us time for more drawing!!

    • Suzale
    • June 8, 2016
    Reply

    ROZ. excellent post, my mom is turning 83al and lives a mile away. Even watching aging this close, it was good to have some of your reminders. It is laughable that when you are 25 you never imagine that one day you wont be able to lift your arm above your head and then here in my 50s, i cant imagine that I will have trouble putting my bra on or opening a package. Somehow the brain is wired to beliede that aging and its affects only hapoens to other people. As for the drawing, for whatever reason, it is one of my favorites.

    • Judi Moline
    • June 8, 2016
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing this valuable information! Good reminders for everyone!

  1. Reply

    Diane, that’s an excellent point. Urinary Track Infections can be a huge issue. When I first started taking Phyllis to all her appointments it was one of the things her doctor checked and we’ve kept on top of.

    It’s important to go to the doctor with your elders even if they are still living independently, because they don’t always hear or remember all that’s said and so much slips through the cracks.

    I got involved in Phyl’s health care years ago because for months a doctor said she had a yeast infection below her breasts and gave her a cream of some sort but it never cleared up. When I finally got her away from that QUACK to a real doctor who believed in listening and testing we discovered she had an internal infection on the mesh inserted to repair her hernia—and it had been raging there for several YEARS!

    • cheryl
    • June 8, 2016
    Reply

    GREAT post!!!

  2. Reply

    Jen, I’m glad you have these good habits now!

    I find that exercise is the best way to manage stress. When I can’t get out I find I’m stiffer and slower, but also more prone to succumbing to stress.

    I’m so glad that you have all your affairs tidied up too! (It’s like pulling teeth in my husband’s family.)

    Do you belong to a church? One of the things I’ve noticed (I don’t belong) is that they tend to have groups of younger folks who are available to help the elderly on a volunteer or modest fee basis.

    I would also look in your area now to see what’s available and think about transforming your home in ways that will make it suitable for the long-term—something the folks’ house was not as their issues and frailties piled up.

    Good luck! We don’t have kids either and I know we will never be able to pay for all the types of care we’ve given to the folks for free—I’m learning to be calm about it and accept that my quality of life will be much diminished, but if I keep my health up that will be something. We’ll see.

  3. Reply

    I think some of the denial is coded in the species because if we thought of all that all the time we wouldn’t do life.

    Seeing Phyl not able to raise her arms as early as 70 has always scared the shit out of me!

    I’m glad you liked this drawing. It is one of my favorite. I love the looseness of her hand holding the pen. And we had such fun while she colored. She would hold a pen out to me and I would give her the next one she wanted, taking the cap off first—because she can’t get the caps off easily, and then she would peek at what I was doing and go back to coloring, totally getting into the zone. It’s amazing.

  4. Reply

    This is the best, and truest, writing I have read all year. With a mum-in-law at 96 struggling to like living in an old folk´s home, with my husband and I being in our early 50´s: already a broken leg this winter made us realize that many stairs and no elevator can get really hard, really fast; that any kind of illness can happen to you at any time; that horrible accidents happen even faster. So, I also think about this a lot.

    Lucky for me, I live in a country with generous public health insurance and worry less perhaps about being childless, but there are limitations to what professionals can do, and considering all the time we spent helping the mum-in-law these last 10 years or so, and how much she depends socially and psychologically on her children now, I do worry.

    I hope people reading this take it as seriously as it deserves. What you say about building habits is soooo important! Also, the ability to strike up new friendships as the old ones go where we all go eventually. If one is lucky to become really old – and fairly healthy – having social muscle can really improve one´s quality of life.

  5. Reply

    This was a great post, Roz! And you’re right about many people not being aware that eldercare could be lurking just around the corner. I’ve had some experience int his regard with my late husband ( Parkinson’s, COPD and later Lewy Body Dementia), my mother (brain cancer) and grandmother (had her own hone, walked her large dog daily, drove until she fell, broke her hip and the anesthesia brought on dementia) as well as good friends who have gone through similar things. It’s never easy.

    When my late mother-in-law died unexpectedly of pneumonia at age 85 her apartment in the retirement home was stripped down to some of her favorite clothes, purses and jewelry. All of her papers were in order. It took my late husband, his brother , his wife and I all of 2 hours to clear everything out after she died. That was a huge gift and one I intend to pass on.

    I also smiled reading about your 2 sizes too large clothing…welcome to my closet! I’m also claustrophobic with clothes – and some other things.

    Thanks for watching over all of us, artwise and with these wonderful life reminders!

    • joanne
    • June 8, 2016
    Reply

    I had to stop working and go live with my dad when he wanted to return home. He’s had pneumonia and nearly died, was weak and the hospital wouldn’t let him go home to live alone. I took care of him, fed him nutritious meals, watched television with him and cleared the floors of his cluttered home.

    Years later when he died, I has to hire a huge dumpster to clear out a house filled with hoarded jars, cans, bottles etc. Left over fears of the Great Depression and lack of those things. My brother had cleared out the legal files and he had a will. I just had to do battle with Medicare (doctors rebilled after learning of his death–trying to get more money). Social Security and his Pension–I said thank you to both agencies as well as the kind woman at Medicare who made copies of the pages and pages of my dad’s records so I knew who had already been paid.

    My husband and I are turning 70. We try to eat mostly good proteins and vegetables, cut the grass with a walk behind mower, garden, walk the dog, read (good exercise for the eyes and brain) and sort thru our things to see if any of it would make someone else happier. I work in my journal. But will think about coloring in my drawings (smile)

    My husband’s mother did die in her bed. The staff at the nursing home woke her to say they were bringing in her breakfast and when they came with the tray–she was gone.

    • Phyllis
    • June 8, 2016
    Reply

    Thank you so much for this Roz. I wish I knew more of this when I suddenly had to start taking care of my mom… One thing I did was to make a list of all her medications with how and when they were taken, even supplements… and a list of her medical history. Whenever something changed, I could just update them. She had lots of doctor appointments with lots of different doctors. As soon as we got in there they wanted to update things, and I would just hand them the latest copies of the lists. When filling out the forms at a new doctor, I could just write “see attached list” in the little spaces they provide for 2 medications and 3 medical procedures. But I think one of the hardest parts was keeping her mentally engaged so she wouldn’t just sit in front of the TV all day… Large print word search puzzle books at the $1 store, big piece jigsaw puzzles, and exchanging letters with the great grandkids were all a big hit. We just missed the explosion of adult coloring books. She probably would have liked those. She liked to sit at the table and watch me paint, though I couldn’t get her to try it.

  6. Reply

    Thanks for reminding me to mention these things Phyllis! I added them in a postscript above.

    I’m sorry that you have lost your mom, but I’m really glad that you were able to spend quality time with her. Loss of hearing and sight in the elderly is very isolating.

    I have a huge dayplanner and use special color pens and tabs to keep track of the folks’ appointments, my appointments and work deadlines etc.!

  7. Reply

    Joanne, I’m glad you were able to be there for your father when he was ill. But I’m also glad that you hired a huge dumpster—I hope you had some physical help as well.

    I’m glad you’re planning ahead! And I’m really glad that your husband’s mother had a peaceful passing. Thanks for writing in.

  8. Reply

    Zeke, you’re so right, it’s never easy, even if it seems on the outside that it’s simple. People just have not been through it. What a gift indeed that your late mother-in-law was so wonderfully organized! I’m aiming for that but it’s a process! I still have a lot to get rid of. I want to move to a single story house, so that’s the impetus.

    (I’m claustrophibic about other things as well. The other day I got into one of the elevators at assisted living and went down one floor but the door didn’t open. It’s a notoriously SLOW elevator so I waited, then waited. it still didn’t open. Then I realized that if I didn’t start to take action I was going to have a problem. I pushed the door open button and it opened and I was on the first floor—I couldn’t hear anything moving so I thought I was “somewhere”—I got off quickly and took a deep breath. I won’t be using that elevator again! And I didn’t have to go ninja and crawl out of the roof of the elevator car and up! But I could have because I had loose clothing on! And comfy shoes.)

  9. Reply

    Viktoria I’m glad you liked this post. I know for many it’s difficult to transition to a assisted or complete care facility. But for our elders it was the best thing—they were safe and they could be social. At home they were on their own except when we visited. And because they are so close now we can visit all the time.

    I wish we had universal care stuff here, but it is what it is. I just mostly don’t want to leave a mess for someone else to clean up!!

    While there are caring people who help them around the clock there are just too many things that are best done by a family member and I’m glad you can do that for your mother in law.

    I am going to do my PT RIGHT NOW!!!

    • Beth
    • June 8, 2016
    Reply

    Roz, This post could not have been more timely for me! Thank you so much!!

    I recently turned 60 and am currently evaluating my health and making plans to combat the inattention and neglect of my 50’s. 30+ years at a desk job really takes its toll. I am trying to prioritize changes and establish new habits that will help me sail through my 60’s and well beyond. The daunting part is trying to incorporate multiple changes into an already busy life.

    I have had some small doses of eldercare, but there’s always more to learn. I read with great interest your experiences with caring for your in-laws.

    I suppose it goes without saying to ‘keep drawing’…for it’s meditative effects and to keep the mind sharp and eye/hand coordination in tune.

    Best of luck to you as you continue to care for Phyllis and CR. Thanks for all you do and all you share.

    • Diane H
    • June 8, 2016
    Reply

    Roz, this was a great post! Thank you for reminding us of these things. My husband and I have gone through much of this with several relatives. Some of them were cheerful and some of them got nasty and mean, but we did what we could to help.

    We have our paperwork in order and long term care insurance. I also discuss my wishes with my husband and son. I faced cancer 2 years ago, underwent successful treatment, and decided to retire at 62. Haven’t regretted it. I am slowly making the changes you recommend: eating better and losing weight, physical activity, meditation, and other things I love to do. My hope is to be healthy for as long as I can.

    • SusanLily
    • June 8, 2016
    Reply

    Roz, this is a fabulous post!

    I would like to add a couple things to your list. One is, start now to develop good habits that can alleviate stress-related depression, which is common among those who have to leave the familiar surroundings and routines of their own homes and move in with family or into a care facility.

    You’ve mentioned several things that can help, like exercising, eating well, and drinking enough water. I’d like to add forming good sleep habits and having a hobby.

    I know that many of us have trouble sleeping as we age, but sleep deprivation can negatively affect things like cognitive function, weight, working memory, attention, mood, and disease states. Developing a calming nighttime routine can help prepare body and mind for sleep. So can having a “brain dump” journal on the night table to write down any worries that might keep us up at night. I do this myself, even going so far as to thank my brain for reminding me of something that needs to be taken care of and reassuring my brain that it’s okay to rest now because I can handle the problem in the morning. Sounds a little woo-woo maybe, but it works for me.

    And I’ve seen people where my mom lives now who were either all about their careers or all about their children throughout their entire adulthood and are now at a complete loss as to what to do with themselves now that that part of their identity is gone (no job to go to) or drastically changed (the kids don’t visit much). They never took time to develop an interest of their own and now many of them just sit and watch TV all day, despite the efforts of staff and residents to encourage them to make friends and participate in activities. Those who brought their hobbies (or pets) with them seem much happier and better adjusted.

    Two is, get your (or your parents’) paperwork in order now. And not just your will, living will, financial power of attorney, and medical power of attorney. Find out now what kind of aid may be available (from county, state, and federal agencies) and what kind of paperwork will be necessary to apply for it. My father was a WWII veteran, and we found out that my mom could apply for widow of a veteran benefits. I was lucky in that she had kept a lot of his records, even though he had died in 1984, because we needed his birth and death certificates, his military discharge papers, his Social Security card, their marriage license. Though she had most of these documents, we still had to send for a couple, and we also had to gather a lot of other information about her income and expenses—bank statements, info on the sale of her condo and belongings, pension documents, tax records. All this was very overwhelming and confusing for my mom. I don’t know how she would have navigated it on her own. My husband and I don’t have children to help us wade through all the paperwork as we age, so we’re doing it for ourselves now, while we still have the mental and emotional strength to do it.

    I apologize for the long comment, but I hope the information helps.

  10. Reply

    Fantastic and thought-provoking post, Roz — thank you. You’re right, no one talks about it. Imagine if we’d done all this starting in our 20s. Some things, like flexibility, would be so much easier to maintain rather than to try to get back. Which brings me to the point of this comment: Don’t forget yoga/stretching — invaluable for retaining flexibility, strength and balance.

    Tina

    • Christine K
    • June 9, 2016
    Reply

    All good, Roz, and all true. When I helped Jerry clean out his cousin’s house I vowed no one would ever have to deal with my stuff like that – and I’m living up to that. It took us a full month to sort, recycle, distribute, donate and dispose of not only her stuff but both her parents stuff too! Who wants five broken shavers owned by a man who had been gone for over 40 years?!! Now, the paper cut-out dolls were a big hit with the collectors. Take care, Roz. Emotionally, you have lots to prepare yourself for.

    • Carolyn
    • June 9, 2016
    Reply

    Hi Roz,
    The drawing of your Mother-in-law is charming and obviously drawn with affection. Your post is so timely. We just ended the elder care chapter of our life. It is a bittersweet thing. We did all the things for our parents that you are doing now. Wish we had sought more advice from others.
    We are now the oldest generation and yes we are doing many of the things you suggest.(Editing the book collection is a problem but we are working on it.) Having children at a distance means we have to plan carefully. We would never want one of our sons to stop living his life to care for us.
    I wish you and Dick well in all the eldercare challenges you have ahead.

  11. Reply

    Hmm…I’m a part time wheelchair user, and our house is not at all wheelchair friendly, we will be moving at some point! Especially when my wheelchair use becomes more necessary – although I am doing all I can to combat it!

    Yes to exercise, one of the hardest things to adjust to was not being able to run any more – it was the main way I managed stress, I’ve now learnt to do it through softer means.

    plus A LOT of meditation. and I use photography and drawing as a mindfulness and gratitude practice.

    • Jerry
    • June 10, 2016
    Reply

    Thanks for this post. These are all great ideas/reminders. I would also add that we all need to find a way to deal with our money. If we don’t have a trusted family member to help, how will our bills get paid when we get to the point of not being able to handle it ourselves? Also, passing assets to children is very complex. Get good legal/tax advice before doing anything. The tax laws can be a nightmare and differ between federal and state and Medicaid.

  12. Reply

    Jerry the money thing is a really good point. When the folks were still living independently they were taken advantage of by several people who came in to work with them. People who padded their bills (when they picked things up for them) and who bought things knowing that Phyl loved to shop so much she would buy them off them at a profit. Even a relative charged her $500.00 years ago for an essentially valueless painting. When we discovered this was going on we tried to interject ourselves into the shopping and such, but it was impossible to separate them from the schemes these “friends” kept involving them in, until of course Dick started handling their finances for them.

    There isn’t any asset management issue with the folks. They were modest earners and basically have their house money to live off. They will outlive their assets. We end up buying them lots of things because of that.

    But for others you raise a really valid point.

    I have friends who are single and childless and who worked out arrangements with their financial planners to pay their bills and do their taxes—but of course they have sufficient assets to make the financial planner interested in doing this.

  13. Reply

    Thank you Carolyn. I really appreciate your note. And your planning for your own children.

  14. Reply

    Like you I was amazed at what the folks had gathered and kept in their house. A more than lifetime supply of cloth napkins and candles for instance were some of the “may actually be useful stuff.” CR always thought his lifetime collection of a particular engineering journal would be saleable at “huge” profit to some library, but of course he never saw the digital age for what it was. It was all pulped. He has many of his books with him now, but as a book lover it was sad for me to see the others go (the people who did the final clearing pulped most of them too because they had no resale value.

  15. Reply

    Flexibility is Key! Yoga and stretching are a must! But there are other balancing exercises one must do throughout the day, starting now, just to keep up!!!

  16. Reply

    Stress and a way to cope with that is important Susan. Exercise does it for me. I think your “brain dump” journal is a good idea for people who can’t sleep!

    And I think having an interest is key. One of the sad things about CRs situation is that he didn’t take care of his sight and is now almost blind. So reading and mobility are both made even more difficult for him.

    I worry that I will lose my sight and not be able to draw, but we will have to see.

    We are in the situation where they kept NONE of his records and my sister-in-law is now looking for that information. I have a friend who paid a company $3,000 to do the process for her and the money her mom no receives makes the difference between poverty and simple living.

    Thanks for bringing up these parts of the discussion.

  17. Reply

    Beth, I’m glad that you are turning the tables on your neglect! Start small with 15 minute walk a day, something like that, until it becomes a habit. We can all find 15 minutes. Look for those times in the day between activities!

  18. Reply

    One of the reasons the folks had to move was they didn’t have handicap accessibility and as Phyllis became more and more immobile it was more dangerous for her to be in the house. They are alive today because they moved out.

    I want to move to a single floor dwelling. Our laundry is in the basement and my drying racks on the top floor so because of my shoulder most of the laundry has fallen to Dick—which is stupid since I work at home and could get it all done if I could carry it up and down the stairs. But my shoulder doesn’t allow that.

    I don’t meditate, but I know it helps a lot of people.

    I think that my mindset in drawing is perhaps a form of meditation though it isn’t about emptying the mind but filling it so meditation practicers might complain.

    • Nancy Brill
    • June 11, 2016
    Reply

    Also, if you are elderly and have the misfortune to break a bone, insist on having physical therapy as soon as it’s safe to do so, and be meticulous about doing it. You may never regain the full range of motion you had before, but if you just sit or lie around, you will end up with no range of motion. And once you lose it, it’s almost impossible to regain it. Once you lose strength, it is a very long hard job to get it back and you never get it all back. It’s much easier to keep at exercises in the first place than to have to start over.

  19. Reply

    Yep, Nancy, PT is critical whether or not it’s a broken bone! Phyllis never had the habit of being physically active so when each set back occurred—back surgery, knee replacements—she didn’t have the habit of doing PT and fell further and further into immobility.

    • bilby
    • June 12, 2016
    Reply

    Great article Roz! Having worked through the end of life experience, with both of my parents, I wholeheartedly agree with your ideas. Helping them liquidate their lifetime of house stuffings, and their home was a difficult task. I now take every opportunity to get rid of stuff in our own home. We are turning 72 and know that everything we can do now will help our children with the task of wrapping up our affairs for that inevitable day for us. Already, I can see the slippage in memory, agility and all of my favorite abilities. Frankly it scares me, but denial only increases the impact of a later realization of reality. Keep up the good work.

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