I want to share a story of a couple that is approaching the next season of their lives with a refreshingly prudent look at their coming years. When they left our office, I felt inspired and couldn’t help but think that if more adults would look at their aging rationally while they were young enough to really see the road ahead, how much better off so many families would be.
The marketplace is flooded with advertisements for products which claim to help you avoid getting older, or at least looking like it. At least three-quarters of the birthday card aisle laments another year older with a sad one-liner. We tend to approach aging with a sense of embarrassment or dread, or some combination. No one feels embarrassed for having a medical disease; however the onset of dementia is often felt as a personal failing on top of its already difficult nature.
It’s well-researched that as humans get older, reflexes and decision-making abilities decline. Yet, we still joke and talk about elderly decline as though it is a ‘them’ and not ‘all of us someday’ issue – or something that won’t happen to us if we are responsible, shrewd, and do our exercises. It’s quite inevitable, and most of us would rather approach it like a small child squinting his eyes shut to make something go away.
My clients, Mr. and Mrs. Doe, are healthy for their mid-eighties. Due to a pharmacy error, Mrs. Doe suddenly experienced a level of confusion she assumed marked the beginnings of dementia. (By the way, if a loved one suddenly seems to have these symptoms, check into other possible diagnoses. It could be a side effect of an infection or medication.) After getting the pharmacy issue resolved, Mrs. Doe continued to be rattled by her experience. She and Mr. Doe had some difficult conversations about the next phase of their lives, especially with his ongoing back issues.
They decided to take control of their future and enjoy the benefits of an independent living community. The Does chose to welcome their following years with a sane look at their declining energy and abilities. I admire their decision because they made it without judging the next season of their lives as a negative thing. In fact, Mr. Doe is looking forward to the Veteran coffee hours and the chance to make new friends. Mrs. Doe is very much looking forward to someone else making the meals and not having an entire home to clean.
What started off as a painful topic for them left them feeling empowered in the opportunity to move into senior living before it was an emergency or a burden for their families. They realized that although saying goodbye to their home and its memories was going to be bittersweet, they were going to make new friends and have freedom from a lot of stress that no longer seemed necessary. They chose a community that would give them ways to be as active as they wanted to be and also grow with them in their future needs. The last I heard, they have settled in nicely and are enjoying their new life and its amenities.
More adults need to do this. The decisions that can be made with far-sighted consideration are tremendously better than the ones families have to make when Mom is routinely leaving the oven on and the house unlocked. I encourage all of my older clients to start investigating their future options while they are plentiful. There will be many more options when your situation is not pressing, and like the Does, you can choose what you really want for yourselves.