The Delights & Difficulties of Aging

Each of us has a story. The busyness of life may slow down now.  Some interests remain the same our whole life. I did not know as a little girl planting my first dahlia bulbs, that gardening would remain a pleasure over a lifetime, as does music, travel and research. Genealogy or researching family history arrived later when I finally found my Father’s grave in my early twenties. I wondered who the woman was buried beside him, as she was not my mother. Ah, the shocks of life that can propel us in directions never planned.

In many ways the choices we made define our history, and become the memories as we age. The things that I did that gave pleasure I embrace; the negatives I block now and ignore in order to enjoy my life. I have learned this is necessary because the pain of the past can overwhelm me at times.  Not pretending everything is okay when it is not, but turning to God for forgiveness and healing and strength. Sharing experiences and knowledge now so that others may learn from them and be encouraged.

What mediums do you like that helps express yourself to others, to the world?  You are important, and God loves you deeply.

One positive of being a senior is naturally the pensions and investments that fund our lives.  The strain is lessened, not having to work for someone else,  or run a business,  unless I want to continue . Hopefully, I am freer to choose what I want to do every day to fill in the hours, the days, the years to find ways to fight off boredom and yet feel fulfilled. I can continue to work or not to,  as I choose. Family relationships may  have extended,  and this is a time to enjoy grandchildren. We can go home when the day is done and leave their care to others.

If we have a partner, this is our time to explore new adventures in a time frame of  our own making. Different goals, a different focus maybe than work-work- work,  to provide for the family. One can spend some of one’s saving to enjoy life as one wants to, hopefully wisely budgeted so they will  last. This can be a time of greater freedom to do whatever we want to.

Reality says that not everyone will face aging in the same way. Some will be more prosperous and happy, and some people less so. There are those who find  aging very stressful and upsetting, because it is a time of loss of those we care about, and the rhythm of our daily pattern may change.  Loss of employment income and transitions to a pension life can affect the quality of life one has as a senior, who may find themselves poor.  Many find that  life is a struggle in retirement years,  while others simply do not.  That is why planning earlier in life will enable one to fund the things that bring more freedom and enjoyment.

Time becomes more precious when it is fast running out. But it also challenges one to greater efforts, even if getting tired arrives quicker than before. Who cares if one needs another nap, or wants to work half the night when most people are sleeping. Senior sleep patterns may change.  Weekends may become like any other day.  Each day brings its own rewards or difficulties, and they mesh into a blur,  as they pass so fast now.

Memories become more and more important as we get a lot older, because they give us comfort through times of struggle. Not everyone cares about the past as deeply as some people do.  Those of us who preserve history are the story tellers of our generation.  Sadly,  the loss of memory is an alert that the physical changes in our body are occurring  over which we have limited or no control. The Internet is full of ideas how to prevent that as long as possible. Not everyone develops dementia, but let us pause for a moment to learn what does happen to a lot of aging seniors, who may not themselves yet realize or understand the significance.

Minor loss of cognitive thinking may occur over a long period of time and not interrupt our daily lives very much.  It may not even be noticed by those who around us.  The general public may not know or care  about aging and its natural changes, and so not recognize it in every day settings. But aging and dementia are progressive. Death arrives for everyone. Love of others, sometimes medication and many other things can help slow it down or give great comfort. Let’s look at what is available here in Canada.

Specially designed equipment  helps a senior continue living in their home as long as possible. Walkers, shower seats and bars, bedside rails, all  wonderful helps. Each person is unique to themselves, meaning someone’s response to any change is very personal.

The Canadian government has put in place lots of helps for aging seniors to assist them in their home. Some physical equipment can be rented. A transit bus for the disabled is available to pick you up at your home and return you from shopping or appointments.  Many stores offer discounts for seniors, many starting at age 55 and up.

About $8,000 is currently available per person to pay  County health organizations to fund a  full,  physical assessment in ones home by a Physiotherapist, Occupational Therapist, Dietician, and such like to help plan an intervention strategy for an aging individual. These  professionals then return to the home to assist as needed, salaries covered by this provision. There is also government money to pay for home care for some people post surgery.

Canada has a wonderful health care plan, with OHIP here in Ontario covering prescription  drugs for free for many seniors, depending on income, or using a low sliding scale for others. No charge for visits to doctors as many times as needed. Hospitalization visits are also controlled by similar guidelines and include blood tests and scans, emergency and other medical care for citizens, even surgeries, without any charge to the patient. Medications for a senior can arrive monthly  in one’s home in bubble packs for safety. No charge.

Having been involved in two,  sudden, health crisis in two other countries of the world for my child and myself,  I remember the shock of being charged  a fee as soon as I walked into a medical clinic and hospital long ago,  before seeing a doctor.  I was later given a bill for several thousand dollars before I could leave. Travel Insurance sounds great, but it costs a lot to buy. One may have to pay out before submitting a claim. As a senior in Canada,  I do not have to worry about the cost in most medical settings as I age.

Caring for someone who is weak or sick, or dying of any age or situation, can be frustrating and tiring.  Seniors may lose interest in the things that gave them pleasure all their life. What about the senior who wants to tell the same story over and over again,  perhaps without realizing it.  This and other things may embarrass family members and friends. They may then distance themselves perhaps out of feelings of shame, guilt, or even anger.

Early signs of brain damage can lead to a person getting confused in familiar settings,  or being unable to respond as sharply as they did before in other ones.. This may lead to the loss of a driving license, a need for a hearing aid or cataract surgery to be able to see properly.

Now where are those keys? I always keep them there, says the senior. The caregiver reaches over and lifts the keys from their usual spot.

In stages of deterioration,  the person may fight care aggressively, or become passive, even secretive,  not wanting others to know, perhaps fearful of losing their independence. Hiding their difficulties from the family doctor and children. By the time a person arrives at more advanced aging, they may be sleeping for longer periods of time, stop learning,  and lose interest in most things.

The person will have gradually lost their awareness of their surroundings. Those diagnosed with dementia will probably have left home for good,  to be cared for in a protective environment.

A resident in the Alzheimer Unit starts rummaging in other people’s drawers, so common a practice. Staff usually find the gathered things to return them to their owners and wait for them to be shuffled around again in the unit. Each resident finds their own cubby hole somewhere where they stuff the things they collect. This is normal behaviour for dementia patients, but shocking for family members who come to visit. It is not a reflection on your family values. He or she is not stealing!  Curious, rummaging, and looking for something, then hiding it in one common spot from others.

Seniors may wander from their homes and may not be able to find their way back. The police may get involved, upsetting the family even further.  Putting alarms and lights on outer doors, may help. But more than one senior has died, frozen outside in winter because staff or family were too busy to notice they had disappeared. It should not take tragedy to spark changes, but so often that seems to be the norm.

Let the person suffering dementia enjoy a path of freedom in the living area by moving furniture so there is a never ending circle where the person can wander at will. Be friendly.  Be helpful. Be calm.

Finally, you may have to install black and white floor tiles inside in front of outer doors to help stop the person. Yes, a puzzler to many– but it works.

It is only in  severe dementia or disease, the person may gradually lose their vocabulary, not knowing what words mean anymore,  and be unable to understand instructions.  In time in severe dementia, a person may become catatonic. This may never happen to you, nor myself.

Time– a lot of life is needed to adjust  to changes we cannot stop, but we can search out the best ways that fits our growing need.  Some people  run out of time,  because of a heart attack, a stroke or advanced cancer diagnosis. Fortunately, many seniors can prepare for the limitations that age and disease bring upon us.

What about those that do not? People with dementia  are wandering the streets of this world, afraid of shelters, afraid of dogs, afraid of the police. If stress is too prolonged in anyone’s life, especially if damage to the brain is occurring,  schizophrenia may develop—-hearing voices that are upsetting. That puts these people in great danger.

Is it really a surprise that some seniors become depressed and withdrawn, especially after their spouse dies, maybe forcing  a move because of reduced finances and weakening bodies. Being alone all the time takes adjusting.  What if one feels no longer recognized as a person of worth and value. A person may lose status in family settings and feel useless. Not always true. But, if the person believes it,  that becomes their reality. Anxiety increases. Social isolation can develop. Reduced physical exercise means increased weakness.

Grief can overwhelm such a person who is suffering terrible loss. Others may not identify it as such. Grief has stages of its own, says the professionals. Some people withdrawn into themselves while others get angry, and may lash out in bitterness and frustration.  It takes a long time to come to acceptance at what has happened, and if the mind is damaged, that may not be possible without a lot of intervention, or not at all. For some, the loss is too much, leading to suicide.

If safe to do so, we can help by simply being there, quiet reassurances in companionship, possibly doing something together for pleasure. Some seniors need someone to drive them to appointments, to help with shopping, even laundry. Although there are people doing this as a business, not everyone can afford to hire them or want that. Thank you to all of you who are caring for others in practical ways.

Professionals  should have ongoing updates to educate them about aging, dementia, and other types of difficulties.  Easy to say, not so easy to implement, especially in sudden crisis that the police may face, as an example.

Money problems may suddenly become a huge issue, as costs continue to escalate. Pensions rarely move up more  than a few dollars each year. Family members may start worrying what it will cost them to be involved. Making sure a will is in place and current is important for after death issues, but what about a Power of Attorney for care now, when the senior starts to have serious difficulties? Planning will relieve a lot of anxiety.

Despite the ‘difficulties’ and awareness now of people’s various realities, hope continues because there is still joy and happiness available as we age. Sometimes we have to fight for it.

Each of us needs to put in place ways to enjoy life, despite limitations. Use them as a springboard for something wonderful. I found a new joy in filming veterans from the last Great War, and sitting with those British women together to talk about their war experiences, Social times are still very, very important. I learned how to develop this websites in my senior years. I  did not have a clue how to do it,  as  many others do also. I can now travel the modern world without having to go there, because of so many U-tube videos and documentaries. With Google Earth,  one can view any area in great detail.

Seniors have many avenues of adventures, and we all need to take courage to be ourselves in a world that promotes the outer image more important than inner.   As physical beauty fades, may we cherish the things that really do matter: faith, family and love.

Some seniors are hesitant about the changes that are happening., even uncertain about the World Wide Web. Learning to operate a computer and explore the Internet  opens up a whole new world of interest. Keeping in touch with new technology is quite a challenge. The development of Artificial Intelligence, such as Chatbox, can make it easier to find answers to something, and has been a special bonding time with my son, who explained it to me.

Enjoying Kindle ebooks  brings a world of reading ease to our lives without having to hold a heavy volume. I enjoy crossword puzzles, and keep a volume on my desk to work at, which stimulates the mind, even builds new vocabulary.

What a delight to recently see an older couple riding on a bicycle built for two. Laughter, one of the delights for any age. There are movies to watch, and various programs offered in senior centres and communities across our country. Even if not interested, put on lovely music in the background to lift your spirit and surround yourself with things that bring back happy memories.

Why not go on a Memory Trip? Aging seniors are dancing and singing  and putting on performances, dressing up– it really is a lot of fun.

What about a bucket list of things to do before you die?  I did that at age 65, and it took me four years to accomplish. Little miracles can happen, as someone gave me one of those dreams. You never know what might be right around the corner in your life that you have longed for.  Do not give up.

Subsidized housing may be available for an apartment attached to a Retirement Residence, with rent charges depending on management of the building.. Usually subsidy for rental apartments in Canada is set at 30% of one’s monthly income. The cost of assistance is currently about $3,000 to $5,000 per month for some care to full time care in a Retirement Homes. Not sure what is now included in that rising cost . There are several choices from mini apartments to a room, ( private or shared). But one can  get medications delivered daily by medical staff, have meals with others or not, and get housekeeping services as needed–even more options, while maintaining  your independence as long as possible. Come and go in your own vehicle,  surrounded by some of your own things. Lots of entertainment like joining others on a mystery tour somewhere .

Also, full subsidy may be available for full-time care for a move to a Nursing Home or Retirement Residence (slight differences). Here all income funds are taken, but a small portion given back so that the resident can  pay to get their hair done, have a cell phone, or shop for clothes during fashion week, even pick up a few treats from the Residence Store.

The move to retirement homes need not to feared, because staff in them offer many programs of interests, including shopping or day trips. Faith services and singalongs can be enjoyable. A lot depends on our attitude towards aging and deliberately choosing to enjoy every day life. Find fulfillment within yourself, and not expect others to do that for you. We can live within our limitations, and overcome the challenges we face. Oh to help others want to do that and hang on myself.

Hope is that a cure might be found in our lifetime to end dementia. Remember,  not all seniors experience the negatives listed.  Until then,  thank you to everyone who provides the care, compassion and education. Knowledge is important, but without deeper wisdom to be more practical in handling the daily responsibilities and strains, we need to explore ways to improve the quality of life to the very end for everyone.

But it also means valuing people at all stages of life, and that is being seriously eroded now for seniors,  an alarming wake-up call.  The Pandemic wiped out several million older people, and few grieved that loss except their families. I am not an activist, but this is a topic of deep meaning for those of us in our senior years.

Bringing comfort to the suffering may be the greatest struggle and reward for your life.  If we can help somebody, then our living shall not be in vain.

Remembering my Mother

MABEL ALVERIA MILLER GILLESPIE

Mabel Miller Copy
Enjoying life on a walk as a single woman
Mabel Miller wedding July 8, 1943
Mabel Miller wedding July 8, 1943
Our family when young
Mabel with her children: Sam, Norma, Glen about 1950 or so.

 

Mom and her three children, Bancroft Copy
Glenn, Norma, Mom & Sam in Bancroft, about 1984 – photo copyright by Glenn

 

Mom with her sister Winnie & Dave Copy
Mom with her sister Winnie & husband,  Dave Ross

I love you, Mom….thank you for a life well-lived, even in your own journey of sorrow and sadness. I know I was a challenge as a  teen. You showed us how to find joy in little things, and gave and gave, giving up your needs and pleasures to help our lives be enjoyable. Thanks for those books as gifts: The Hardy Boy series; Nancy Drew Mysteries,  cause their adventures became ours, and gave us entertainment when we  had none  unless we made it ourselves. I love murder mysteries to this day, not any violence,  but rather the unravelling of clues.

I now understand why you loved your radio at bedtime in your senior years,  because we had never had one. Sorry, Mom, for causing you so much worry. I am often thinking of you as I head to Coe Hill and talk to you as I work on our grave plot together.  Wish my  grandchildren could have known you. I am so proud of you, and glad you are taking care of my four babies &  Kieran in Heaven. Thanks.

 

 

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