From Dr. Jane's Notebook
While I don't like getting old, I think of the alternative
The good news is that modern medicine allows many of us to
live longer. The bad news is that with longevity comes a variety of additional
worries and challenges. Developmental psychologists inform us that the senior
years are a challenging phase of life, which involves shifting gears, a change
in our concerns, and letting go of previous attachments. It is also a time for
grown children to learn how to “parent their parents” and return the caring
favors they received while growing up. Here are a few more thoughts on the
- Retirement requires a change in our use of time.
While many people retire, most want to continue to make good use of their time
on the planet. Recent trends find happy retirees engaging in volunteer
efforts, new hobbies, involvement with grandchildren, and part time jobs.
Keeping active and continuing to learn are critically important for good
physical and mental health. Due to their popularity, there are increasing
numbers of senior activity day programs and Elderhostel travel & learning
programs. As the saying goes, the more you do…the more you can do.
- The longer we live, the more funerals we attend.
Conversations with seniors can be very meaningful, and they can be very
unsettling. Seniors have both great wisdom to share, and they have some very
unique perspectives. In many ways, today’s senior citizens are the pioneers of
what it means to live longer. For those of us who are willing to listen, there
is much to learn about the current realities of aging from those who are
living it! For example, in a recent conversation with my 95 year old cousin,
she shared what it was like for her to bury all of her old friends. Frankly, I
had never really thought about how it feels to be the oldest person you know.
But the reality is that the longer we live, the more we outlive others. Since
death seems to be a daily consideration for many senior citizens, perhaps the
next developmental task in life is to make peace with the reality of death.
- Coming of age as the child of a senior citizen.
Raising children is a good way to learn how to care for aging parents. As a
parent, it has been my job to monitor the needs of my children for food,
social activities, health, clothing, and body care. Similarly, with aging
parents, especially when we live far away, it is crucial to assess their needs
and not assume that everything is okay. Like children, our parents are not
always able to recognize and express what they need; or they may choose to
minimize their problems. So, it may be up to you to anticipate and become
alert to your parent(s) newly-arising concerns about safety, driving,
finances, fears about change and fears about being alone.
- Learn to recognize Red Flags! When
seniors suddenly lose interest in their usual activities, withdraw from social
engagements and retreat from family life, its time for an evaluation by their
physician. Physical problems may be masked by mild depression, or chemical
changes in our brains can make us feel depressed. Most problems, if caught
early enough, can be easily remedied with medication. But without some sort of
meaningful intervention, seniors can fall into rapid decline in their
appetite, energy, interpersonal relationships and interest in life.
Learning the role of caregiver is not an easy
job. The task is a delicate one in which we must become interested but not
insulting. Seniors fear the loss of their independence, competence and
self-confidence. Skilled caregivers must learn the fine art of helping, without
damaging the integrity of those they care for.
©Copyright, 2005, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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