Today is a day of new beginnings.
But then, every day offers opportunity, especially if you choose to “live deliberately.” Have you heard that term? As much attention as I give to “healthy aging,” I’d not previously applied the term “deliberate” to the process of getting older.
Let me share what I am learning — take what you need and use it as you will.
Lately I’ve been receiving a publication titled “3rd Act.” Months ago I filled out a postcard responding to “four issues free,” and they’ve been coming quite regularly (www.3rdActMagazine.com). The articles appeal to my aging sensibilities; they are well written and sometimes provocative.
An article in the spring issue asked, “What’s the big deal about aging in place?” Followed by, “time to get real.” The author, Liz Taylor, is described as “an eldercare specialist for 40 years.”
She begins with, “Your home may be the sweetest, cheapest and easiest place to grow old, especially in the beginning when you’re relatively healthy. It can also be the most complicated, miserable and difficult.”
As you read through her article, it’s clear the author is personally encountering the challenges involved with a desire to age in place. For her, the issues seem to run the gamut from “mind-numbing loneliness and depression” to “exploitation.” But she contends the biggest issue is one we don’t talk about very much. It’s the “profound shortage of people,” both family caregivers and paid caregivers, to assist her — let’s make that “us” — with graceful aging.
This is where the word “deliberative” comes in. By definition, aging in place requires you to “obtain the human assistance you need” once you can no longer independently maintain activities of daily living. It may start with somebody to help you get groceries, and it may end with somebody to help you go to the bathroom.
Family caregivers often bear the brunt of caregiving, especially in the early stages, but those family members, usually adult children, are a busy lot and likely to live at a distance. And an estimated one in five older adults is without children to call upon. Friends may help you get groceries but are less inclined to want any bathroom duty. Spouses as caregivers, you suggest? It’s usually fine for a while, until one person in the relationship develops needs that go far beyond the capacity of an aging partner’s ability to meet them.
Paid caregivers you say? They are in very short supply. We will definitely need them, lots of them. And we will need these people who will care for us to be well trained and paid what they are worth.
I have a friend who, for years, has gathered the names and phone numbers of any paid caregivers she encounters who impress her. She then sends them periodic greeting cards, stays in touch. She refers to it as her “Plan A.” It’s one approach to thinking about the physical, mental and practical challenges that aging brings. Rather innovative actually.
Having a “Plan A” is good. Getting to “Plan A and Beyond” and doing it deliberately — even better. As I suggested at the outset, today is a day of new beginnings.
— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.