Protective and Selective: How to take care of ourselves as we age
“Respect yourself,” as the song goes by the American R&B/gospel group, The Staple Singers, and protect yourself.
We protect ourselves as best as we can as we age because we are determined to stay mentally and physically healthy for as long as possible. And if we’re living alone, there are special precautions that we try to take.
When young, we had a sense of impatience, adventure, excitability and a lack of perspective and often the circumstances that only the young possess—a laissez faire lifestyle.
Fast forward to today. Those of us of a certain age have had to slow down. Like a brisket that we cook very slowly and carefully for maximum taste and tenderness, we need to live our lives the same way.
Physically, most of us are less daring—forget the downhill skiing as a new endeavor. We don’t race up the stairs like we used it, go outside when it’s icy for fear of slipping and breaking bones, wear stilettos (unless we’re Nancy Pelosi), eat slower so we don’t upset our more tender stomachs and reject certain foods that might be too strange or spicy, try to think before we offer advice to our adult children, nurture existing relationships and cautiously take on new experiences, friends and even lovers.
We try to strive for improvement at every opportunity. We eat well, go to the doctor for regular checkups and the same with the dentist, do yoga, walk, run mini marathons or work out in gyms with trainers, do tai chi for balance, meditate, hike, bike and more. We go to concerts, take classes, play games that tax our brain and sometimes let our brains go on vacation, go to lectures, read fiction (good for the brain in terms of keeping the characters straight).
Some of us do “nothing.” We’ve had schedules and responsibilities all our lives. If we want to do nothing, is this wasteful? Doing something without a benefit or hint of self-improvement, for example, can feel that way. In some offhanded way, it is beneficial for some. However, whatever our pursuits, we are setting goals and are all doing so more selectively to protect ourselves from physical and mental harm.
Mentally, we attempt to de-stress. We try to live our lives without pointless worries, soul depleting obligations or the frivolous opinions of others. Sticking to what we must do and want to do for ourselves and others and editing out much of the unnecessary dreck is a daily endeavor. We eliminate toxic relationships from our lives as another self-protective coat of armor. For example, who needs the hassle and banal chitchat with acquaintances you’d rather not run into on the street or at the supermarket.
What hasn’t changed much is that life can still surprise and amuse, provoke and enlighten, delight and enrage and inform and inspire as we realize we’re at the crossroads where age and the future meet. We’re also open to new ideas and ways of doing things. We are still works in progress, we believe.
Here are 13 tips on how to be protective and selective:
Do your research whenever you encounter a new situation whether new friends, new activity or new environment. Try but don’t commit yourself long-term until you have a good handle of the time and mental work that will be involved, and also sometimes the cost.
Sometimes, it takes a village. If you’re considering a move to be closer to family or to downsize and get rid of stairs, maybe, find a small community where you can make friends and walk nearly everywhere without worrying about the hazards of snow and ice. Village to Village or a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community provide social connections and such help with snow removal, small home repairs, computer support, transportation to and from doctor’s appointments and offer just a group of people who care about each other and will pitch in if you are indisposed or just need someone to talk to whom you trust. If you decide to go, sometimes you can try out an area by renting for a month or year. You never know until you go certainly applies in this situation. Barbara wanted to rent a house before she moved to her current village, but nothing was available, so she purchased, but her first choice was to rent and see what part of the area she most preferred. She also left open the possibility that if she weren’t happy she wouldn’t stay.
If you want to age in place, repurpose your home with accommodations such as wider doorways, grab bars where needed in bathrooms, no area rugs to avoid falls, no-slip floors, ramps if needed, a walk-in tub and other features to make aging easier. You might even add a chair attachment for a staircase if you can’t create a first-floor bedroom and bathroom. Or if you have the funds, install an elevator. Take advantage of advances in technology to help seniors stay put such as high-speed internet for ordering food, have things delivered, listen to music, have a consultation with a health professional, read news, find out the weather and so much more as we write in our last book, Not Dead Yet. The vast majority of aging people want to age in place. Is it right for you or will you be lonely?
Consider a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Start with independent living—maybe, with a personal care department where you can ask for help when needed--and step up if you need extended or skilled nursing care. Check on the costs; these situations are not cheap. Long-term care insurance will help but usually won’t cover all. Look at multiple examples; since where it’s located may influence your choice.
Learn about all the community resources and when to start accessing them. This might include senior friendly housing and the growing number of home-delivered products and services. Why risk going to the grocery store when it’s icy and cold outside? Such non-profits as DOROT provides older adults with many options for connection from in-person and remote visits to group programs and activities on a wide array of topics from arts and culture to health and wellness, Many libraries offer free community events, including knitting and bridge classes, interesting speakers and even a cookbook club at Barbara’s. Jewish themes and current events, to assistance with getting to medical appointments and online outreach and so much more.
Draw up end of life documents or update existing ones at least every seven to 10 years. We should all have a living will, health proxy, power of attorney, a will and a trust, if needed. Talk over certain decisions with children or other trusted relatives or friends and a financial advisor. Best to ask who wants what if divvying up the kingdom to preserve your offspring’s relationships.
Create an “aging team” of caregivers, social workers or psychologists, geriatrician or internist, CPA, trustees, bankers, financial planners and let family members have complete information about your team. Appoint a person in charge who serves as the “aging team” traffic cop and coordinator. This is a huge request so possibly have two, so one is back-up.
When your health deteriorates, arrange for a senior or geriatric care manager, who may be licensed nurses or social workers trained in aging life care. They can navigate the complex health care system and organize care plans and advocate for patients’ needs. They can also make objective decisions that a family member cannot do. Most are not covered by insurance but be sure to check. And some will visit your home, the old-fashioned equivalent of a house call.
There’s The Lifecare Association Aging Life Care Association or The Alliances of Professional Health Advocates The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates (aphadvocates.org) or the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Welcome to NAHAC — NAHAC or such organizations as Aging and Health Technology Watch, Aging and Health Technology Watch | Industry Market Trends, Research & Analysis (ageinplacetech.com) to help those 65 and older to make sure they have the right tech tools. Nonprofits such as DOROT will send a member of their social work team to a senior’s home through their "in-home programs" to make suggestions and also provide vital support.
Monitor physical concerns. When you move around or leave the house, be aware of your surroundings. Watch where you’re walking so you don’t fall. Concentrate. Pick up your feet when you take a step. Focusing on strength, balance and physical fitness are necessary. One of Barbara’s friends now walks with walking poles on her property and in her neighborhood. Have adequate light both indoors and outdoors so you see where you’re going. Don’t talk on your phone when walking.
Try not to fall victim to scams that can clear out your bank account. The “I am in Europe and cannot get back, can you send me money” scam is one that has sucked in many seniors. And this is one of several. Be vigilant. If it’s too good to be true, it is such as being suckered into sending what you think is a significant other who finds reasons not to see you in person but is always asking for money. For singles, pay attention to people who may think you’re lonely and try to romance you. Keep information to yourself.
Always wear sunscreen when outdoors, put on a hat that covers your face and ears and get yearly freckle checks to avoid skin cancers. If something on your skin looks suspicious, get it checked pronto. Get your eyes checked annually too to mitigate eye diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and even eye cancers. Do all the other essential tests such as yearly mammogram, Pap screening, prostate tests, colonoscopy until you don’t need, dental cleaning and repair, vaccines including Shingles and pneumonia. Better to be prudent. This is what our hard-earned money is for.
Take your medications on a consistent schedule and come up with strategies to remember to take them. Margaret keeps them in a basket, takes them out and puts them on the counter. As she takes each pill or vitamin, she puts the bottle back in the basket. That’s a sign to her that she’s taken the meds. Barbara has them lined up on a counter near her kitchen TV and coffee station.
Talk to children or close friends about future plans. Saying them out loud makes them more real. Hear their suggestions. Have your own ideas, weigh and let them all percolate. Barbara has a friend whose one daughter is urging her to move closer. She’s not ready yet but maybe soon. Barbara’s own daughters are doing the same. “You’re too old to be in your house,” is the message. Even the house is whispering, “Time for a family to come live here.” Margaret loves being in a city with two siblings and one child; it’s comforting to know family is there in a pinch. Ask yourself who will be there for you when you need them and sometimes in an emergency?
Life is to be lived but being prepared can make all the difference in how much you enjoy all its joys.