Aging Gracefully Without Fear of the Future
I am a 65 year old male, and over the last few years have witnessed the aging process and recent deaths of my mother and mother-in-law. While both passed relatively gracefully at the ages of 96 and 86 respectively, I am also witnessing the difficult aging process of other close relatives. This includes severe physical and mental declines. They are incapable of doing the very basic elements of taking care of themselves requiring assistance to get dressed, eat, bathe and to go to the toilet.
As I approach old age, the prospect of aging ungracefully scares me.
What can you advise?
Aging and Scared
Dear Aging and Scared,
I am sorry to hear about both your mothers that have recently passed. I, too, have gone through a similar experience and only now after almost 2 years I am catching up a bit, and feeling less sad about my mother’s death. It suddenly dawned on me and my family recently that I no longer interject every conversation with; “Give me a break, I just lost my mother”. We have no control over illness, looking older, grayer or more wrinkled. We can mourn that or celebrate the changes that can actually make life better. While important to acknowledge and evaluate the sadness around the illness and passing of our loved ones, we need to realize that we do not have to emulate their process other than the eventually dying part.
I would first advise you to first evaluate what was so troubling to you about their growing old. Was it the actual decline that occurred or was it the steps they had undertaken to manage their becoming older. One must define the two very clearly in order to understand what steps must be taken, in terms of attitude, managing money and delegating increasingly difficult tasks. Aging is a very challenging process and must be undertaken intellectually and procedurally. If one were recently graduated from school, one would have a process of steps in place to begin to find a job and be successful in the field. It is no less necessary in the new stage of aging. This means that you must have a living will, a written statement detailing your desires regarding medical treatment and care in circumstances where you can no longer enact those directives. You must detail your desires regarding medical treatment as well as day to day care, should the situation arise.
Now that a directive is in place, you can relax.
Start easy: Get healthier, finally forget about those extra 15 pounds that you just cannot shed and get the right exercise and eat right. Totally cut out sugar, cut out (or at least cut down) starches and breads and eat lots of proteins. CUT OUT SALT! Get the personal trainer you have been talking about to give you two lessons in what fitness program is appropriate for you.
Attitude is everything. Now is your chance to repair any personal attributes you are unsatisfied with. This opportunity may actually be your last chance to do so. If you were a disagreeable person, now is your chance to consciously be more congenial. Women out there, men too, who find it hard to give other people a compliment and are way too judgmental, shake it off! This is an easy one to change. Just start to smile and be large in encouraging other people, most importantly, members of your family. It’s always possible to find something nice to say about someone. “Your smile is so lovely”, “your eyes are so blue”,” I love your scarf”, “It’s so nice to see you”, just to name a few. Just make sure you give actual compliments and not backhanded comments like, “you cut your hair, it looks different” or “I saw that dress all over the department stores this season, and you bought it”.
Repair relationships but don’t expect apologies, (see this article on how to heal a rift with your older child) you may have to give them! I find it hugely liberating to admit my mistakes to my children and say I’m sorry. I often just shoot off an email (that takes me hours to write) telling them something I realized, I would have done differently if given the same circumstances today. One of my saddest days occurred a few weeks before my mother passed when I realized that she was too sick for us to have one more conversation and rehash our relationship. SEIZE THE MOMENT! Have the difficult conversations now and make this right, or at least better. Ask your children, siblings or any loved ones (friends included), is there something I need to make right? Did I hurt you in some way that went unintentionally unnoticed?
Last challenge: Admit you are a bit slower, can’t do what you once did and may need some help. Get it. More important than handing out money when the children come knocking, put your needs first. I find myself hiring more cleaning help when grandchildren visit and holidays roll around. I also order more prepared food. I already know that I know how to cook and bake, no more need to prove it.
Recap, 10 simple guidelines:
- Cut out sugar.
- Cut out salt.
- Don’t wear too much makeup, be more natural. Make up should enhance beauty, not cover it up.
- Smile, Don’t be a downer. No one likes negativevity.
- Drink alcohol MUCH less, it does not wear well days and weeks after.
- Get up and move, be it excercise, walking or some new regiment like biking or swimming. No excess television or computer unless it is while you are on the treadmill or the elliptical.
- Use 30+ sunscreen and wear a hat. Sun exposure is extremely damaging to our skin.
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water EVERY day. Walk around with one of those chic looking water bottles. Water is absolutely the best antiaging prescription and it’s free.
- No more stress. Some stress is unavoidable but, studies have shown that stress can make us look 10 years older. If that not motivation enough, try yoga or meditation.
- Sleep at least between 6-7 hours a night.
Aging gracefully is all of these and more, plot your plan carefully.