The world of senior citizens –65 and over– is a strange thing to behold, now that I’m a member of that tribe. Aging ain’t for the faint of heart and one of the most puzzling things I’ve seen is how denial plays into it. I think it’s an artifact of our Boomer generation, too; the seniors I’ve known before I joined the tribe weren’t anything like this.
So let me begin:
By our senior years, it’s not unusual to have certain fairly serious but not necessarily fatal conditions. Some are lifestyle related, some are genetic and some have no identifiable cause. But many require certain changes in behavior: exercise, diet, medication.
It’s always a surprise when I see someone in total denial of their condition, doing everything they can that’s counter to doctors’ orders and avoiding the thought that their behavior might have serious or even fatal results. They want to do what they want to do, regardless of consequences. Or rather, they won’t address the consequences, not in thought and not in deed.
They Do. Not. Want. To. Hear. About. It.
I am FLOORED when I see this and I’ve seen it in more than one friend.
There’s also the idea that if we capitulate to one “health aid” it means a downward spiral into becoming an invalid. Rather than use a doctor-recommended walker, some insist on walking unaided, risking a fall that could take their life. In fact, that happened to someone I loved: they died after an unassisted walk and a fall.
Rather than use supplemental oxygen to combat lung disease, another person I know stayed awake night after night, unable to breathe. Uncomfortable. Risking a fatal bronchial spasm. When I suggested oxygen might improve quality of life, their spouse responded, “Once you start with that it’s all downhill.”
Well, here’s the thing. It’s all downhill, anyway, and the question is “do you want to be comfortable on the ride or do you want to suffer?”
Actually, the question is more stark for some and it’s one I’ve actually asked a friend:
“Would you rather do X or would you rather die?”
I met a guy who has always been uber-active and still is, well into his 80s. Tennis. Golf. Sailing. More energy than the famous bunny. But his wife? Stricken with a debilitating condition that seriously impacts her daily life. Not too long ago he told me about his wife’s health problems and the assistance he had to provide. I could hear in his voice his struggle to accept the realities of her aging, even though he, himself, was still hale and hearty. I’d witnessed his loving assistance to his wife, myself. And yet, it was a bit of a struggle for him, even as he told me, “We must adapt to the things that happen.”
There are clear tradeoffs involved as we age. We can either use common sense and try to prevent serious problems from cropping up earlier than they need to or we can be willing to risk disability or even early death.
When shit happens, we can take action to have as good a quality of life as possible as we age or we can flame out early because we won’t accept that we are older now and limitations apply.
Quality of life is everything, I see now. We are no longer 20, 45 or even 60. We are seniors.
And while I can’t change some of the decisions I made when I was young and stupid,
I can certainly learn to adapt to the now and the future for both me and my husband, as my active octogenarian friend has had to.
The trade-offs of aging are as simple as my question: Would you rather (fill in the blank–call a doctor, use a walker, use supplemental oyxgen) or die? Your choice.”
Aging gracefully is now more than a buzz word to me. I see it and its opposite in action among my social circle.
There are lessons and I am learning them.