We Are Not Elderly Yet, Are We?

Definition of ElderlyYes, according to most dictionaries, those of us who are over 65 are officially elderly. Read the attached list of synonyms for the word elderly to get a clear idea of what the world’s attitude toward the elderly is often like: that list of synonyms contains words like geezer, decrepit, in one’s dotage, and over the hill. I was shocked the first time I heard myself described as elderly in a memo from my health care provider. Then again, the provider was Medicare so why was I so surprised? Some days I still feel like a young spring chicken, at least until I try to climb out of bed. Other days, I’m all too aware that my joints are wearing out, my senses are becoming duller, my organs aren’t quite as efficient as they once were, and the reflection in the mirror has white hair and wrinkles. So why do I persist in thinking this stage of my life, which I have dubbed the final fifteen percent, can be the most fulfilling stage of all? Sadly, some people have told me that my blog is badly named and I’m crazy to think it is possible to enjoy being old.

I’m not blind. I know that many people are facing incredible challenges in life. But some of the people with the biggest challenges seem to feel as I do and others whose lives seem outwardly at least to be going reasonably well are among those who think I’m nuts. But I persist in thinking this stage of life can be the most rewarding of all if we just make some adjustments to our activities, our goals, and our standards. I’ve been pondering where the difference lies between those who feel it is possible to enjoy old age and those who don’t and I got some insightful communication from Betty Cadwell Barry and her husband, Bob Barry, that helped lead me to come to the conclusions I am going to express in this post.

Young and OldAs you can see from the graphic, my goals have changed since my youth.  I think it is, in part, this adjustment that helps me maintain the idea that life can be wonderful in spite of my husband’s serious illness, my own more ordinary deterioration and responsibilities as a caregiver, and the fact that my friends have been dropping off at an alarming rate recently and I can see my own mortality beginning to stare me in the face. I have had five good friends die in the last 12 months and that is an average number for a person of my age. Continue reading

The Dark Side of Caregiving

Both giving and receiving care can be highly charged subjects. As an adult, needing to receive care is often tied to a loss of independence, loss of the sense of being able to have an equal exchange with others, loss of privacy, loss of dignity, and fear of being unable to fend for one’s self. Giving care to another, whether to a child or another adult, can equal a loss of time for one’s own interests and needs, loss of independence, loss of income, loss of freedom, and a fear of failure. The feelings that are stirred up by a need to provide or receive care can be positive: satisfaction at being able to help; the warmth of feeling needed; the pleasure of watching a loved one recover. But there are frequently very strong negative feelings involved as well: grief and loss when the help is rejected or unsuccessful; depression when the need is extended and stressful; intense loneliness when the demands result in isolation from friends or pleasurable activities.

The strongest positive emotion connected to caregiving is satisfaction when the process goes well for both giver and receiver. There is possibly no other feeling more wonderful than the feeling of having been helped when the help was desperately needed or the feeling of joy that results from seeing a person you have worked hard to help benefit from those efforts. The strongest negative emotion connected to caregiving is guilt: often an overwhelming and destructive sense of guilt that can strike both the recipient of the care and the giver of the care. That feeling of guilt is often made more powerful by feelings of shame and failure that accompany the guilt.

Caregiving is a major part of most people’s lives at any stage but in the final fifteen percent of our lives, the part this blog is most concerned with, we have reached a point where on average we are losing three friends or loved ones a year and the need to be involved in caregiving is at a peak.

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