March 18

Coping with Change as We Grow Older

By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions

Coping with Change as We Grow Older

By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions, Inc.

When I look back on the issue of driving as my father grew older, I must say we were blessed. My Dad walked into the house one day, set the keys down on the table, and told my mother he was giving up driving. He kept to his word and never set foot in a car again as a driver.

We are not sure what prompted his decision. Did something happen that day? Was he facing up to the reality of the impact that aging was having on his mind and his body?

Since my mother did not drive, the family now had the responsibility of driving my mother and father to and from where they needed or wanted to go. At the same time, we were sparred from the stress of worrying about Dad driving as his health declined or of trying to convince Dad to give up his driving privileges.

Big changes can come with aging. The changes can occur suddenly, or they can happen gradually over time. They can impact our body and our mind – sometimes one; sometimes both.

The Bad before the Good

Here are some of the ways aging can impact us.

Our muscles, tendons and joints may lose strength and flexibility. Our bones may shrink in size and density.

Our skin can more dry and brittle so we become more prone to wrinkles.

We may difficulty hearing higher pitched voices and sounds.

Our metabolisms may slow so it becomes harder to burn off calories.

We may have more difficulty seeing in low light conditions; colors may not look the same.

We can become more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke in the summer and hypothermia in the winter.

It may take our brain longer to process information.

Chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes also may be an issue. Research by the CDC suggests that at least 85% of older adults have at least one chronic condition and 60% have at least two chronic health conditions.

Now the Good News

Fortunately, there is plenty of good news and some great advice about growing older. There are steps we can take to add more life to our years.

We tend to become more optimistic and emotionally resilient as we age.  For instance, one of the surprising findings of a major Edward Jones and Age Wave research project is that older adults appear to be coping better with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic than younger generations even though COVID has been shown to have more serious consequences for older adults. Nearly twice as many Silent Generation survey respondents (39%) said they are coping well with the pandemic than Gen Z respondents (21%). Gen Z respondents were born after 1996.

While our brain may process information at a slower pace, older adults have the benefit of being able to draw on the wisdom that comes from years of accumulated experiences.

Research indicates that engaging in physical activity is great medicine for older adults. Our physical, mental, emotional, and psychological health and our social well-being all benefit. Engaging in a regular schedule of physical exercise can help improve flexibility and strength. It can help us delay, prevent, or manage chronic health conditions. It has been shown to reduce the risk of falling, delay the on-set of dementia, and improve the quality of life.

In addition to engaging in a regular schedule of aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and flexibility physical activity, we can benefit from giving our brains a regular workout. Playing memory games, doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku, playing Scrabble, learning something new, and seeking out opportunities to engage in social interaction with others can help us keep our minds sharp and remember more.

Tips for Coping with Change

Should we have to make changes to the way we live because of changes to our health, here are a few tips:  

While certainly easier said than done, acknowledge the need to change. Avoidance can have major consequences. Unlike my father, another family member failed to acknowledge the need to stop driving. One morning, she pulled out into traffic, causing an accident. She died a few hours later. Fortunately, no one else was injured.

Accept that change can cause stress. It can cause stress for you, especially if it means having to admit you can no longer do something that you have been able to do for years; if you have to rely on someone else for help; or if you have to move from the place you have lived for years. Change also can cause considerable stress for your loved ones.

If at all possible, take control and plan ahead before a sudden change occurs. Check out your options. Talk with your loved ones about your preferences. Develop a “what if” game plan. What services may be available through local senior centers and senior service agencies. What options are available if I can no longer live where I am living.

Assisted living communities provide a wonderful alternative to a nursing home for older adults who need some help to maintain their independence. Residents of the communities we operate can enjoy apartment home living while benefitting from the availability of personal assistance and help with medications and supportive service including three daily meals, housekeeping, and laundry. Residents also benefit from the opportunities that are available to participate in social, educational, recreational and wellness activities and engage in social interaction with other residents.

Many of the communities we operate in Illinois and Indiana are approved to serve individuals on a Medicaid-waiver for assisted living.

Lastly, write down the positives that can come with the change. Focus on how can I benefit rather than what I may have to give up?  

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