Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Drive to be self-sufficient never ends for most seniors



From earliest life, we struggle to assert our independence—to “do it ourselves”—and that desire and drive to be self-sufficient never ends. Since 1990, Life expectancy nearly doubled and the number of Americans age 65 and older has increased tenfold. The oldest old—people age 85 and older— constitute the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. By 2050, this population—currently about 4 million people—could top 19-20 million. Living to 100 likely will become more commonplace. In 1950, only about 3,000 Americans were centenarians but by 2050, there could be nearly one million.

One’s level of debility shapes one’s level of dependence: Some elders may require assistance with only the most physically or mentally demanding task; while others will require help with daily activities such as cooking and driving; and others will need assistance with all activities of daily life, such as: bathing, dressing , toileting, nutrition and staying safe. The average unpaid family caregiver is 60 years old and female. One study found that on average, a worker who takes care of an older relative loses more than $660,000 in lost wages, pension benefits, and Social Security income.

Our society has a quest not to be old. However, because our culture has put great emphasis on ageism, should we live long enough, we will ultimately most likely oppress ourselves—either we go out of our way to try and avoid the aging process, or we lose our self-esteem because we cannot bear to think of the selves that we are becoming. There is a lot of stereotyping and prejudice about aging in America.

In our society, which we learned from childhood, we attempt to distance ourselves from those we think are old from our own aging, which most often centers on our bodies. This distancing begins our exclusionary behavior and thus the height of the anti-aging industry and an increase in anti-aging products and plastic surgery.

As a baby boomer, I remember growing up with grandparents in our home and all of the rich history our family enjoyed. As kids, we looked up to our grandparents—they were wise, experienced and a very large piece of the fabric of our lives. Whether they walked us to the bus stop, played with us in the yard, or took care of us when our parents had to be away—it was a time that has long past, but never forgotten. My parents were raising five children while both working, but we were all responsible for each other. As our grandparents were part of the immediate family we cared for them when they needed us, too.

We would read, or help our grandparents with whatever we could until we no longer understand the diseases that were taking over their bodies. Not long after moving my grandmother to an institutional setting, did she lose her power to live; she died of natural causes at age 87. “Nanna” was a dynamic person with great charm and poise and, oh, what a cook! My mother’s father also lived with



us during our youth. “Gramps” was a one-of-kind gent and friend to the entire neighborhood. Gramps died in his mid-70s but, to this day, we talk and tell funny stories about the enjoyable things we did together with our grandparents.

One’s true sense of self should focus on who we are as a person and our long-term contributions, not on age, necessarily. But when seniors are not engaged in their communities, they have lower feelings of self-control, less success dealing with aging issues, lower life satisfaction, and a poorer quality of life. Seniors want to be as independent as possible, so providing health and social services that enhance our elders’ functional and mental well-being is essential in any community.

As a society, we need to provide respect and dignity, kindness, empathy, and attentiveness to older adults, and effective communication is essential. The activities taken on by our senior population must be meaningful too. Often they build on their former roles and interests, which utilize remaining skills and foster social interaction. This is known to decrease episodes of depression. Although the actions should be challenging, to maintain or enhance various functional, mental and emotional skills, they should provide for success and feelings of accomplishment. We have so many bright and philanthropic seniors in our neighborhoods that we should feel very blessed to live in such a community.

Times have certainly changed with clinical evidence of the significance of getting seniors moving: exercise, nutrition, and a sense of purpose and its relationship to getting well, and an overall feeling of happiness. For those who believe in the spirit—there is no illusion of perpetual youth or dying alone. For that which moves the spirit and brings deep meaning and satisfaction to us follows us through the aging process, bringing a healing and a sense of peace. With advancing age, very simply, the aging process—the experience of moving into and through different developmental phases–affects the spirit and, therefore, one’s spiritual life, according to Jennifer L. Browser a Unitarian minister. A re-evaluation of one’s life and what has guided a person religiously within the latter stages of life that may prompt spiritual growth, are well documented and commonly experienced.

Almost all of us, even as we age and experience some mental or physical changes that might require some adaptations and adjustments in our lives, still have an innate desire for autonomy. When conditions of aging produce not only inconvenience, but embarrassing or uncomfortable situations when we need the assistance of others, it is difficult—no matter what our age. But as we all cope with more age-related challenges and our own philosophies, remember that independence issues are in the forefront of our nations seniors and quality of life is what we should most deeply cherish.

Paula Camposano Robinson, RN, is co-founder and owner of Sanitasole Senior Health Services. This is an information-only column and is not intended to replace medical advice from a physician. Email me at probinson@sanitasole.net or visit www.sanitasole.net for more information. Phone: 239.394.9931

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