Below are some samples of recent newsletters. Newsletters written from April 2012 - April 2016 are published in my book "It is About Time: Straight Talk about Aging and End-of-Life"
What Have You Got to Lose?
In the course of a life time we gather many things both tangible and intangible: People we treasure, memories, a wide variety of skills as well as coping skills. Our experiences include losses and setbacks that helped us grow and added to our store of well-earned wisdom. There are physical possessions as well, some of which contain precious memories.
Along the way we have also picked up burdens that weigh us down. Again, some of these are tangible - most of them, however, are not. Most of us would feel much lighter and freer if we decided to let go of the things we no longer need.
Singer Janis Joplin's well known song "Me and Bobby McGee" has the perfect line for this: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose".
So, what do you have to lose?
Your pride. I am talking about the part of your pride that shrinks your world.
- Pride that keeps you from asking for help when you need it
- Pride that keeps you in physical pain
- Pride that keeps you from reaching out to people you miss
- Pride that keeps you doing things that no longer bring you joy
- Pride that keeps you staying at home rather than using a wheel chair or walker
- Pride that keeps you isolated from people and events because you refuse to get hearing aids
Your expectations. Some expectations are based on contracts of varying kinds from marriage to work, or simply mutual agreements. These are not the ones that get us in trouble.
The expectations that get us in trouble are rooted in perfectionism and self image. Early in our lives, these can help motivate us, but somewhere along the line they can become burdens rather than sources of satisfaction. We cling to the notion that we "should" be able to do everything we were able to do twenty and thirty years ago. Yet we, oddly enough, do not have the same expectations of our same-age friends and neighbors.
Guilt, regrets, and grudges. These are heavy burdens that we carry without realizing the toll they take. Most of us have experienced guilt for things we have said or done - or things we did not say or do - to someone else. Many of us also have regrets about lost contacts, deliberate or otherwise, with people we care about.
Guilt, regrets, and grudges are about events that cannot be changed. We do, however, have the power to change how we are impacted by them.
We can let go of guilt and regrets by making amends or apologizing if those are due. If the person we have wronged is dead, those can be made to relatives, written in a letter to be shredded, or shared with someone who will not judge us as harshly as we judge ourselves. We can also choose to simply let them go by accepting ourselves as the imperfect beings we all are.
Grudges poison the souls of those who carry them. They accomplish nothing. They arise when we feel wronged and when we choose to take that wrong personally. Even when another person's behavior is directed toward you - for example a school yard bully - the behavior has everything to do with who that bully is as a person and very little to do with who you are.
Your "stuff". Oh yes! We all accumulate "stuff". Closets, attics, and garages contain things we no longer need. Despite our good intentions to sort, organize, and re-distribute, they are still there! It is amazing how much of our energy is consumed by the things we do not get done. Clearing out your physical space will leave you room for peace of mind.
Enlist your family to do this as a joint project. It can be when you are gathered for a holiday, reunion, or birthday; you can also make it a special gathering just for this purpose. This is a great way to share memories, let your family start enjoying things you had planned to give them anyway, and pass along to others, serviceable items you no longer need.
A recent popular book, "The Life-changing Magic of Tidying up" by Marie Kondo, recommends clearing out by categories rather than room by room. The author recommends a specific sequence starting with clothing and progressing through dishes, linens, electronics, tools, and so on. Photos and sentimental objects are last.
Each year, as we age, we become more conscious of the need to conserve our energy. Letting go of burdens that no longer serve us will help us feel lighter, and free up precious energy for us to enjoy the people and activities we treasure.
Time is a precious gift. Treasure it. Spend it wisely. Fill it with Love and Joy
Balance: Staying safe and independent
Falls are the leading cause of injuries and injury related deaths for older adults. A serious fall can put an end to treasured independence and recovery from such injuries can erode precious time, energy, confidence, and financial resources.
Here are some statistics from the National Institute for Health (NIH) and the National Council of Aging (NCOA).
- One-fourth of Americans over the age of sixty-five fall each year
- More than two point eight million fall related injuries are treated in emergency departments annually
- More than 800,000 hospitalizations and
- More than 27,000 deaths.
The increased risk of falling is related to a number of changes inherent in the aging process.
- Cells in the inner ear that detect our bodily orientation in space die off with age
- Loss of visual cues due to visual changes such as altered depth perception, sensitivity to light and contrast can compromise balance
- Sudden dips in blood pressure from quick changes in body position can cause dizziness
- Loss of muscle mass, strength, and power affect balance
- Slower reflexes make it difficult to correct loss of balance in time
- Many health conditions compromise balance. Among them are Arthritis, Parkinson’s, Stroke, and Multiple Sclerosis
- Medication side effects may impair balance by causing dizziness, drowsiness, blurred vision, lightheadedness, and inner ear damage.
Making your home safe. Home is where most falls take place. A critical look around and some prudent adaptations will make your home safer.
- Arrange furniture to create straight pathways
- Remove throw rugs. Secure your favorite ones with double sided tape
- Clear floors and stairs of loose items such as papers, shoes, etc.
- Secure electric cord and cables
- Handrails on both sides of stairs make them safer
- Have grab bars in and by shower, tub, and by the toilet
- Get a raised toilet seat and a sturdy shower stool
- Step stools should have a handle to hold for stability
- Make sure your pathways are well lit. Use brighter bulbs. Have switches at both ends of stairs and hallways. Have nightlights that switch on automatically after dark
- Secure your pets at night and pick up their toys before you go to bed. Most pets adapt easily to being crated
- Use reflective tape or paint on steps, stairs, and door sills
- Make sure your phone can be reached from the floor in case you cannot get up
Making yourself safer. Loss of balance has many components. Consult with your physician and pharmacist to learn about any conditions or medications that might put you at risk.
Then there are things you can do to improve balance and minimize risk. Most of these suggestions are simple. What is required is the consciousness of fitting in small daily practices of toning your muscles and honing your reflexes to respond more accurately when you need them.
- Wear supportive, sensible shoes
- Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation impairs your reaction time
- Get up slowly from your bed or chair. This will help prevent dizziness from a sudden drop in blood pressure
- Keep active to improve strength, balance, flexibility, and coordination. Activities that keep you moving and on your feet help maintain balance
- Dance-like activities have been shown to improve balance in older adults. Dance... even if you just boogie to a catchy tune in your living room
Specific balancing exercises
- Standing with your feet closer together. This makes your support base smaller and forces your core muscles into action
- Walking heel to toe in a straight line, both forward and backwards. Yes, just like the police do when confronting a potentially drunk driver!
- Balance on one foot. Try it at the kitchen sink or stand close to a chair or wall for support. This, too, tones your core muscles.
- Try closing your eyes during routines activities such as brushing your teeth or while doing upper body exercises
- Tai Chi and Yoga are mentioned by many sources as activities that improve balance and walking confidence
Aging affects our balance; the time for climbing on ladders to clean gutters or pick fruit is gone for most of us. There is a difference between limiting risks and being so fearful of falling that we allow our world to shrink. Boost your confidence by making your home environment safer and by improving and maintaining your balance through activities that suit you.
Dance for joy...and balance!
Time is a precious gift. Treasure it. Spend it wisely. Fill it with Love and Joy.
“Maybe I could Drive again…”
“I want to go back to live on the farm”. “My eyes are better. I think I am OK to drive again”.
What do you do when your older relatives express their desire to turn back the clock? What do you say?
Do you tell them “No way!”? Do you launch into a lengthy explanation of every reason why this is not possible? Do you change the subject in the hope they will forget about it? Do you say “Dad, we have been over this a hundred times…”?
For most of our elderly who have had to make major life changes as a result of advancing age and/or illness, these statements are expressions of grief. They have lost something of great importance and they wish they could have it back. For most, these statements do not reflect denial. They are merely expressing their deep sadness and longing for what can no longer be.
Most of us do the very same thing in different ways. You may still have your camping gear although you know you are beyond that kind of “roughing it”. You may still have your woodworking tools even though your eye sight no longer permits you to do that delicate work. Your hands may have become too arthritic to play the musical instrument that once brought you such joy, but you still have the instrument as well as all your sheet music.
Letting go of something you hold dear is painful. We tend to hold on to the tangibles because it seems easier and less final to let go of them a little at a time.
With some losses, letting go a little at a time is not always possible.
So how can you best help? How can you respond with compassion in a way that neither denies nor encourages the expressed desire to turn back the clock?
We can find some guidance for providing support in the “Four Tasks of Grieving” identified by William Worden.
#1 To accept the reality of the loss. This is not a task that can be rushed. The grieving person simply needs support while getting there on their own. Keep in mind that denial is a protective mechanism that allows the griever to deal with the loss a little at a time so as not to be overwhelmed. Reminding someone of a reality they are all too painfully aware of is not helpful.
#2 To work thought the pain and grief. Encourage expression of the grief. Recognize and validate their feelings. Convey your understanding that this is a significant loss and a difficult adjustment. “I know you miss the old house”, “Driving is such a big part of being independent, of course you miss being able to just get up and go when you want to”. When the grief is expressed with anger, recognize that anger covers other emotions such as fear, anxiety, helplessness, or feeling out of control. Rather than responding to the anger, respond to the underlying feeling.
#3 To adjust to the new environment. Trying to find a new sense of “normal” when your life has been changed is difficult. Your presence is probably the best help you can offer. Be there! Listen, listen, listen! Help finding practical solutions to the challenges presented by this change, whatever it may be.
#4 To find an enduring connection with the deceased/loss while moving forward with life. When age erodes our independence and physical abilities, finding joys can be a challenge. Sharing happy memories can help affirm the positive connection with past joys. “Remember all those summer evenings on the back porch?”, “You grew the best tomatoes in that garden”, “Five kids, a dog and two picnic baskets. We sure had fun in that old station wagon”.
You know this person. Help them identify the essence of what they were able to enjoy before, and then help them find the same kind of pleasure in different ways. What was the best part about woodworking or other favorite activity? The feel of smooth wood in your hand? The creative process? Doing something with your hands? The total focus required? Other activities may offer some of those rewards.
When you respond to your loved ones’ expressions of grief, look inside for your own grief. When you see your older parents or relatives lose their independence it is a stark reminder of the goodbye that will eventually come. If you chose to discourage those expressions because of your own discomfort, consider what you will be missing. Times of loss and grief can become opportunities for honest dialogue and for a deeper, more meaningful, personal connection with those you love.
Time is a precious gift. Treasure it. Spend it wisely. Fill it with Love and Joy