Planning for Pleasure in Engaging with Aging

Pleasure is not a word that comes to mind when one thinks of aging, particularly advanced aging. That’s why can be so important to plan for it, especially as our capacities and resources keep changing. But most of us have plenty of resources available to do it.

 We can take a first enjoyable step of remembering, reliving and examining a pleasure we once enjoyed. 

  1. What was it that made it so enjoyable? 
  2. What specific tasks/activities were involved?
  3. Which of our capacities were involved? 
  4. What’s the status of those capacities now?
  5. What environmental factors are unchanged? Changed?

This thinking process doesn’t need to be formal, just doing what’s possible and enjoying it while we’re doing it.

 I have cherished memories of the food my Swedish mother made for us.  I recall the sights, smells and tastes of her cardamom buns, orange rye bread, kåldolmar (cabbage rolls). The comradery as we cooked. Now she’s no longer here. For a time it was possible to carry on her traditions until I too changed. My senses of smell and taste are disappearing, my hand strength, balance and stamina too. Still it’s been possible to find ways to adapt. E.g. I still can have the pleasures of mother’s Swedish baking, by:

using a smaller recipe (to manage the doughs with weakened hands).

setting the ingredients in place one day, doing the mixing and baking the next morning and allowing a bit of recovery time before cleanup (to manage stamina issues)

being more heavy-handed with the seasoning (for my missing taste buds)

finding resting places for hot bread pans where I can set the hot pan down (as I  realign my nose and toes)  between the oven the cooling place that is a full 360°away from the oven. I had a near fall and dropped one hot loaf before figuring out a solution.

Somehow the warmth of the baking process heightens the aroma and the tastes and textures still come through as I nibble. That pleasure is still there.  

Sharing “gramma’s buns” with the children and grandchildren so that they still can have pleasant memories of baking with me and enjoy eating them also offers pleasure and a legacy.

A different challenge to eating- pleasure arose with the need to increase potassium (K+) in my diet.  Meat, an earlier source of potassium, now felt like chewing cardboard, so K+ had to come from other sources. Cruciferous veggies are great sources, but loading meals with those on a daily basis would not offer me eating pleasure.

I enjoy soups, so I devised a concentrated soup base of well-seasoned/herbed, multiple cruciferous veggies, lentils.  These: cooked, blended until smooth and saved in the freezer, then mixed with non-fat milk offer me a satisfying, tasty, attractive, green dish with a nice mouth feel. (Cheese, chicken, salmon cooked carrots, celery etc., can be added.) It provides me K+, calcium, fiber, protein and fairly low calories. This ongoing pleasant outcome gave rise to purposefully thinking about finding pleasures with other things throughout the day.

And, the ongoing work with pleasure-planning, led to another insight. One also has to be as active in the enjoying phase as one is in the planning! Mindful enjoyment’s the name of the game. Sensing, sensing, sensing with whatever sensing and cognitive capacities are available.

One no longer just eats. One notices the jewel red of the beets that were pickled to make them tasty, the smooth mouth feel of the veggie soup. One notices how a bright sweater or scarf makes a gray day feel better, how the friendly warmth of flames in the fireplace chase away a bleak night. A pleasant memory can merely come to mind, but it can also be re-experienced with greater pleasure. It’s a mindset, an attitude.

Initial activities in seeking pleasure in whatever the day brings has led to engaging with daily living this way.  It feels positive, controlling, and that’s a pleasure in itself. So far it’s been risk-free and has not felt the least bit decadent.

But of course, you’d need to decide if this is all foolishness or worth testing for yourself.

BASIC EXPLANATION OF ENGAGING WITH AGING

Some who “attended” this year’s virtual Ignite Aging program presented by the University of Washington School of Nursing suggested that basics of EWA presented should be adapted to be offered in an EWA blog posting. Here is the blog version with images added.

What is Engaging with Aging?

Engaging with Aging (EWA,) is both a perspective and an active process that focuses on everyday living as it is affected by normal age related changes in one’s functional capacities.

Pathology and adversities are seen in this figure as an overlay (gray segment of road bed) The underlying aging capacities (black segment of the roadway),are all the capabilitiesanyone has available to cope with themwhatever their age.

What are its essential components?

EWA is made up of two components and a bridge connecting them. One component is the aging capacities.  The other is the requirements in daily living, those we feel we must or should do and those we want to do. Between them is the important connecting bridge.

It’s a bridge we began building at birth, continued through childhood as capacities grew and became taken-for-granted in our adult years.  But starting in the 4th decade, aging (silently and then more noticeably), changes those capacities. Gradually, our once-reliable bridges become increasingly unstable and less usable.

EWA is the work we do to remodel and recreate those bridges. It’s an ongoing task!

How does one engage in EWA?

First and foremost it requires one’s willingness to acknowledge, own and actively work with evidence of one’s aging and its impact. (This is neither automatic nor easy.)  After all, who wants to look for and focus on what’s making us “old”.

Once that hurdle has been overcome, then it’s the problem solving method.

1. Gather evidence using as precise descriptive words and numbers as possible. In capacity: What is the feeling? When does it happen? What overcomes it? What daily living elements are impacted by the changes in capacity?

2. Explore ideas for altering the way you use the changing capacity and approaches to the tasks.  Allow one’s head to reach into the clouds,

but at the same time keep ones “feet on the ground”.

To work, EWA must be creative, pragmatic and honest.

3. Test your ideas. See what works, what can satisfy.Keep thinking and experimenting.  (There’s plenty of time and opportunities.

4. Integrate the options that prove to work well into ongoing behavior, tasks and environment. This isn’t easy either.  The established behaviors and situations are firmly in place.  To test this challenge:  sometime when you will be moving about in tasks in one room, set a timer for 5 minutes. Use the mantra “Nose and Toes” and consciously keep your toes aligned with your nose as you work.  Could you do it?

How is EWA different from other ways of looking at aging?

Many people look at aging from the viewpoint of health or ideal. With health, the focus is on normal and abnormal; with ideal, good or less than good.  Health treatment is prevention cure, palliation .  Ideal is strategies to move toward an ideal way of coping with aging.

Aging can’t be prevented or cured. It continues on its trajectory to the inevitable end regardless of coping strategies.

EWA approaches aging as “it is what it is” and the ager’s situation as what it is (nature, nurture and current circumstances). Management for life with aging is adaptation–personal and with the help of others as available. Optimum/ideal EWA-ing is what’s possible and hopefully satisfying to the ager.

Tell us about your approach to the blog.

I believe that person has their own river of aging to navigate, their own nature, nurture, capabilities and circumstances. I’m no guru—just one ager writing to fellow agers.

I’m my own lab rat.  Each day I face that day’s changing maze.

So, I share experiences. . . adaptations that work and the flops, reactions, what I learn and insights gained. It’s bread upon the waters for any who find it usable.

“Screeching Nerves ”Follow-up to Commenters

“Thank you for posting my poem, Doris. Truly an honor to be featured on your blog again.  I’m also honored by all the replies from other readers. It helps to know I am not alone! In answer to Nancy, sometimes it’s fear of death, sometimes fear of pain and disability. Of course, high emotionality makes everything worse! Learning to rename “pain” as “intense sensations” and just hold those sensations in compassionate awareness is an intriguing and ongoing challenge.”

Julia Tracy