We Agers Are Experts On Our Own Aging Experience

With that expertise come responsibilities

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Many of the people who study old people, theorize and write about us, take care of us, or relate to us are not “old’ themselves. They experience old age second handedly. Earlier in my life as a nurse I often had older patients. As a daughter I shared my parents’ aging. In my 50’s I blithely participated in three editions of a nursing book about caring for the elderly without taking note of myself as the “outsider.”

Now I feel as If I had been a pilot flying over the city of aging, assuming I knew how the residents lived. What an illusion!   It’s not that what I knew, used or wrote about elderly people was inaccurate. But it paid only narrow attention to the significant ways normal aging was changing agers’ capacities to manage their ever-present tasks and relationships. I had looked at them narrowly as they related to a particular issue, pathology or health status. Also, somehow, at some level, I gained a vague notion that aging made people less credible whether it was reporting about themselves or their opinions. Dumb!

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Now, I’m the insider. I‘m aware of my hard-won knowledge on normal aging in general and my specialist knowledge on my own aging.   I notice when my insider-knowledge and perceptions (not necessarily right or wrong), are just different from those who are not old.

I see myself as a practical person. I realize that health care providers and others have focused areas of interest and expertise and limitations on their time. Health care providers of all stripes and levels are, in particular, intermittent, time-regulated resources. And even my near and dear ones, friends and neighbors have very full, demanding lives of their own. (But given the nature of our relationships they tend to be more familiar with how I experience and manage both the pesky ordinary parts of my daily living snarled by my aging and the richness of my life.) Each of these people (professional or other), play an important naturally limited role in my life, as I do in theirs.

So, what is my responsibility in enabling them to see my aged world as I need them to and they may wish to? I tell myself, “Doris, they are not mind-readers! They know what they see, hear and what you tell them!” I see how they tend to use what they discover and how it fits with their specific role relationship with me, e.g. professional health care provider, relative, friend, neighbor etc.

I’m accepting that I as an aged “ insider” have responsibilities to them. Instead of taking it for granted, I owe it to them to appropriately :

  1. notice what they might need or want to know about me that satisfies us both
  2. share myself in ways and language that is natural to them and the situation (it’s different for professionals and personal relationships and situations)
  3. give/seek feedback on ways they might participate in my aging and daily living that are comfortable to them and me, given their roles
  4. share with them and include them in the joys and richness of my days

I realize that a lot of this is what has been going on intuitively. It’s just that now with this insider-outsider perspective I see a greater need to become more sensitive and skilled at it.

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20 thoughts on “We Agers Are Experts On Our Own Aging Experience

  1. Thank you, Doris. As i creep up on being an insider while simultaneously caring for my parents in their 90’s, your remarks ring true. My brothers want to force situations while i prefer to allow my parents choices…what is comfortable for them., not what is comfortable for me. Thanks for the affirmation!

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    • Your comments could be mine! So difficult and stressful when siblings don’t agree. I too wanted to respect my parents wishes and help them stay in their home but my brother could never find the time (or desire, I guess) to help our parents – always an excuse, never an offer of help. I decided to just help my parents on my own (with my husband’s help), then my brother wondered why I wasn’t keeping him “in the loop”! Go figure:)!!! I had to do what I felt was the right thing to do – let your heart lead you. Let’s hope we will have kind people in our lives when we need them!

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  2. Thank you for sharing this information. I am in my mid 50’s, and my Mother is 95 and has dementia. I appreciate my elders, and you. Thank you.

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  3. Thank you. I love reading your blog. I often hear my friends talk about their aging parents and what they think they should be doing at their age ! I often reply that I certainly do not want my children to tell me what I should be doing when I am that age. I am in my 60s and unfortunately do not have my parents around. I haven’t for 40 years, as they were killed by a drunk driver when I was a young woman. Oh how I wish they could read your blog! You inspire me.

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  4. Doris, this arrived at just the right time – how do you always do that?! I just read an article by a man who has decided that 75 would be the ideal age at which to die – and he was serious – because, basically, it’s all downhill after that and who wants to live that way. I agree that we “insiders” not only have an obligation to teach our youngers what our over-75 years can be like, but also the love to encourage them to realize that even if things get difficult, life can still be so very good that it is still worth living. You do that so very well! Thank you, again, for your wisdom and your good humor.

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    • I’m now 71 years old and feel lost. I lost my husband 2 years ago and started what they call “my new normal”. I sold my house and moved closer to my children and grandchildren. It’s a lovely 55+ community apartment complex but now what should I do – what’s my purpose? Is it only to age gracefully and be a granny to my grandchildren? You are such an inspiration to me. My daughter helped me to follow your log and maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to start my own. Thanks again!

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  5. Hello Doris! I just saw you on King 5 News this evening. I am the daughter of Joyce Starkey and am so delighted that you are blogging about aging. I am now 74 years old and miss my dear mother who would have been 99 this year. I look forward to your words of wisdom. Take care!

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    • Dear Jeanne,

      So good to hear from you. Of course I remember you. Your mom spoke of you so often. It’s hard to believe our children too have aged. My two sons are in their 60’s and Evelyn is great grandma to I don’t know how many. She is at Crista as your mom was.. I do think of my beloved roommates so often

      Doris

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  6. Doris. I too just saw this piece as well. Tremendous and inspiring. I was wondering if you would be able to speak at our hospital this fall during a conference on aging?

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  7. Many thanks for your efforts. At 92, I have been traveling on a parallel track – discovering the joys of aging with the help of The Great Courses, audiobooks, high intensity lights etc. – and reliance on many helpful gadgets to compensate for declining capabilities – my stem cells may be tired but the rest of me has stayed awake and is frequently content. All my best wishes to you!

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  8. Perhaps you should consider another book or at least a journal article. If you are concerned about your energy level to complete such an arduous task I’m that you have friends and former co-workers who would be thrilled to work on it with you. I hope that you consider this suggestion seriously, I believe that we need someone who is knowledgeable, with the personal experiences and new information that you’ve found, to share that with those working with or dealing with the aging process.

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  9. You were my mom’s instructor at Swedish hospital. Her name is Noreen Freese (Dztiev). She is now 94 years old. She would love to get in touch with you!

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  10. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings on aging, a subject that is uncomfortable for so many – for those experiencing the effects and for those who either can’t or won’t think about themselves being in that stage of life! Our youth oriented society certainly must play a part in the views we have of aging. My mother, who passed away last year at 86, actually said that her time was over (because of her age!). My father, now 92, is still very much alive:)! My husband and I helped them stay in their home until my mom passed away but my brother was not at all helpful and pushed very hard for them to leave their home. So much added stress for everyone when the family is not on the same page!
    Thank you for showing us that “being green” is for EVERYONE :)!

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  11. Thank you for sharing your expertise, it is truly enlightening. I am 73 and after retiring, very active gardening with children in a school environment. I couldn’t be happier. I’m enjoying life each day with gratitude.

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  12. Hi Doris! I so agree. Ever since I turned 60 four years ago I have been on a mission to write about and share news on “positive aging.” And yet I am well aware that my view at 60+ is limited to what I hope it will eventually be far into the future. You are so correct that most of the information and research out there is done by people far younger than me…let alone you! Hopefully there are more and more people willing to write about and share the experience of aging so that we can gradually shift the limitations that are mostly part of the conversation. Thanks again for all you do. ~Kathy

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  13. Reblogged this on Nursing Stories and commented:
    A fellow nurse clued me into Doris Carnevali’s blog. Here is what a Seattle new station, K5News, wrote about her. Her blog follows.

    A retired nurse is helping explain what happens when we grow old. Some of it might surprise you.
    Author: Ted Land
    Published: 7:10 PM PDT June 5, 2019
    Updated: 7:25 PM PDT June 5, 2019
    SEATTLE — A 97-year-old blogger is helping explain what happens when we grow old. Some of it might surprise you.
    Each morning, Doris Carnevali sits at a desk in her West Seattle home and starts writing.
    “The ideas are bubbling in my head between the time I’m asleep and awake,” she said.
    She has plenty to say about what it’s like to age and she’s sharing it all on her blog, Engaging With Aging.
    “Sure, there are times when I am down, and the 14th thing I drop in a day makes me frustrated as all get out. But on the whole, it is so much more exciting than I ever thought it was going to be,” Carnevali said.
    She is retired from the UW School of Nursing and has written medical textbooks. Then at the age of 95, she picked up a new hobby: blogging.
    “I had been ranting about the fact that I thought aging had gotten a rotten deal. That it was much more pleasant, exciting, and challenging than I had been led to believe,” she said.
    After hearing that rant, the dean of the UW School of Nursing urged her to publish her thoughts. So Carnevali’s granddaughter created a blog account and the words flowed.
    Today, she’s written dozens of passages on what she calls age-related changes.
    “My hands don’t pick up things the way I used to, do I say I’m losing my hands? No, I’m changing how I use them and that way I don’t get down in the dumps,” Carnevali said.
    Engaging With Aging isn’t a how-to advice blog. It’s more of a diary about what she’s going through. If her readers extract lessons, great. If not, the exercise keeps Carnevali sharp.
    “I’m still growing, I’m green, I’m inept, I’m clumsy, I’m learning every day, but I’m green, and I’m growing,” she said. “I thought of aging as being grey, no, it’s green.”
    She does not shy away from the fact that there will come a day when her hobby is no longer possible.
    “When it happens, it happens, and it would be nice if it didn’t, but I’m too busy doing other things to worry about it right now,” she said.

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