Tending Self-respect in Advancing Years

Nature: traits/personality prewired by genetic and other biological factors

Nurture: the influence of external factors after conception, e.g., the product of exposure, life experiences and learning on an individual

Self-image:  the mental images we have of ourselves built up over time

Self-respect: one’s sense of self- worthiness, esteem

Self-respect is a strong but rather quiet element of our being that routinely gets less attention than some of our other qualities.  It is linked to both our nature and nurture. We build our self-respect during the decades of our pre-adulthood. A large and solid research project that followed over 3,500 Americans showed that it grows during the years of adulthood, peaking at the age of 60. Then, self-respect is buffeted by: the changes in our social/work relationships (including retirements, and deaths of those important to us), and the arrival of normal age related changes (ARCs) affecting both appearance and function, overlays of abnormalities which affect both capacities and requirements.

This then is the situation and our personal reality within it. But there is the other very important dimension, our responses to our own situation. Given our nature and nurturance, how are we dealing or going to deal with it.

It has taken me decades and the buffeting of my own aging experience, but I seem to have found some ways to retain/ regain self-respect. It seems to have come from:

  • honestly examining the deterrents in both environment and  life events
  • acknowledging/owning changing capacities as a point of departure. 

In retrospect there was a need to personally ponder on what was possible to best manage individual elements of the  presenting situation. In the beginning (as you could see in these blogs), I looked at capacities in terms of what had been lost and the requirements as uncomfortable hurdles, even threats.  But at some point, after reading about the 100% approach. . .  a different perspective emerged. Capacities were viewed as 100% for that day. Still later requirements emerged as opportunities to exercise my adaptiveness and 100%’s. The perspective shifted to a micro rather than macro approach. What followed was increased acknowledgement that capacities were actually each doing their best with their current 100%. Rickover’s quote, “The devil is in the detail, but so is salvation” became a constant perspective. Details and a valuing of small, even very small seem to be the keys to protecting and even growing the sense self-respect/worth/esteem.

Personal progress report:  At 100, the 100%’s of capacities keep dropping. The requirements in daily living (though much simplified), remain to be managed in one way or another.  Expectations are becomingly increasingly modest. The physical world has never been smaller, but the virtual world has never been larger.  It’s producing a sense of tentative contentment, and a tested but more solid self esteem, with an  expectation of  continued serious testing of it lying ahead in the time that remains.

How are you tending your self-respect?

When Older Means Colder

Everyone notices that older people tend to dress more warmly and want their living space heater set at higher temperatures.  Feeling chillier with the onset of autumn and winter is the response to normal age related changes (ARCs), in four major body systems.

Body metabolism (the chemical reactions in the body’s cells that change food into energy).  This in turn contributes to one’s body heat. Metabolism decreases with increasing age. This means that our internal furnace is not working as well.

Arterial and arteriole blood-vessel walls become thicker, less elastic and tend to have more buildup. They lose ability to relax as quickly during the rhythmic pumping of the heart as they carry oxygen-rich blood to all other parts of the body.

Body fat distribution that serves as insulation changes with age in both women and men as it shifts from extremities to the trunk where it insulates vital organs.

Muscle mass is lost .                                                  Skin thins and its structure changes.

These then are the hindrances we face as we try to stay comfortably warm.

We each have living conditions and resources that determine how we can deal with the cold in our own situation. The following responses are those I found in the literature and used as guidelines for my own staying -warm strategies.

Foods/nutrients can rev up metabolism. Protein is important. It is found in lean meats, poultry, sea food, no-fat or low-fat dairy products such as milk, Greek yogurt, cheese, tree nuts; oatmeal and vegetables such as dried beans and lentils.  Fruits include: oranges, grapefruit, kiwis, strawberries, pineapple, mango, guava, and papaya. In beverages, coffee, tea (black or green) and cacao. Alcohol however is the enemy of metabolism!

Clothing creates external insulation. Clothing items, fabric and style whose weight, weave and texture keep our body heat in and the cold out for each exposed body part. I find myself using multiple layers and my slippers are fleecy. For bedding we can choose flannel sheets and pillow cases, quilts and even use electrically heated mattress pads or blankets as well as wear head coverings keep one warm at night.

Drapes over the windows can be pulled to close out the cold.

Ambient air around us offers a comfortable temperature.  I’m  one of the fortunate ones with both a thermostat controlled furnace and a gas fireplace close by my recliner. The glow of the fire adds coziness to longer black nights as well as comforting warmth.

Revisiting Sleep Inertia and Age Related Changes

Sleep inertia”, also called sleep drunkenness, refers to the temporary, time-limited state between sleep and wake, marked by impaired cognitive functioning and motor clumsiness. It does not begin to abate for 4-15 minutes. Motor recovery comes first. Mental status is slower to recover. Sleep inertia is a normal state that affects all ages, but its impact on those who are older and experiencing normal age related changes (ARCs) creates special risk..

After living with conscious awareness of sleep inertia for  over a year (See the 3/17/21 EWA blog for my initial encounters),  I became aware that the  sleep inertia knowledge I’d gained  and the associated adaptations  I’d made represented important milestones  in my growing-old experience. 

Of course, sleep inertia had been going on my whole life without my awareness so, in the beginning, conscious efforts to deal with this sleep drunkenness seemed so impossible, given its simultaneous impact on both motor and cognitive functions. But there was no choice if I wanted to avoid the growing risk of falls. I discovered that my distractibility ARC, kept making my watchfulness and control efforts flying off.  And my sleep inertia and imbalance struggled with each other despite my trying valiantly to take control.

The initial battle ground was wakening with an urge to empty the bladder and then immediately getting up to go to the bathroom safely in the wee hours of the night, and hours later upon my rising for the day. I discovered that using my “Focus! Focus!” mantra helped to constrain my distractibility and allow me to address my controlling both my walker and my feet (with their stiff ankle joints), as I negotiated around the angles and furniture to reach the nearby bathroom. It remains a work in progress but there have been no falls, yet.

After going to sleep and awakening in the morning I once again had to contend with sleep inertia.  This time I lay abed and allowed myself more time to awaken before dealing as I once with the trek to the bathroom. 

Not long afterwards I needed to deal with both motor and cognitive functions involved in breakfast preparation.  Here my advanced ARCs involve not only my balance as I move about the kitchen, turning from one counter and cupboard to another, but also working memory. I summoned all four of my mantras as I entered the kitchen: Nose and Toes!” “Center! Center!”, “One thing at a time!” and “Finish what you start!” Somehow, they seemed to do the needed tasks centering my balance as I lifted and carried things, and hand strength and dexterity as well as walking. I was able to remember to take my one pill and set out the noon vitamins,  set out the cat’ s food and refresh her water, remembering my morning weight as I set out the portions of food , recalling food locations in the refrigerator,. Then I used my Center! Center! mantra as I moved about and carried things to set them up, the tray and then place it on the seat of the walker. Once I’d maintained my center as I walked it to my recliner in the living room and settled in, I felt safe.  For the rest of the day the sleep inertia would have worn off, unless I happened to nap.

After living with sleep inertia awareness for so many months now, I realized that adding this knowledge and  making the associated adaptations represented an important, complex  milestone of  linking knowledge to action and discovering new adaptive skills to add to my growing-old experience.

Note: There are excellent articles on sleep inertia on the web site you can use to compare with your own experiences.