Engaging with Aging is Not Just for the Aged.

The moment the we as newborns had contact with our new external environment—the different temperature, the noise, being handled and bundled in fabrics—our engaging with aging began. Without words and with only the intrauterine experience, we began the adventure of using our growing capacities and changing appearance to interact with the requirements, and our desires in this new world.

Initially almost wholly dependent on outside resources, we began our life journey. We were growing quickly and constantly having new experiences. Each one became stored  in our memory as we reached out to do more. After after our first struggles to master a task, it gradually became automatic.  We were able to build on it and use it in new ways without having to think about it.

children drunks GIF

Eventually  we learned to say words and soon were weaving them into our engaging with ourexperiences. Growing up was not always easy or pleasant.

The expected (even desired), normal age related changes (ARCs), could be painful and  awkward.

 But our support figures expected them,  tended to understand and help us to knit them into our  emerging lifestyles. Pathology was an acknowledged overlay, distinct from normal aging. Our normal age related status and capacities were  identified and incorporated into the pathology’s diagnosis and  management.

In our  adult years, the rapid  childhood emergence of  ARCs slowed.   Now we could rely on  all of our stored experiences and language,  refine them  and build added ones. Again, pathology  was separated from normal aging. Health care providers and we used our recognizable capacities, knowledge  in dealing with it and its management.

But, beginning as early as late in the third decade, age related changes began to silently appear in the molecules and cells of body systems e.g. 

Gradually they became sufficient to change not only the structure but our functioning  and appearance.  We no longer could ignore them. But unlike the welcomed changes of childhood,  these signs of aging tended to be anything but welcome to either society or us as individuals. There is every incentive for us to ignore, deny, seek to delay or disguise their appearance. Our engagement with aging  at some level of acknowledgement continues, but the attitudes about them tend to dampen rather than encourage conscious effort. We may even chose to see them as pathological and  available to prevention, delay, amelioration or  cure.  Certainly constant  advertisements  offer products and services as panaceas.

Just as in earlier life-stages,  these normally changed capacities are the only   resources we older people can bring to our everyday dealing with the effects and treatment of our pathology or any other facet of our daily living.  But  there is a risk that we and others fail to recognize them, value them or see how important it is to harness them to meet the challenges.

London Beer GIF by Young's Pubs

And still within a different social and emotional climate,  our engaging with aging continues—automatically or purposefully. 

This time, precisely because we are older, we have the real advantages of a lifetime of having the experiences of engaging with our earlier aging experiences, and an array of words for transforming hazy situations into more solid, concrete ones. 

The demands to engage are the same as they were in the beginning, but we older people have the real head start.  We’re approaching  the task as experienced adapters—been there,  done that, often!

Highlighting What’s Important to Us

Throughout our lives we’ve lived in terms of what was important and what mattered less.  It’s been quietly but surely woven into the fabric of our daily living, taken for granted except when it was tested. We’ve interacted with others in terms of what was important to us and to them.

Some of us highly value beauty and athleticism in ourselves; for others it’s less important. For some, enough is enough; for others enough is never enough. Some are detail oriented; others seek the gestalt or patterns. Some seek privacy or solitude; others are an open book and seek companionship. Some are meticulous, others are not. Some worry, others tend to accept “it is what it is”. On these and more dimensions of what’s important to us we vary and live our lives accordingly.

For those of us who survive into the latter years of the lifespan, the normal ARCs (age related changes) gradually enter the scene. Day by day, year by year, they gradually change our appearance and capacities. And at the same time, we often find that our external assets and support systems are changing as well. We begin to realize that it’s time to ration how we use ourselves. What’s important to us moves from background to foreground.

Of course we’ve seen it happen to others. We’ve possibly read about it or heard about it. But like so much of this aging business, it becomes a different can of worms when we’re the ones who are living with it.

Looking back, my own approach to threats to my important areas seems to have been intuitive, not proactive. Now that my ARCs have advanced in so many capacities, I’m noticing occasions where what’s important to me is at risk. Becoming practical about my  proactivity is essential.  And that’s requiring me to become increasingly specific about, what

  • is really important,  somewhat unimportant, not important at all
  • situations may be or are threats to what’s important
  •  might be done to maintain that which is important
  • must be set aside or modified significantly because it is impossible to sustain

For example: 

privacy in my personal life now feels important to me. Still, I’ve chosen to write this EWA blog in which I use very personal examples from my own experience—some that are not flattering. I don’t highlight my authorship or picture—though many of you know me in person or virtually. 

With my increasing needs for supportive health care, I find that each system and individual within it has their own expectations for the kind of data they collect (officially and unofficially), on my status, personal functioning and life based on their background and training. They take what I knowingly give, or not, and do with it whatever they see fit.

In response, I’ve had to modify my expectations and have become increasingly aware of the sharing.  Sometimes I deliberately insert more private data to personalize the care.  I watch how they use the data they have and respond accordingly.  I adapt my boundary protecting strategies to the situation and use them, deliberately. Some privacy invasion is completely out of my control and my life situation requires me to accept that.

 Still another dimension of clarifying what is more and less important in life is emerging for me.  Even as I frugally parcel out my current capacities in order to maintain my own “what’s important”,   I now find myself increasingly investing attention and energy  in being more attuned to “what’s important” for others, and purposefully altering my behavior to fit in.

As with so many insights that have emerged in these years of advanced aging, I mourn that this “what’s important” insight could have arrived earlier. But then the ancient Scottish proverb flashes up:  

And wishes were horses, pure [poor] men wald ride

James Carmichael’s Proverbs in Scots, 1628,

MOTHER’S MOM

I am the daughter who now is mother’s mom

We have switched roles with the with the passage of time

As a child she was my comfort and guided my way

Today she needs the same for safety every day

I am my mother’s daughter who now is mother’s mom

I never expected my mother to age

Her stature has shrunk, has bones that break  

Muscles now flabby, breasts hang low,

Hears only what she wants to know

She talks with my dad who died years ago

Looks to be with him when it’s time to go

May not know when she needs help

She’s determined to stay by herself

I am the daughter who now is mother’s mom

We have switched roles with the with the passage of time

As a child she was my comfort and guided my way

Today she needs the same for safety every day

I am my mother’s daughter who now is mother’s mom

Signs of trouble lurk about

Unopened mail and clutter abound

Not sure when she took a bath

Her pills are now part of the past

Leaving her home’s a traumatic feat

Resisting this change tough to complete

Don’t have a choice must change the past

Get mom to a safe place at last

I am the daughter who now is mother’s mom

We have switched roles with the with the passage of time

As a child she was my comfort and guided my way

Today she needs the same for safety every day

I am my mother’s daughter who now is mother’s mom

Mom will never be better than today she’s leaving this world in a subtle way

Never know what time will erase will she remember my [d] name and face 

We have switched roles with the passage of time

I am the daughter who now is mother’s mom

By Grethe Cammermeyer  RN, PhD @ 2017

To hear the song sung  check out www.cammermeyer.com. under Songs