Attention-Getting ARCs Create Challenges … Quiet Capacities and Assets Await Our Attention

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As my ARCs (age related changes) accumulate and progress, they increasingly resemble the attention-demanding behavior of two year olds. Impossible for me and sometimes others to ignore. On the other hand, my steady, silent capacities and assets just seem to patiently wait their turn to be acknowledged and attended to.   And this seems to be true, not only for me, but for those who help me manage my daily living these days. (Perhaps it’s the same way that more attention is given to our pathology than to our quiet immune systems.)

There’s no question that I need to continue to acknowledge and come to understand each ARC. But (better late than never) I’m seeing the need to pay more attention to acknowledging, understanding and creatively using my capacities and external assets. They are so essential to my well-being. I need to understand them as thoroughly as I do my ARCs. I need to value them. A slight variation on a current chant “Equal pay for equal work” may just need to be my motto as well.   Equal attention for equal work.

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By increasing my underlying knowledge about my capacities and assets in the same way I have my ARCs I may well be able to use them more creatively . In “The Mature Mind” Cohen examines the way agers’ brains change and what is there, available to be used. Some neurons are still growing and so are some connections between areas of the brain.

Obviously I’m at an early stage as I share my thoughts in these areas and plans . What I can share now is that:

I believe I have a responsibility to offer care providers accurate, crisp descriptions of the status of my capacities and assets (strengths and weaknesses as they are relevant to the presenting situation). This way they can anticipate how I will manage what they are asking me to do. e.g. If my physician changes my medication regimen, I need to offer the current status of my short term/working memory. If he were to expect me to change a dressing, I’d need to bring up the status of my clumsy, weak fingers and their potential inability to manipulate tape or dressings.   With my support figures (professional or otherwise) I need to offer data on what I can and cannot do as it is relevant to their desires or expectations.

I’m working on identifying (putting into words) and treasuring specific capacities and assets as they come into play in my adaptations. In my thoughts, I actually talk to them. When they do well in preventing a problem I praise them warmly, put gold stars in their crowns.   I sympathize with them when they try, but have difficulty. When they goof off, I give them black marks of the size and blackness warranted by the degree of failure.

I’m discovering that capacities and assets are like ingredients in my cooking—highly adaptable to be used in multiple ways. All my brain needs to do is figure out how success or lack of it in using them in one situation can be applied to another.  That means I need to know them, well.

As you can see, understanding and using my capacities and assets with greater creativity and effectiveness is a work in progress (like so much of my EWAing has proven to be).

If you readers have any ideas, please comment and share them with me. I can promise you that they will be well received and put to use.

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To Bare or Not To Bare, That is the Question

With apologies to Shakespeare and Hamlet for distorting this notable quotation

For the past nine months this old, cold ager has been staying warm most days by layering long sleeved turtle necks and wearing warm pants and socks. Even then I went to bed with cool arms and legs and cold feet until the end of June.

This spring (even here in our marine climate), we’ve had a week here and there of abnormally high temperatures. Teasers or omens of things to come? The prediction is for a warmer and dryer summer. That means more (usually rare) days in the 90’s and more than usual in the 80’s.

Lore has it that summers here begin on the fifth of July so warm days are coming. I’m fine with days in the low 80’s in the house. But, if we’re going to have consecutively high 80’s and low 90’s days where the home itself warms up and stays warm, I’m going to need to give up even my intermediate weather wear. And this is where my dilemma lies. Long-sleeved turtle necks and slacks cover my wrinkled, droopy, mottled neck, arms and legs. Summer wear exposes them. I have no idea why exposing them seems more repulsive than inescapably exposing old hands and faces, but it does.

Nor have I any idea why I feel more concerned this year. Last year I wore sleeveless tank tops and skorts without much regret and I was out and about more than I am now. This year my neck and arms seem to me to be parts of me I’d rather keep covered. Admittedly, the skin is a bit more mottled, the muscles more shrunken and sagging, wrinkles more numerous and deeper. But at 97, even if I’d opted for plastic surgery, or exercised faithfully, I’d be abnormal if they weren’t like that.

Those of you who follow my blog notice that I try to include free images to enhance the writing. I tried hard to find images, even of just the bare arms or legs of old people let alone old people in clothing that showed them. Couldn’t find any!   Old folks walking on hot sunny beaches were all wearing long pants, tops with sleeves or dresses with sleeves.   Could it be that I’m not alone in not wanting to expose aging neck, arms and legs to others?

In the end I expect that I’ll be sensible and dress for summer with the summer clothes I‘ve worn for years. People seem to be very accepting of the old person I am in many other respects. So it’s probably more my problem than one anyone else will have about me.   People who drop in on me will find me as I am. But when I have planned visits, I wager I’ll be wearing lightweight pants and a top over my sleeveless tanks.

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Is There Artistry in Aging?

My sister and I apparently showed some musical talent and interest early. So we spent hours of our growing-up years hearing, studying and performing music as a sideline.   We studied with a variety of teachers. Some of them were satisfied to teach us to read music and develop our technic. But eventually we each encountered teachers and conductors who taught us that it was not enough to just play the notes correctly and in the style of the composer. Playing the notes, mastering the difficulties   and learning the style were to be seen as necessary steps in learning a piece of music. Once mastered, we were shown how to and expected to add finesse and artistry. We got so we could “hear” when others just “played the notes” and admire performances that went beyond. We worked to achieve it in our own performances, whether for ourselves or others.   We recognized when we could achieve it and when we did not.

Recently I got to wondering if aging might not be similar to playing music (though we agers don’t have the option to play or not to play). Still there are basic blocks of knowledge and skills to be learned about the aging processes in our bodies, how those changes alter our capacities and the kinds of skills it takes to manage our daily living with those changes and other forces that affect it. We can learn to study the nature of ARCs (age related changes), their effects on specific capacities and areas of impact of our lives. We can learn new ways of manage and more creative ways of using our available internal and external resources. We can learn about different styles of aging (living independently/semi-independently in separate housing, in congregate housing, in acute care settings), living with differing degrees of dependency. We can learn the music of our own aging, and at some level, master the technics of engaging with our aging.

In this vein of thought I began to wonder, “Is there an artistry in aging that goes beyond just “playing the notes” in our engagement with aging? Even before I became aged, I had seen different styles in aging. I saw some who seemed to want no part of aging, who seemed to avoid engagement with it though being harmed by their neglect. Even when the music of aging seemed not too difficult, their performance was dour. Others I saw managed whatever aging challenges they recognized and dealt with them in a matter-of-fact way. They were content to “play the notes” correctly.   And then there were some who managed to not only engage, but do so with varying degrees of brio, some glowed and reverberated quietly and others with flair and panache, seeming to find joy and richness in engaging with their advancing years.

The differences in approach and style of engaging with aging didn’t seem to entirely depend on the amount of difficulty that agers were experiencing.   I encountered some who appeared to have all the advantages yet became as vinegary as wine gone bad or cheese that dried up. Others with circumstances that seemed extremely challenging seemed to continue to manage their lives and aging with the vibrancy of Stradivarius violins that had been played by virtuosos over the years or the leaders in their fields of endeavor who became even more able as they aged.

Perhaps we’re all pre-wired for our approaches to live out our lives in a certain way and thus have less control of what we naturally will do as we age. And certainly through the years we lived with or experience models for aging that we emulate or reject.

So far, I’ve been blessed in:

having remarkable models of aging,

the way aging has presented itself and

in my support system.

While I sense that my EWA capacities are yet to be severely tested, I know how I want to continue. My goal? A quietly vibrant style with as much artistry as I can achieve.

What are your thoughts? Wishes? Expectations about artistry in aging? Does it exist? Is it worth thinking about? Working toward?

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Aging is More than Health

Healthy:   possessing or enjoying good health, a sound and vigorous mind and body; freedom from disease or ailment

Health: a perspective for judging the status of mind and body, or the merits of a presenting situation in terms of being conducive to a sound body and vigorous mind

The way non-aged people view aging and the aged tends to be linked to their background and particular interests. Individuals, relatives, groups, disciplines, professions, businesses, legislators, economists and governmental agencies each view aging and the aged through their own mindsets, value systems and purposes.   Many of them include the health of the aged or their environments in their considerations and actions.

As a nurse, I was taught to view aging from birth to death from the perspective of health, normal versus abnormal.

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I looked at my patients and their environments through the lens of health and I worked for its promotion, maintenance, preservation, treatment and palliation. My viewpoint was wide-ranging even as I aimed for specificity with individual patients. But in my mind (rightly or wrongly), health however applied, tended to involve gradients of healthy and unhealthy.

Now, decades into engaging with my own aging, I find that seeing aging solely, or even primarily, through the lens of health is too confining.

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I sense that it can put blinders and dampers on truly significant facets of my aging experience. That bothers me.

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I don’t question that my health is hugely important to the quality of my life and aging, nor that my behavior and activities are strong influences on my health. I know that my health determines what I can engage with and how I am able to engage.   It’s just that I’m discovering that aging is so much more than health.   For example, nutrition, hydration and exercise are seen as three pillars of healthy aging. Yet the experiences of eating drinking and moving about each day encompass so much more than the health promoting considerations.   I experience the sensory elements, the tastes, textures, aromas.   I recall wonderful associated memories of food-related occasions, both ordinary and grand. The same holds true with movement related experiences. Thinking about the richness of these memories it makes me want to anticipate and enjoy them in present and future activities without having to look at them through the lens of health during the experience.

My aging is filled with intangibles of life and living, with all its richness, its flaws, its details, its marvelous surprises and unexpected pitfalls.   It’s the contemplation of life and death. The experiences of blessed solitude and the warmth of companionship with people who have such wide interests and fresh ideas or different experiences of the past. It’s the seasons and weather in all their dimensions. It’s art and music, comedy and drama.   It’s my vistas of mountains and water; the busy daytime city and the quiet, amber of its nighttime. It’s the ballet and battles of hummingbirds at the feeder and the busyness of mason bees going in and out of their homes outside my kitchen window. It’s the movement in tall evergreens in the invisible winds and their windless stillness. It’s the comfort of a cat on my lap and the warmth of hugs. The aroma of the first cup of coffee and the uncertainty of completing the morning crossword puzzle.   It’s the joy in feeling fulfilled. It’s the mourning with losses. It’s being both needy and yet capable of helping others. It’s knowing and still learning. It’s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I don’t want to feel hemmed in by obligatory calculations of their effect on my health in the midst of these experiences.   I want to freely, profoundly experience all these and more, unalloyed and unexamined.

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I’m not foolish. I want to retain and use my health lens appropriately and creatively. I want and need to securely keep and use it . . . . in its proper place.

 

Taking a Risk: Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Risk: a situation involving exposure to danger or harm

In retrospect, it seemed that most of my life I tended to skate over the idea of risks in routine daily living.   The idea of risk applied to major, major threats or disruptions, not the minor ones that I apparently took for granted.   As a youngster in the 1920’s there were built-in, run of the mill risks we took for granted, like bumps and bruises, colds, even the childhood diseases that are now avoided through vaccination. Risks had to be something a lot bigger in my mind and apparently in the minds of others around me. As the years went by choices I made never seemed to involve much risk either. Perhaps I was blind to them, or just the cautious type.

Fast forward to today and the day-to-day risks offer an entire reversal. The culture, the environment, global relationships, technology . . . so much has changed. And so have I. In my dotage, my days are literally filled with risk-laden situations where misjudgments on mini-risks can have major misfortunes. Do I bend over and pick up that fallen object or take the extra time to sit on my rollator seat, lock the brakes and then bend over to retrieve it? Do I wait for someone to help lift or move an object I want to use, risk dropping it or having it throw me off balance and land me on the floor? Can I pick up products at the market, or do I need to ask for help?   If I sit in a chair that may seem only a little “low”, do I risk not being able to get up out of it unless I get help? On and on and on it goes.

I’ve also discovered another type of risk associated with becoming very old, not physical, but emotional.   Here the harm is to my ego and self-image. These involve public situations, like invitations to attend functions or trips where my capabilities will be challenged in public and my adaptations or lack of ability to adapt will be obvious to all. The degree of risk seems to be related to the nature of the “public” and the capabilities involved.

On the other hand, I’ve discovered that if I carry on with some degree of aplomb and humor — don’t make a big thing about my constraints, no one else seems to either.   When guests come to my home, the norm is that everyone pitches in when there’s food still to fix or get on the table. And they always help with the clean-up. Not formal but fun.

As I’ve become more limited in my ability to adapt to both predictable and unpredictable conditions away from home, a different kind of risk appears. How much do I deny myself the pleasure of the company and the experience by being too risk averse? Or take a chance and hope for the best?   Those who extend invitations offer all sorts of assurances, but the truth is that there are factors that are beyond their ability to help. The comforts and accommodations of home are increasingly my choice. I think,

“To everything there is a season . . . .”

My 100% is Lower than it Was, but It’s 100% for What I Am

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In a recent TV program I heard a woman respond in this way to a query about how she was getting along. She had recovered, unbelievably, from the lowest body temperature on record from accidental hypothermia. It had left her without a heartbeat for 3 hours. After seconds, minutes and hours of resuscitation, and months of rehab she had gradually regained most of her capacities for her job as a radiologist and her lifestyle as an active outdoor person.

Her response reverberated with me when I heard it. I thought, “This is the way I’m wanting to face living with my aging.” It can get discouraging to have each of one’s ARCs (age related changes) growing to the point where even tiny additional changes creeping in from one week to the next create new difficulties in managing daily living. It becomes all too easy to focus on the 100% that’s become lower and its impact on what one wishes to be and do.

But, what if I were to see that new lower 100%, not as an endpoint, but as a new point of departure? My focus would shift from wishful looking back to considering the kind of “me” I want to be, given the 100% that is available. It casts my task in a totally different light.

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In basic ways this younger woman and I faced the similar tasks. We needed to

identify the new status of one or more capacities and areas of their impact in
daily life

rearrange our expectations of the “what-I-am” to create that new acceptable
“what-I-am”

discover ways to: use newly altered capacities and adapt our environment and external resources in ways to foster the new “what- I-am.”

But then I thought about the reality that there was an important difference between this person’s task and mine.   As a younger adult, she was focusing on building her changing “what-I-ams” with an upward trajectory. (And isn’t this what children do?)   As someone in the mid-nineties my new “what-I-ams” will occur as part of an ongoing downward trajectory. Can I see that as positive? As creative?

The other day, I needed to go back and read some of the blog posts I’d written less than a year ago.  I was surprised at amount of ARC changes that I’d experienced and adapted to. It made me more conscious of how much lower my 100%’s had gone, how many new “what-I-ams” I’d already created. I realized they’d occurred with varying periods of discomfort, but eventual contentedness. I decided, “So far, so good.”

As I write this posting and look ahead, I’m aware that many of my ARCs are cutting ever closer to the bone in terms of the “what-I-ams” that mean the most to me. I have no idea as to what the future holds for my ARCs and my adaptive capacities. In any case I won’t lack for opportunities to experiment with this “what-I-am” approach.

Can We Old Folks Be Both Frail and Sturdy?

Frail: weak, feeble, fragile, susceptible, vulnerable
Sturdy: hardy, resolute, sound, stouthearted

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Somehow the extremes of “all or nothing” are not my favorite approach to situations, though I obviously use them occasionally. (One of my early posts was “Never Name the Well From Which You Will Not Drink.” 10/12/17)  On the other hand, I realize that opposites do appeal to me, particularly in my dotage.

I may be old in years, but I feel young at heart. I may be forgetful of some things in the present, but I’m very good at remembering the past.   My handwriting is clumsy but I type quickly and reasonably accurately.   I stress out more easily, but I often can find a way out of it.   I may not be able to do some things; but, for now, I seem to be fairly adept at working around those difficulties or settling for something less.

All this leads me to think that engaging with aging works best for me when I take a two-pronged approach.   It involves a consciously and purposefully identifying and owning who I am and the status of my limitations and capabilities, in other words, both my frailties and my sturdiness.

Writing this blog has made identifying and owning my frailties almost unavoidable (barring blind spots). I accept that frailties at my age are normal. The only way to manage is to notice and identify exactly what is difficult and what has become impossible.   For example, I took inventory one day of my rapidly weakening grasp. In the end I identified 18 current challenges plaguing me from rising to retiring, and of course the list will increase as my grasp weakens more. But on the sunny side, so far, I’m creating ways of managing most of them, working around them, or giving up some impossible activities. (My daily living has slowed down and been simplified significantly with all this accommodating).

I was raised to have the Swedish modesty so I find it harder to identify my sturdiness, and strengths. But when I’m being honest, I realize that one can’t use strengths well unless one knows specifically   what they are. So I look at them and am grateful for them.   Trying not to make mountains out of molehills and accepting what is normal has been helpful Finding pleasure in being creative, even in primitive ways is also a part of my sturdiness.

Others have helped me to discover blind spots about my strengths as well. When they recognize and share a capacity that I can’t see, it enables me to experiment to find out if what they think they notice is there for me to use. I find myself being grateful when others help me to really recognize them and then offer support for me to see what I can do.

An example of a life changing nudge from others is this blog. When the current Dean of my School of Nursing heard me ranting about what a rotten image the aging experience had been given, she prodded me to put my ideas out in a blog and offered concrete support. I very dubiously took up her challenge and began testing and practicing to see if my brain still could function this way. I found myself stretching and pushing myself beyond anything I’d dreamed of. And at 95?

In earlier years, perhaps there was not so much to lose by taking my frailties and sturdiness for granted. Now, not only do I need this inventory in order to engage with my aging at the highest level possible,   but those who are supporting me in my aging need accurate information as well. I find it works best when I check it out with them. I see more and so do they.

Note to those of you who are younger: Are you seeking out strengths you see in agers in your life?   Are you identifying them in acceptable ways and offering usable support to enable them to see what they can do?

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