Gratefulness Changes with Aging

Gratefulness: active, warm appreciation or thankfulness for something

Somehow, active warm appreciation and thankfulness are not words one associates with being old, nor thought of as assets in aging. Yet research suggests that an attitude of gratitude can have a positive effect on both mental and physical wellbeing at any age. Its potential payoff in itself might make gratefulness an attitude and behavior worth exercising and developing.

As I look back on my life, it seems that gratitude has gone through several metamorphoses over the years. From our earliest years, my sister and I were taught and expected to say “please” and “thank you” appropriately. We always ate dinner as a family every evening; and the meal was preceded by saying in unison a short traditional Swedish grace whose words we understood. At the end of the meal, we children would say, “Tack för maten” (thanks for the food) as we were excused from the table. These were rituals that became habits.

The next stage seemed to be thankfulness for things. And a bit later when really positive events happened or there were escapes from potentially bad ones, new dimensions of gratitude emerged. From there it moved on to becoming thankful for special people who were a part of my life and eventually for opportunities and the directions my life was taking that, at times, exceeded expectations.

The attitude of gratitude that has emerged in my very old age has felt different in its focus and nature from earlier experiences. (Yet another of aging’s surprises.) Here I am, seriously and noticeably losing ground in my capacities, I’m increasingly dependent, yet I experience more and deeper gratitude than I’ve had at any other age. It contains all the aspects of gratefulness of earlier decades plus new, added dimensions.   It feels deeper and richer.

My appreciation of and for family, friends and colleagues increasingly incorporates subtle, specific elements about them that I now notice and respond to. And it’s not just their positive aspects or kindnesses, but also their quirkiness and differing with me. What zest and interest they add to life.

A change that surprised me the most is the gratitude associated with my ARCs (age related changes) as they moved in to become my constant companions. They alter my capacities and make coping more difficult. They constantly invade the nooks and crannies in my everyday life both predictably and unpredictably. They narrow my physical world. I’m grateful that they: are normal, came so late and entered so gently that they give me time to adapt as they grow. And, annoying as they are, they keep me on my toes and certainly never allow me to become bored.

There’s my sturdy body that just keeps hanging in there and even now allows me to take it for granted in many ways. My airway is open. My heart keeps beating regularly. My immune system still keeps me hale and hearty. My mind keeps offering up new ideas, allows me to play with them and (if I hurry and capture them on the computer or in other concrete ways). Each part seems to be trying its best to keep me functioning happily.

The home with its view of the mountains and cityscape that my husband built for us beginning in 1946 still brings his presence. It wraps itself around me and testifies to his artistry, skill and his belief in doing things the right way so they would last. Its layout and planning supports me well in my aging.

My family, friends and other support systems are wonderful as they share my aging and keep me a part of their lives. They fill in the gaps so smoothly. My professional colleagues both challenge and support me, enabling me to reach and stretch even now.   My cat and I are aging together. Initially rather aloof, she’s found that laps and contact are indeed comforting.

The path that gratefulness has taken in the recent decades, has been a surprisingly satisfying experience.   And it’s nice to have discovered that in addition to the experience, it offers the potential side benefits of better health.

Fat Clustered in One’s Middle and Lost in Extremities – Winter Becomes a Different Experience

Reality and research agree that the total amount of fat and its regional distribution changes with age.   Total weight tends to increase as we continue to eat the way we always have, even as our basal metabolic rate for burning calories drops sharply and our activities decrease.

These fat increases relocate themselves to the abdominal area. But at the same time that we agers gain visceral fat, there are decreases in the insulating subcutaneous fat in our arms and legs. The non-scientific fat-in-the-middle explanation, as I’ve heard it, is that it’s there to keep one’s vital organs warm in the winter. Well that sounds as logical an explanation as any.


During recent decades I’ve very slowly lost weight, probably due to loss of muscle mass plus planning my meals to follow the sharp downward curve in my ability to burn calories (basal metabolic rate), and my decreasing activity. I was determined not to think of the needed changes in my way of eating as “dieting”. That felt too negative. And besides, this low metabolism and activity are ongoing.   Was I going to diet for the rest of my life?   I enjoy eating and there’s no way I was going to give up that pleasure. So, I just weigh in every morning and that keeps me shopping, cooking and eating reasonably for that day. I choose foods I like and prepare them in ways that still keep me looking forward to enjoyable meals. The result has been that my weight has come back down to what it was in my late 20’s, but my shape is no way what it was then. Instead my middle is disgustingly “thick” while my limbs have become scrawnier by the year. It’s a sort of a fat scarecrow look. Vanity, vanity!


Strangely enough, I’ve come to think that Mother Nature is at least partly wise. So even as I am disgusted by the fat in my middle, I’m glad it’s keeping my ancient vital organs warm enough that they function as well as they can. But why, I wonder, was it necessary to take away the insulating fat in my arms and legs? After all, they’re vital too! I guess they just carry on, hot or cold.

November is here!   My arms, legs and especially hands and feet, minus their fat layers (and with changed circulation I expect), are predictably and uncomfortably cool to downright cold. My feet feel like ice cubes, and once in bed, I’d prefer to disown them. And they take forever to warm up. Spring and summer seem an eternity away.

The winter wardrobe is back in use with its multiple layering of tops and heavier pants, socks and slippers/shoes. (I don’t go outside much these days.) Fleece and down are “in”. The thermostat is set higher. I’ve moved my recliner inches closer to a gas fireplace that has become the love of my life (and my cat’s too). And my quilts have been changed to the winter version. The electrically heated mattress pad is turned on so the bed is warm when I retire. Still I often feel cool.

But here I am complaining when I have so much that enables me stay warm. I know that in our city we have hundreds who don’t have a predictably warm place to live nor warm clothing and bedding, and even warm food. Time to think about passing along extra bedding and clothes as well as a contribution to an organization whose purpose and business is in helping these folks stay warm and fed. My dad was sponsored and helped by the Salvation Army when he left Sweden and landed with just the clothes on his back on Ellis Island and moved on up to New England to start his new life. That will be my choice.

Engaging with Aging: Accommodate? Adapt? Reconcile?

Accommodate: live with, make room for

Adapt: change to suit altered conditions

Reconcile: live in harmony with status and adaptations

In EWA’s early stages, evidence of age related changes to my appearance and capacities arrived stealthily enough that they really didn’t trigger a conscious need to accommodate nor adapt to them. Slowly, silently, they progressed and accumulated to the point where they invaded and impacted what felt like most of the nooks and crannies of everyday life.

Looking back, it seems that in those early stages I may actually have been casting a blind eye to them, wanting not to see them.   As a result accommodation to them could have been unconscious.

In the same way, early adaptations to my ways of doing things also went fairly unnoticed. But soon changes in capacities and their impact became so obvious that purposefully different approaches were required in order to continue to do the things I needed or wanted to do. Modifications in my clothing, makeup and hairstyle dealt with appearance ARCs. They seemed to allow me to appear close to what I had been—at least in my eyes. Modest adaptations in approaches to tasks permitted me to carry out usual activities without much difficulty. The results left me feeling in control of things, though mildly resentful of the extra effort.   Looking back now, it seems that there must also have been ongoing compromise or accommodation too, though “blindness” to what was happening became more difficult.

As ARC progression and accumulations grew, adaptations became more frequent and dug more deeply and widely into my way of life. Standards and expectations for outcomes became lower. Compromising and accommodating became the necessity, even with adaptations. And then another requirement entered the scene. That of increasingly simplifying the demands I made on myself and my expectations. My physical world became more circumscribed (though my virtual world continues to expand).   Still, even now, the accommodations and adaptations haven’t felt burdensome or painful. Fortunately the people in my life have understood and been accepting.   They’ve stepped in and adapted, right along with me as my needs and lifestyle changed.

Fast forward to the present. Rarely do I find myself “just doin’ what comes naturally”. Instead, there is conscious decision making, anticipatory planning and making adaptations throughout the day. My senses need to be on full alert with any activity. How do I approach each little task? What physical “assists” will be needed to protect myself when: my balance ARC is challenged? my hands can’t pick up or manipulate an object or complete an action? my short term memory decides to be “out of the office” when I need it? There is more compromising as I minimize or avoid tasks and situations that are beyond my capabilities. There also seems to be a growing need to consider and plan ahead for the “what if’s” that could happen. “How do I need to be prepared to respond if . . . . .?”

Reconciliation (living in harmony with) is now the name of the game as activities and experiences are dropped from my life. But it’s also remarkable that sometimes highly satisfying substitutions have come to mind as well. And once again, others step in to become “winds beneath my wings”. Occasionally there are times of grieving. But for the most part the changes are not grudgingly given.

The time may well come, slowly or suddenly, when my precious semi-independent way of life no longer is possible. I think about my earlier blog posting about resilience in aging and how it was different from earlier years (10/31/18). Now resilience means reconciliation—“living in harmony with” a possible lifestyle of greater dependence. I wonder if I’ll find ways to manage that with genuine grace and humor.

I’m able to write this blog posting because I’m a well-supported, healthy female who has benefitted from a long gradual aging experience. Is it different for males?   Do fellow agers who’ve faced sudden, more-demanding aging experiences use different strategies to accommodate, adapt and reconcile? Are yours different?