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.

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?

“Co” – An Important Prefix to Some Words In Engaging with Aging

Coexist: to live/exist with

Cooperate: to willingly to work with

Collaborate: to actively engage in partnership with

No man is an island entire of itself” (John Dunne, 1624). Nor do we age in total isolation though it may feel like it at times.


As an ager who lives alone in her home I’m very much an insider within my world of the aging and an outsider to others’ age-related worlds. But I’m not really alone. In varying degrees of closeness I’m relating to others, one way or another. I’m fortunate to have caring, interested people with whom I have face to face contact and many I know only virtually as we share of ourselves via computer and other means. Some relationships are family, friends, or casual encounters. Others are intermittent, time limited professional contacts. So there are many interpersonal options for my “ co-relationships”.

At present I can’t think of any who merely co-exist for me. Perhaps fleeting, focused ones via computer communication. But even casual intermittent contacts with those who primarily relate to me in terms of service tend to turn into momentary enjoyable, mutual encounters. As for the future?   I may yet have to learn how to coexist and tolerate. Will it occur in situations where I have less control over my lifestyle, lose my ability to speak or ?

I can identify some instances where the relationship is one of cooperation. Recently I was meeting a dental hygienist for the first time. Sitting with one’s mouth open suggests necessary cooperation and not much more.   I wondered if I could achieve more than a cooperative relationship. To my surprise and delight, it became possible through snatches of conversation before, during and after. We each learned from the other and looked forward to the next encounter.

It seems that most of my relationships are purposefully collaborative, whatever the encounter. With family and friends in our frequent casual contacts, mutuality and collaboration seem to be central to our enjoying each other as thoroughly as possible. (My need to have everyone “feel at home” and pitch in on any needed activity tends to dispense with formality.) Our interactions offer personal perspectives and often spark ideas that might not have emerged otherwise. In the end it feels as if each one is feeling both more fulfilled and enjoyed.

Even when I met my new doctor for the first time, he opened the door to collaboration by asking what I wanted to achieve in the intake interaction. I was taken aback as no physician had ever asked me that. I surprised him by responding that I wanted to begin to form a working relationship with him. (I wanted one where we each understood the needs and goals of the other.) In my next appointment, once I’d met his needs to update my database, I asked him if he wanted to know the status of my ARCs (age related changes), as they might affect my health care. He did. My concise presentation probably took a couple of minutes. (I’d rehearsed it.) He took notes and asked questions. He had data about me that he wouldn’t have had if I had only cooperated. Based on that collaborative endeavor, months later, I handled a post-fall emergency appointment with a different physician by providing data on my ARC status and daily living demands that were serious deterrents to the proposed treatment. For the first time in my life I rejected the normally accepted treatment— I’m living well with a tiny broken bone in my left hand.

For my part, it would seem that all this may be possible because I still can see, hear (with some assistance) think and react. I have no pain or other manifestations of pathology that interfere with my capacity to interact freely. A time may come when that will change. “To everything there is a season . . .”

Comments from readers who are having different experiences with coexisting, cooperating and collaborating will be enlightening for me and other readers