Agers as Enhancers?

To enhance: augment, boost, enrich, add to

After I wrote the EWA posting on enhancers who were the “wind beneath my wings” (8/29/19), it occurred to me that my enhancers were leading very busy lives. Even so, they were able to augment, boost and enrich my life in significant ways. Encounters with enhancers were positive and intriguing. I began to think about the reality that perhaps agers might be in a very good position to become effective enhancers.

We agers have time to think and reflect upon ourselves and others. Time to see and think about qualities and talents in others to which we respond. Seeing and responding to their capacities and potential may augment, boost and enrich their lives.

I thought about what enhancers have given me and how they’ve done it. They:

noticed specific qualities/capacities in me that I hadn’t seen, acknowledged or used; they responded to them in both behavior and words. At times they’ve identified specific capabilities and ideas in ways I hadn’t considered

showed genuine pleasure in my company.

listened, asked questions, posed ideas that conveyed genuine interest and added to those I’d offered.

Now these things I could do, one way or another.

So I began to ponder more widely on how we agers, each with our own attitudes and capacities, might softly enhance others. We wouldn’t need to be perfect, but we could try, starting in little, safe ways.

My lifetime best friend is almost two years older than me. Her ARCs have taken much from her. Still, she manages to enhance care givers and visitors alike. Care givers as well as family reportedly leave her bedside feeling better than when they came. I don’t know how she does it, but it’s an example that it can be done, even with very limited capacities. It’s led me to think about ways to communicate appreciation of and pleasure in qualities in others, other than just telling them. Eye contact, facial expression, body language, touch where appropriate come to mind. But it all starts with an attitude of genuinely caring, noticing and appreciating specifics in another person.

Another outcome enhancers produced in me is incentive. Many times, even in my advanced years, I’ve felt the need to “live up” to qualities or potential others believed in and shared with me. I’ve had two situations in which encounters resulted in visible incentivizing

During an intake appointment with a physician, I was impressed with a specific question he asked while he was washing his hands that changed my patient-doctor relationship with him in a meaningful way. He asked what I wanted from this first meeting. That immediately changed my participation from cooperation to collaboration in this session and subsequently.   In my next visit I told him how what he’d said had made such a difference. Apparently he hadn’t been aware of its impact and seemed pleased to learn of it, said he’d use it more purposefully .

Remembering his reaction, I decided to give specific feedback to a physical therapist who had: been welcoming of data from me on specific ARCs that were affecting my participation, and created a remarkably useful form to keep track of expectations and activity steps (despite my short term memory ARCs). After giving him this feedback the same collaborative relationship I had with the physician evolved.

As recipients of others’ care and attention, we agers have multiple opportunities to give feedback to care providers when something fosters engagement (and also when it deters it).

As I have thought about my role as enhancer I have (as usual), been my own lab rat. I notice myself enjoying

becoming more aware of qualities and behaviors in others that resonate with me

desiring to respond to them in ways that reflect my appreciation/respect/engagement

aware of my body language, facial expression, eye contact and touch to communicate in appropriate natural ways.

Whether I am a ‘wind beneath the wings’ of others, I may not know—nor does it matter. It does however seem that it may a way for agers to give as well as receive, even as our capacities become more limited and dependencies grow. And for me to remain green and growing.

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?