Balancing Requirement and Resources: One Pragmatic Way to Manage Daily Living

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Decades ago I began using the imagery of a balance scale as a concrete way of seeing daily living—my own and that of patients.   I placed what I saw as requirements in daily living on one side and resources (functional capacities and external assets) on the other. I used it to think about:

what it would take to manage the day, week or even longer periods or even just a task or a project

the level of the balance in general and degree of satisfaction with it

I don’t know how others would define requirements and resources and make it work. But here are the ways I define and use them.

On my requirements side I place

  • any activity or experience that I see as demanding use of my physical/cognitive/ emotional resources or outside assets.   I find that they include: demands that I make on myself (the “musts” “shoulds” and “doesn’t matters”) but also what I truly want to do. They also include the demands that others make on me, e.g. family, friends, pets, health care providers, government, weather, terrain, etc.

On the resources side I have two sub categories, my internal functional capacities and outside assets.

  • my functional resources included any relevant physical, cognitive, emotional capacities in whatever status they are available to me at the time of need. I also include some other elusive resources such as courage, creativity, desire, imagination initiative, perseverance etc.
  • my external assets include people in my life (personal, professional et al,) things (tools, equipment etc), services, environmental/natural assets etc.
    Note:
    Wishful thinking is outlawed. These assets had to be realistically

    • available geographically, physically, monetarily, culturally . . . . .
    • accessible in language I understand, offered in ways I can accept, within my beliefs or values so it was possible for me to engage with them. . . .
    • usable, something I could actually physically, mentally do (e.g., weakened hands prevent me from manipulating dressings in wound care , tiny pills etc.)
    • sustainable, continuing to be available, accessible and usable for the duration of my need for them.

What triggers my thinking about R&R balance?

Again the “devil is in the detail”. I found that changes, increases or decreases in one element of the balance affected other parts. For example: If one of my functional capacities or one of my outside assets changed, it affected specific areas of my requirements, other capacities and the use of my assets. Conversely when something was changed in what I had or wanted to do, or someone else expected me to do it required attention to other specific requirements, capacities or assets. But it was always real, concrete.

Initially I tended to use this image in situations where either a new demand was made or some capacity or resource changed. Then I realized there were times when I had more capacities than I was using or shrunken capacities improved—I could require more. Or someone else saw capacities I was under- utilizing, such as the time when someone convinced me to write this blog. Or someone stepped into a situation and offered to help me to do more or differently.

The balance is not a steady state in degree or overall level

For me, the degree of balance can vary from day to day. But there’s usually been a general sense of it. The level of balance also varies.   For me, some days it feels high; my resources allow me to do everything I want to do; other times it can be much lower.

Satisfaction with the level of one’s balance

Each person has their own degree of satisfaction with the general level of their balance. I’ve seen patients who were dissatisfied with what I saw as a high level of balance given their circumstances, and others who seemed content with their balance at precariously low levels.   Satisfaction is in the eye of the beholder.   Outside groups have researched and defined what constitutes “ideal” or “healthy” balance in aging.   Individual agers’ own satisfying/unsatisfying balances may or may not conform.

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An Engaging with Aging Logo and Its Interpretation

Recently, the idea came to me that it might be possible to create a logo that would display and encompass Engaging with Aging as presented in this blog. I found that I could identify the elements and their relationships. But translating them into a little logo was totally beyond me. My younger son came to the rescue and offered the talents of a young artist in his company. I shared the ideas. In a month Michael created this logo.

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The circular area symbolizes the world of daily living as the ager is experiencing it, seeks to understand and engages with it. This “world” surrounds the aging insider wherever that daily living is occurring. It becomes the basis for the “engaging” activities. Outsiders’ visions of the same experience may or may not be congruent with those of the insider.

The perimeter has multiple openings to permit outsiders’ contributions to enter the ager’s world and the insider to reach out and interact directly or virtually with others’ worlds.

The river of aging wends its way through the countryside of the ager’s daily living and inevitably out to the sea. All rivers of aging have in common: changing currents, obstacles, white water and waterfalls to be navigated.   But each individual’s river of aging is unique in its length, currents, obstacles, white water and waterfalls. The ager has options to go with the flow, or to actively seek to “read the river” and actively navigate it, as capacities allow.

The green leaf symbolizes ongoing “greenness” as new experiences and challenges test capacities and offer opportunities for personal growth, even as capacities are altered by normal age related changes (ARCs) and pathology.

The individual in the center is the engager. The nature of engagement will depend on levels of interest, courage, and cognitive and physical capacities. Others may help out by identifying blind spots, enhancing the engager’s resources, supporting in ways to make engaging possible, easier or more effective. But only the engager can do the engaging.

The sun is the symbol of the life force that makes possible the engaging. Bright or dim, its light and outward rays affect all parts of the engager’s world. Its rays reach out to outsiders as well.

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In this Engaging with Aging blog I’ve applied the ideas of this logo to the elderly. But the reality is that infants begin engaging with aging and daily living from the moment they are born.   So this logo, its elements and relationships are equally usable at any age. Yet-to-be-agers and care providers who are interacting with others of any age can find its elements and the relationships between them a useful perspective for shaping their expectations and interaction.

Companions on my Journey in the World of Aging

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If I count the beginning of my journey into aging as my 65th birthday when I officially was placed in the demographic “check the over 65” box, then my road has been 32 years long. And what trip into both the known and unknown it has been. I’d seen others make the journey and read a lot about what the road and the territory would be like. But as with any journey, one’s personal road experience is much more vivid, filled with both the expected and surprises.

Sharing the first years of the journey with my husband, our sons and then their wives and daughters made for a secure and joyous experience. The experience of traveling solo, when he died was literally a first for me. It was not that I lacked for support from my family, but the day to day travel was suddenly so different. It took time to learn that I could be “good company” to myself and that solitude could be a positive experience.

Over the years as my ARCs (age related changes) crept in and accumulated, the edges of the world I could travel in also shrank. I became increasingly dependent on fellow travelers coming into my world, rather than my being able to move along on their roads.

And here is where more of aging’s surprises occurred. Companions appeared on the road to walk with me, both in the real and virtual world. I found friendships blooming in both worlds. By now, all of my companions are at least one generation younger than I, many three or four. And my companions turned out to be so thoughtful, generous and often exhilarating.

I’m fortunate that my sons and their families live geographically close. But beyond that, as family and individuals they have remained personally close to the point where we comfortably share parts of our lives, even though they have busy lives of their own. Importantly, they make me feel enjoyed and genuinely, thoughtfully included. What a gift that is!

I’ve also experienced other fellow travelers.   They not only share the journey, but offer so much more.   I have skilled cooks who provide food care packages, a man who keeps my hummingbird feeder cleaned and filled—dead heads the garden and sees other things that need attention, a woman who unfailingly keeps me supplied with library books that suit my reading taste, someone who now does my grocery shopping for me (I still cook-from-scratch). I have a primary care giver who drops over every morning to see “What needs doing?” and smoothly makes that day go well, checks the status of the house and negotiates with contractors for services needed if he can’t fix it—in other words, gives me security. The son and family who travel more have taken me along as a member of the family and make the adaptations needed to permit me to go.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of all has been that at 95, professional colleagues from my university reestablished contact with me as an emerita. The result has been my returning to use my brain in ways I wouldn’t have dreamed possible. It started with my dubious venturing into writing this blog,   Then at 96 it bloomed in to participation in a project to further study and utilize the Engaging with Aging approach to daily living with advancing years.   These colleagues not only come to my house for meetings, but bring food as well. Students and faculty have joined me on my journey and have made side excursions possible that I wouldn’t have dreamed of.

At 97 I look back at my trekking in the world of aging and see its surprising twists, turns and challenges.   I cherish and am amazed at the generosity and companionship of those who have offered to walk with me. They’ve not only kept me green and growing but made it a time of unanticipated support, caring, struggle, growth and joy.

For readers who are yet-to-be-ageds, don’t underestimate the value of your sharing the road with those of us who have been on it longer. You enable us to thrive.