“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.

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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

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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.

Creativity, an Essential Element of Engaging with Aging?

Creativity: the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in production of artistic work.  Inventiveness, imagination, innovation, originality.

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When I was an “outsider” to the world of the aged, it never occurred to me that creativity might be a part of it, much less an essential one. I thought of creativity as being associated with the prime of life. Common knowledge seemed to be that aged people are “past their prime”. I also apparently limited creativity to the definition up above. Besides, who linked being old with imagination or originality?

It was only as my ARCs (age related changes) not only emerged but progressed, accumulated and began to invade the nooks and crannies of my life that the need for creativity became obvious. And it didn’t seem to involve imagination as much as paying attention to: details of what I could no longer take for granted, do easily or at all, and which changes in capacities were snarling things up.   I suppose if I had been content to just ride the river of aging and let things happen, this issue of creativity would not have arisen. But I wasn’t one who was happy with letting things slide. Gradually I began to see a pattern in the changes I was having to make. EWA was born. Eventually I even came up with a shorthand formula for it

Age Related Changes Impacting on Daily Living Activity Leading to Adaptation

or shorter still

ARC →Impact Area→ Adaptation

Now the inventiveness, innovation and even imagination began to come into play. As clumsiness and weaknesses grew, my response was, “OK Doris, now how can you do it differently? more safely? Some things I found I could do early in the day but not later. Sometimes I had to break the activity up or space them out. Sometimes I had to use objects in ways they weren’t intended.

ARC: Weak hands

Impact Area: inability to open dishwasher not only when it was “on the latch”, but even just partially closed. I needed to put dishes in it often during the day.

Adaptation:   I propped the door open with a rolled up terry towel. I also timed my dishwashing to fit with my primary care giver’s visits to open it

Impact Area: inability to open drawers for which my husband had created circular wooden pulls

Adaptation: I found some cord, made a sliding noose that I could slip over the knob and a foot long “tail” to wrap around my hand and pull it open.
Pretty primitive creativity, not the least artistic, but efficient!

I also began planning for what-if’s.

ARC:   Decreased night vision.

Impact Area: What if I needed to call someone during the night.

Adaptation: On the shelf next to the side of the bed where I sleep I placed reading glasses and a flashlight (the light switch was too far away) and my cell phone with a list of speed dial numbers for people who could help.

A colleague taught me about having a “nest” around the seat where I’d spend the most time. It would include all of the items it would be nice or necessary for activities I carried out there plus adequate lighting.

And so it has gone. When my adaptations work, tiny triumphs brighten my day. Failed attempts lead to revision or sometimes making a decision about whether the activity is essential to my well-being. I suspect there will be more of them as my ARC imps invade more nooks and crannies in my life.

There may well come a time when I am no longer able to create and adapt for myself. In preparation for that “what if”, I’m keeping my near and dear ones informed of my preferred approach and strategies. They may well need to be my keeper of the flame.

I’m coming to believe that this creativity in aging is an attitude as well as an approach. I also realize that it takes cognitive abilities as well as physical and emotional energy. Those are not always assured as one ages. Then one can only hope that one’s care givers also see this creative approach to aging as worth pursuing.

100th Blog Posting: A Time to Look Back and Ahead

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It’s still hard to believe that I (a social media troglodyte) began writing a blog at the age of 95. I’m so grateful for the two people who made it come to life. The one who believed I had something to write about and the creative expert who generously and dependably takes care of the technical aspects each week.

I know it’s true, but it’s rather mind-boggling to realize that in the two years since that first posting (mid-August, 2017) I’m posting my 100th blog post. And there are more in varying states in the queue.

What a journey it has been! Such unanticipated impacts on my life! Writing to you has sharpened my own “engaging” skills. It’s one thing to engage with aging casually, harder to do it purposefully, and even harder to put it into words that will make sense and be usable to others. Thinking about this blog has become a red thread in the tapestry of my life as I interweave my ARCed aging capacities with daily living demands and then write about it. I wake in the morning, ideas churning, eager to start the day. The activity has changed and continues to change me. Others have commented that I seem younger and more vibrant at 97 than I was at 95, and it rings true (even as I obviously age).

As I began thinking about writing a blog, I saw myself as a female ager writing from my encounters in engaging with aging as I gain insights. I am definitely not an expert on aging in general, just mine! I am limited in my vision by the reality that I am a remarkably healthy former RN/faculty member/writer and widowed nonagenarian, living alone in a home she owns, with two supportive sons, their wives and three granddaughters (all of whom live within a few miles). I realized that my blog would reflect my blind spots about aging in other circumstances. So there would be no “how to’s”, just vignettes of my own EWA encounters, reactions and insights. We all are being carried down the river of aging, but each of us has our own river to navigate and our own approaches.

With these caveats in mind I decided that I would:

  • offer my experiences, insights and ideas as potential points of departure for the reader’s own unique situation and capacities.
  • limit my focus to EWAing with normal age-related changes (ARCs) precisely because I didn’t have pathology and its treatment interwoven with my normal ARCs and daily living.   My thinking is that ARC-affected capacities are what any ager brings to living with an overlay of pathology and its management. (Care providers need to know about them too.)
  • view the aging experience broadly while giving the health element its necessary place
  • focus on the impact of ARCs on the details of everyday living. Again, because I was living with these nasty snags. (Besides outsiders to the world of the aged were researching and writing about ARCs, but it takes an insider to see their personal impact.)
  • use a “light” approach in my writing style in line with my belief that data are neutral, including data on one’s emotional-laden responses to aging and its effects
  • seek images to enhance the ideas to stretch the reader’s mind

Looking ahead, I foresee postings that reflect my accumulating, progressing ARCs, their effects that are creating increasingly difficult challenges and the constant, conscious adaptations that fill the minutes and hours of my day. I’ll continue to share what I can of my ongoing journey.

When I no longer can, let’s agree that, “To everything there is a season. . . .”

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I am so grateful to those of you who join me on my blogging efforts by commenting or otherwise giving me feedback.   I feel like Longfellow’s archer who “ . . . shot an arrow into the air, It fell to earth, I knew not where. . .”.   Your input lets me know where at least some of them land. Beyond that I value your reactions and learn from your comments. Let’s move on together.

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.

Why My EWA Blog Doesn’t Address Pathology or Trauma-Affected Daily Living

Everyone who survives into the latter years of the lifespan experiences progressing, accumulating ARCs (age related changes) that affect all aspects of their daily living. On top of what’s natural and normal, most will also experience pathology and trauma and the demands of its management. These further affect agers’ requirement in daily living and their resources for managing them.

I came to aging well-armed with book-knowledge about and some experience in caring for people with both normal aging and pathology prevalent in aging. I thought I knew what to expect. And, as far as those expectations went, it was useful. But it was not enough! I’ve been one of the fortunate agers whose health seemed to remain intact. My ARCs emerged, progressed and accumulated, just as the books said they would.   What I haven’t experienced is the overlay of pathology or serious trauma.

Given this background, I found that what I hadn’t learned as an outsider was the reality of ever-present ARC impact on so much of my daily living. I began to live with Hyman Rickover’s insight that “the devil is in the details, but so is the salvation”.   My constellation of ARCs (even in my daily living as a healthy, well supported, super-ager), bedevil me and trip me up throughout each day. I struggle to understand, to learn, to adapt, to work over or around them or eliminate what I can’t manage. As an inside-ager, I’m respectfully gaining new working knowledge daily.

I am realizing that my normal ARCs plus the knowledge I have of them and the skills I have developed in dealing with them are all that I or any other ager “bring to the table” when pathology or trauma add new requirements to daily living and alter my capacities and resources for managing them.

Given my own situation, I feel honest in writing about my insider daily-living-with-my- normal ARCS . I know that this is important and will affect actually living with pathology and its management if or when it occurs. I can only speculate how specific pathologies and their management could:

alter specific capacities I now have

increase/modify the requirements in my daily living

change my relationships with my support figures and external assets.

I also have learned that my relationships with family, care providers and friends are more effective when I neutrally and honestly communicate my EWA status and its impact to them. I expect that this same deliberate transparency should apply in my interaction with those who will help me manage my EWAing with the overlay of pathology and it’s management.   And, since there can be a risk of my losing my thinking/community capacities, I’d be wise to prepare my designated care providers to be able to be my voice in communicating with health care providers if I no longer can. I’m actively doing that.

There’s an old saying that “the shoemaker should stick to his last”. I take it to mean that I should know what I can write about, write it well and not go beyond that.

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So, I leave it to fellow-agers who are actually living with normal ARCs and the overlay of pathologies and their management to share the reality-based, specialized working knowledge and arts they have gained in their own blogs.   And of course your comments on my EWA posts that offer insights of application to your different situations can offer EWA readers and me insights that are useful.

Enhancers, the “Wind Beneath My Wings”

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Enhance: augment, boost, enrich, heighten

Throughout my life I have been blessed with enhancers. They are people who not only noticed qualities or abilities in me that I didn’t see, but go beyond that. They’ve responded to them.

Some enhancers presented me with opportunities to not only use those abilities, but to foster, heighten and augment them in the process. They’ve showed me doors I could enter. And when I was reluctant, nudged me through them, sometimes even joining me in the adventure. They’ve boosted my self-image, self-assurance and growth. They’ve made me feel valued.

This blog would not have happened but for an enhancer. Someone thought my ideas about aging at 95 were worth sharing. She not only nudged me to blog, but offered a support system. I looked at myself with fresh eyes and began learning how to blog. You see the result.   Months later, a son, made a donation to the school with the requirement that it not only be named after me, but required that I be “connected” with it. A belief that at 96 I could still rise to the new demands that project might create for me. I trust his vision of my abilities and am doing my best to be “connected” to the resultant project. Because two people looked at me and my capacities and thought they could be enhanced, my life changed remarkably in my mid-90’s.

Lately I’ve been thinking more about these enhancing behaviors I had experienced, I’ve tried to take them apart and look at them more closely.   It seemed to start with someone noticing and genuinely responding to some quality or capacity in me at whatever level it existed and that triggered a belief that there was something in me that I could enhance.

Then I began to pay more attention to what was happening in less-dramatic, everyday contacts with others that resulted in my feeling enhanced in one way or another.  I recognized that I felt enhanced when people seemed to enjoy something about me. That enjoyment made me feel more secure and capable. The behaviors that triggered my feeling enhanced were those of genuine engagement, even intrigued demeanor (in contrast to patronizing or tolerating attitudes). Questions were linked to exploring what I’d been talking about.   Offers of a different “wrinkle” to an idea I had. Genuinely sharing my concerns without immediately proffering advice. Offering unexpectedly what a former dean of mine called a “warm fuzzy”— a compliment or positive feedback supported by data.   Enhancing, I saw, could be generated by a host of tiny, subtle verbal and nonverbal quiet behaviors.

My responses to enhancing encounters included: trusting myself enough to take on new situations, to take on sometimes uncomfortable new situations.   More frequently in everyday contacts it was confidence-building or feelings of closeness and comfort. Either way, enhancers became welcome “winds beneath my wings” that caused me to feel more like I was soaring, a little or a lot. And certainly in this time of serious aging, soaring is both rare and welcome.

 

Wind Beneath My Wings song Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley, 1982