After the Fall was Over – Resilience or ???

Resilience: the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened  –  Merriam-Webster

 an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change – Cambridge Dictionary

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In 1891 Harris wrote a lilting waltz tune about a young man’s disappointment “After the Ball was Over”. The tune came to mind as I was recovering from a recent fall hence the blog title. I haven’t written much about falls, because fortune has favored me with few of them in my decades of aging and none has been more traumatic than leaving me feeling a bit banged up for a time. But I have felt disappointment, even anger, certainly frustration after the fall was over.

My recent fall resulted in minor trauma. But at 97 it was a different experience. By this time my half dozen ARC imps (age related changes) had become my constant companions, poking their noses into many if not most of my daily activities. They seemed to see my fall and slightly banged up state as a great time to create more mischief. My Balance ARC kept me scarily feeling like I might topple over whenever I was upright, particularly when I first rose in the morning. My Strength ARC imp’s tactic was to make it even more difficult for me to rise from sitting to standing and to grasp or manipulate things with my already weakened hands. Stamina’s imp made me head for the recliner after just a small amount of activity and made me feel as if this was the only place to be. My Short Term Memory ARC, as usual (only more so) sneakily bedeviled me with its unpredictability in enabling me to recall information I needed and caused worry that there might be some recall I needed but didn’t even realize. My self-confidence was shaken. And all this with hardly any trauma! My well springs of reserve seemed drained dry and snail-paced at refilling. Now with so much ARC imp mischief, how was I going to be “happy and successful” again, “recover from or adjust easily”?

Well, it appeared I was going to have plenty of time to think about it as I lazed in my recliner.   My long term memory (that seems to be working very well) came up with a Bible verse. “The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak. . .” (Matthew 26:41). That’s where I was now. Fortunately, I found that I still had spirit, I had blog ideas just waiting to be written, projects in various states—things to think about, things I could do that didn’t take much physical energy or strength. Some of them, I could do sitting at my desk or even making notes in my recliner.   I wanted and needed to recover in the best way possible. I accepted that it might be frustratingly slow, but at least it seemed doable and highly desirable.

Of course it helped immeasurably that family and nearby friends checked in on me by phone and in person, did the few things I needed but couldn’t do. And provided me with salads, soups and easy to fix food. But pacing myself and being satisfied with small gains would be frustrating. I also realized that falls, like having pneumonia, made one more vulnerable for recurrence.   I needed to keep my wits about me, be careful and no hurrying!!!!!!

Days later I realized that falls actually were learning opportunities. I analyzed this last fall and saw that I had broken two of my EWA commandments:

always keep nose and toes in alignment when turning

stop and center consciously before taking that first step after turning (particularly after rising from sitting).

If I were to avoid high risk falls now, I needed to purposefully follow both of these. I needed to avoid hurrying for any reason. I needed to keep my expectations and plans in alignment with my capacities.

Beyond these, I would work on patience, identify small gains and be grateful for them. I’m still green, still growing.

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Living Well with ARCs Means “Seeing” Details

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“The devil is in the details, but so is salvation”
~ Hyman G. Rickover

I’ve come to like living alone in the home my husband built for us.  That has meant finding different ways to do what I want or must do in the face of accumulating ARCS  (age related changes) that now are interfering ever-more with basics of daily living. And, changing something requires one to “see” what needs to be changed.

That sounds obvious.  Obvious, but in practice, not easy.   To see what I mean, select one really routine activity you do every day, e.g. taking an item out of the refrigerator.  Notice every tiny individual element of what your body needs to do to move that item.  That’s what you’ll need to do when an ARC interferes with your capacity to grasp and move things.   That’s the devil that is in the details.  And these are the details that have become so automatic, that we are essentially blind to them!  

To illustrate how I found my way to “see” the important details and put them to use, here’s an example using turning (one of several disabling elements within my balance ARC).

 I chose to work on turning because it was frequent and dangerous.

  • I was able to link a sensation of “near falls” or falling to the behavior of my head and upper body being in one direction while my feet pointed in another
  • I needed to link the risky turning behavior to specific turn-demanding activities
  • I wanted to identify environmental features that increased/decreased turning risks.

Here is what I found and what I did:

Where did most of my turning occur?   In the kitchen.

When/why did near-falls occur? When I was making 90°-180° turns between sink, prep areas, stove, refrigerator, cabinets, oven, dishwasher.   In “open” areas I needed both hands to carry things as I was turning.  I experienced near-falls when I had no solid surface to steady me.

What made turning safer?

Working next to counters on three connected sides of my kitchen work areas where I found I could press my lower body against the counter as I worked and turned.  I was steady even as I worked with both hands.

In open areas, I became able to move securely and function efficiently carrying objects on a tray on the seat of my walker and using its handles to steady me.

In moving hot containers from the oven, I “saw” I had two close pull-out boards almost adjoining and level with the oven door. Pulling the hot container out onto the open oven door and sliding it over to the adjacent boards involved no turning.   

For now, my salvation in turning has been that I’ve had no new falls or sensations of “near falls” in the kitchen.  I also felt comfortable using my question and answer strategy on other ARCs and activities.

I’ve increasingly come to realize, that we agers (barring blind spots and cognitive disabilities), are the experts on our own aging experiences and needs.  We

are the ones experiencing:  the risk elements of our ARCs pose, the discomfort, awkwardness or injury when we can’t do things well, or at all.

know what we need and want to do, the changes which we can find a way to accept

have the greatest familiarity with nooks and crannies of our environment.

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Others may help when we can’t, but they too need to purposefully consider our capacities and wishes if the most acceptable changes are to be found.  They can only do this well if we agers prepare ourselves to share what we can about the details rather than expect (or allow) others to guess or intuit.

Resilience in Aging

When I began this blog-writing journey over a year ago, one of the topics I thought I would write about was resilience. Strangely enough, it never would take shape. The vision I brought of resilience to aging was that of springiness, of bouncing back, or as one definition said “return to the original state.”

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That vision was incongruent with what I saw in my own and others’ aging. True, I saw other elderly “come back” from injury or acute disease episodes or from changes in their support systems.   And those with chronic pathology return from exacerbations.   But bouncing back to an original state didn’t describe it. Even for those of us who journey through aging with little pathology, the nature of our long downward trajectory requires quite a different way of looking at resilience. Engaging with aging is not a sprint, but a marathon on a downward slope that requires staying power and constrains “bouncing.”

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For us all, well or ailing, our journeys are accompanied by normal losses in both our coping capacities and the external resources we have at our command. One after another of our capacities predictably progress from being merely inconvenient to becoming downright challenging. We’d be happy just return to our more competent, earlier selves, but to quote the old Scot’s proverb, “And if wishes were horses, pure [poor] men wald ride.”

In the best of circumstances, our resilience is rarely flashy. But it’s there. It resides in our inner wellsprings of insight, and our courage to honestly face the path of our aging in daily living as it presents itself on this day, knowing the likely direction it will continue to take. It is in the creativity we bring to bear in terms of not only making the best of what we have but finding sometimes crazy ways of managing our losses. It’s in the creative ways of handling difficulties that keep us enjoying little triumphs. And certainly in our use of our reservoir of humor, when we see the absolute ridiculousness of some of the situations in which we find ourselves. All in all there is an inherent sturdiness about it and us.

If this is resilience elderly style, then we have it, in spades!