CHANGE… one word that pretty much describes aging—physical change, mental change, emotional change, location change, career change, spiritual change, relationship change… Even our goals change as we journey through the later years of our lives.
Aging often entails the need to make changes, and that the types of changes older people must consider are particularly pressing.i
Some of us handle change well, and some of us don’t. Why is that? Can managing change in a wholesome manner be learned? Can change be avoided?
Avoiding change is something we’ve all tried doing at one point or another. We stubbornly hold on to rituals, routines, memories, and emotions.
In an attempt to revisit or maintain our youthful appearance free of lines and wrinkles, we buy facial serums that promise to shrink/shrivel/reduce/diminish (all words we think of with respect to aging). The little blue pill helps us feel like we’re maintaining the sexual vigour of bygone years. The t-shirt we bought at the rock concert two decades earlier holds a sacred place in our closet.
Remember-when stories might be boring to our kids, but we’re left smiling when we tug at the past and feel our former identity for a wee moment in time, all the while this giving us something to talk about in social settings. Hanging on to elements of our past is one way we attempt to side-step or ignore change.
Sometimes change demands obedience. This can be tough, especially if one’s voice is not primary in the decision-making process. Typical examples include:
- An offspring realizing his/her parent needs to be in a care-facility;
- The alcoholic spouse given an ultimatum – get off the booze or I’m out the door;
- A doctor advising his/her heart patient to start exercising and to eat more nutritiously in order to avoid another heart attack.
Decision makers hold the key to forced change(s). If the decision maker is someone we trust, the path to change looks brighter. If it’s someone we don’t know or trust, that path appears ominous. If it’s an institution or government that is enforcing change, we might feel helpless and completely disconnected from possible outcomes.
Options and the Lack Thereof
With aging often comes a decrease in options that we might have otherwise enjoyed. Our decisions may now be limited considerably, simply by the fact that fewer alternatives are available. Here’s a small sampling of many a story…
A 93 year old mother shows signs of dementia. The seniors’ home she’s currently in doesn’t have extended care. The cost of an appropriate facility in that province is $6,200 per month. It’s typically a year or more before a room becomes available. Family members, who are themselves in their seventies, are advised to move mother to an affordable facility in their home town four provinces away. The family members are now dealing with mother’s mood swings as they travel from one province to the next. They’re now responsible for her transition into a new care facility, while also managing her ongoing medical treatment. Mother’s dementia is a temporary asset as she quickly forgets where she currently is, where she is going, and who her family members and caregivers are, thereby making it a bit easier in some ways while awkward in others, for family to step in and make change.
Then, there’s the wife in her sixties whose husband is making extreme demands in divorce proceedings that drag on for years, leaving her afraid for her life while financially drained because of legal expenses.
How about the person who has supported his/her partner financially, emotionally, and physically for thirty years, only to have the partner leave for someone new and fresh?
Family members, Illness, losing one’s sight/hearing, mobility, proper housing, quality medical care, and/or losing a voice in government spending and taxation all play a role in expanding or limiting our choices. This can weigh heavily in our ‘golden’ years, especially if we want to continue enjoying a quality lifestyle.
Older people might have unique motives for change: for example, they might be especially and uniquely… motivated by a behavior change that would promote global good.[ii]
When We ARE the Decision Makers
As bright, healthy seniors on the move, we exercise our voice in the choices we make. For the most part, we enjoy the outcomes our choices fetch, making life at this age okay, good, better than most, happy, fun, acceptable, fulfilling. Still, stuff happens.
Leaving our home one morning to reap the benefits of our gleaned wisdom and continuing life purpose, we fall hard, slipping on a patch of black ice that developed overnight. A bone in the arm that instinctively reached out to stop the fall, sticks out where it shouldn’t. Tendons in the leg that haphazardly flipped under our flailing body, are undoubtedly damaged.
We bellow, “HELP!”, then, call 911 on our cell phone. Agony ensues as we wait for medical assistance. Our choice to live in a quiet neighbourhood where neighbours are spread apart on acreages, and where people seek privacy, minding their own business, isn’t paying off for the moment, since it’s highly unlikely that anyone is remotely within earshot. Even if our closest neighbour didn’t happen to be at his winter condo in Hawaii, he might not see the injured lump laying helplessly because of the coniferous hedge surrounding the property. No one is coming to our aid. The painful wait for the ambulance is taking forever.
Our mind churns over what might happen next. What if the ambulance can’t find our place? What if our injuries are more severe? What if the broken arm doesn’t mend properly? What if the leg is broken, or the tendons are severed? What if no one comes at all?
What-ifs can be the most powerful of all voices that stop us from moving forward and making change, good change, necessary change. We can get so wrapped up in fear-driven what-ifs that we end up not making beneficial change.
What-ifs can also be powerful agents that help us make positive change. By predicting what might go askew, we can better prepare. For example, we decide that downsizing is a good idea. We’ll leave our large home and property to move into a place that is easier to manage. Considering the negatives that are typically involved in a change of this kind—negatives like who our neighbours might be, is the place a new-build or is it older and requiring renovation, does it have a garage or is public transit easily accessible, and so on—can help in the preparations for change.
Self-regulation is the process by which people control or alter their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.[iii]
Narrow and Negative – What if necessary change is an internal one?
So far, we’ve been discussing external change. What if we need or want to change the way we feel or think?
What about that falling out with a family member, and then being nudged to restore the relationship? How about the times we expressed our political and religious views with such conviction that resulted in both the making of and the losing of friendships? Now we’re being challenged to revisit those long-held views and consider making changes. Is it time to ask…
- Do our opinions about cultural and social norms need updating?
- Has our once optimistic attitude become tarnished, twisted, or a bit jaded as a result of scars left by life and by some of the choices we’ve made along the way?
- Is it possible that we’ve become more impatient with others who don’t measure up to the standard that has faithfully guided us to know success in our various undertakings?
Recently, an older store manager mentioned how he had to show a twenty-two year old how to fill out the mailing address on an envelope. In this digital age, the lad had never used a postage stamp, never mailed a letter.
It’s hard not to lose it with a university educated employee who doesn’t put her garbage into the trash bin that’s sitting right next to her leg. A bank clerk suspiciously snaps your government pension cheque with her fingers, checking to see if it’s forged—you’ve been a client of that bank for forty years, watching banking protocols change that cost clients more money while customer service declines. You bite your tongue in frustration. Anger brews.
We relate these stories at Coffee Row, keeping the events alive, stoking our resentments and disgust about all the lazy imbeciles, entitled millennials, crooked politicians, corrupt preachers...
Do we take the risk and attempt change this late in the game, or do we carry on with the familiar, with the tools that have served us for decades in one manner or another? Even if we’re motivated to make change, “procrastination and acceptance of the status quo are commonplace” [iv].
The late physician, Dr. Brian J. Gorman, author of the book, ATTITUDE THERAPY FOR STRESS DISORDERS, once told me that people seldom make change after age sixty-five, this statement supported by his research and clinical work. It’s scary to think that we can’t or won’t make change after sixty-five.
There is consistent evidence that people are able to make important changes in their lives, and many people who do change do so without any form of professional assistance.[v]
Changing Expectations & Choices
Expectations of ourselves and others are fundamental to our tactics and responses. When expectations aren’t met, responses are often emotional, such as disappointment, frustration, anger. Over time, disappointments can pile up as expectations continue to be challenged. This type of interaction happens with those close to us as well as with those who are not.
One’s backache becomes unbearable. One struggles to make it to see the doctor who has been up all night with an emergency, and whose waiting room is full of those who suffer. Thirty seconds and a scribbled prescription later, one leaves the physician’s office feeling unheard and uncared for, though thankful that the doctor was tending to patients in spite of a rigorous schedule and no sleep. One expects as much from seeing this doctor who is in high demand. Still, one hopes that after a few decades of being his/her patient, one would be tended to with a bit more care and attention. Choices:
- To accept the lack of medical responsiveness and recognize that the same type of interaction may occur again in the future;
- To resent the lack of attention, complain about it, and harbour disappointment.
To navigate through disappointment, is it as easy as simply having no expectations? That’s pretty tough to do in a world that expects a lot from you.[vi]
Disappointment is timeless. We can be disappointed about stuff that happened in the past. We can experience disappointment about our current situation. And, we can already be feeling disappointment at what the future is looking like. Disappointments add up, fueling our emotions, thoughts, and expectations.
“It’s important to head disappointment up at the pass before things turn to into irritation, anger, resentment, jealousy, or bitterness.[vii] So, how do we or should we deal with disappointment?
Beverly Flaxington says the best way to “dust off and move on” is to accept that disappointment happens to everyone. She says we can thwart its impact by:
- Objectively reframing the event. Separating emotions from an episode can be empowering.
- Changing any negative self-talk such as, I’m terrible; I always have bad luck…
- Making a realistic plan to do something you know you can achieve, and then making sure you follow through and do it. Escape plans like moving overseas or getting drunk keep you in the dust and not moving forward.
Ageism in a Social Context – Past our SELL-BY date?
Lynne Segal, author of OUT OF TIME: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing (2013), says that “stereotypes of old age, whether positive or negative, do real harm in the real world… [that] the biggest problem for many older people is “ageism, rather than the process of aging itself.” What is ageism?
The term was first coined in 1969 by Columbia University professor, Dr. Robert Neil Butler, and is defined as prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly.
Negative comments about aging baby-boomers affect those of us who fall into that category. One writer says that “when a final story of boomer retirement is written, the evidence may show that they gave back far more to society in later years than they took for themselves”[viii]. Another gives the example of how some older people are tech-savvy while others feel excluded by technology,[ix] this perhaps further suggesting that the tech-savvy are ‘still with it’, while others are typical examples of being ‘past their prime’, past their ‘sell-by’ date.
How we’re perceived by others and how we view ourselves impacts who we are, what we do, the choices we make, and how we feel about life, past, present and future.
- Do we discriminate against a certain age? The young? The elderly?
- Are our ideas and perceptions about what 85 or 90 years old looks like causing us to bring into reality those thoughts and that visual?
- Are we missing out on the joys of today because we’re so very much hooked on how we once looked or functioned?
Dusting off and moving on… It Ain’t Over Yet!
In closing, be as inspired as was I when learning about these older adults who are still giving, or who have given life a spin right to the very end:
- Playwright and essayist George Bernard Shaw, ﬁnished writing at age 60 what is considered by many to be his masterpiece, HEARTBREAK HOUSE.
- J.R.R. Tolkien was 62 years of age when he published the ﬁrst volume of his fantasy series, LORD OF THE RINGS.
- Simon Murray was 63 years old when he becomes the oldest man to reach the South Pole, trekking unsupported for two months in temperatures that can reach a life-threatening -58°C / -72°F.
- Diana Nyad, age 64, swam from Cuba to Miami;
- Jazz musician Miles Davis performed his ﬁnal live album at age 65, just weeks before he died.
- At 66, Noah Webster completed his monumental AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
- 67 year old Simeon Poisson discovered the Law of Probability after studying the likelihood of death from mule kicks in the French army.
- English experimentalist Sir William Crookes was 68 years young when he began investigating radioactivity, and invented a device for detecting alpha particles.
- Canadian Ed Whitlock of Milton, Ontario, Canada, became the oldest person to run a standard marathon in under three hours. He did this at 69 years of age.
- Cornelius Vanderbilt began buying railroads when 70 years old.
- At 72, Margaret Ringenberg ﬂew around the world.
- Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps was 74 years old when he took on the construction of the Panama Canal.
- John Glenn, sporting 77 birthdays, became the oldest person to go into space.
- Minoru Saito of Japan is a solo sailor who was 77 years old when he completed a westward circumnavigation of the world, making him the world’s oldest single-handed circumnavigator.
- At 79 years of age, Asa Long became the oldest U.S. checkers champion.
- In 2013, at 80 years of age, Yuichiro Miura became the oldest person in the world to ever climb to the summit of Mount Everest.
- William Ivy Baldwin was 82 when he crossed the South Boulder Canyon in Colorado on a 320-foot wire, this making him the oldest tightrope walker.
- Ernestine Shepherd, 83, personal trainer, professional model, bodybuilder, is considered to be the oldest competing female body builder;
- Theodor Mommsen became the oldest person to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature at age 85.
- An 86 year old Katherine Pelton swam the 200-meter butterﬂy in 3 minutes, 1.14 seconds, beating the men’s world record for that age group by over 20 seconds.
- Another 86-year old, Michelangelo, created the architectural plans for the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
- Arthur Rubinstein performed one of his greatest recitals in London’s Wigmore Hall when he was 89 years old, and with failing eyesight.
- As of April 2018, Barbara Smith, 89, is the oldest person to reach North Pole.
- At 90, Marc Chagall became the first living artist to be exhibited at the Louvre museum.
- Gloria Tramontin Struck still roars around on her Harley-Davidson motorcycle at 90years of age, and intends to embark on a cross country trip at 100.
- 92 year old Gladys Burrill become the Guinness Book of World Records’ Oldest Female Marathon Finisher.
- Also at age 92, Smoky Dawson, Australian country music performer, released a collection of original songs in an album entitled “Homestead of My Dreams”, making him the oldest person to release a new album.
- 94 year old comedian George Burns performed live in concert in Schenectady, NY.
- At 96, Harry Bernstein had his first book, “The Invisible Wall,” published.
- In 2010, 96 year old Mohr Keet entered the Guinness world record as the oldest bungee jumper, plummeting a 708 foot drop! Note: He started bungee jumping at 88 years of age.
- At 97 years of age, Jerome Defraitus is considered the oldest living professional skateboarder.
- Nola Ochs was 98 when she became the oldest person to achieve a Master’s Degree.
Check out these centenarians!!!
- Teiichi Igarashi climbed Mt. Fuji at 100 years of age.
- Centenarian Frank Schearer, a retired physician, is heralded as the oldest active water skier in the world.
- Ceramist Beatrice Wood continued her work as a ceramist until age 105.
- Dr. Leila Denmark, American pediatrician, officially retired from her medical practice at age 103, though she continued to “dispense medical advice” until 110 years of age. She lived to be 114.
Who Said What
[i] (National Research Council (US) Committee on Aging Frontiers in Social Psychology, Personality, and Adult Developmental Psychology, 2006)
[ii] (ibid., 2006)
[iii] (ibid., 2006)
[iv] (ibid., 2006)
[v] (ibid., 2006)
[vi] (Flaxington, 8 May 2017)
[vii] (Stepko, 14 March 2015)
[viii] (Weston, 12 April 2012)
[ix] (Wakefield, 25 May 2015)
… “Welcome to hell!” A visible shudder ripples through my aunt’s shoulders… The train of passengers, privileged and otherwise, trudges in the rain through a corridor of guards with machine guns… Finn leans back in his chair. The acrobatic cigarette once again flips through its moves in his left hand while his right hand thumb flicks the lighter on and off. “Knives are quick, noiseless, and convenient to carry. Those guys were in and out of there before anyone would have noticed that she was slain.”… Four footsteps. I sense a presence next to me… the smell of onions and garlic… the bureau drawer sliding open… a gentle touch on my shoulder slipping down my arm… cold fingers placing something soft into my hands… It’s when she mounts the rostrum that I see her four-inch stilettos, daggers to be sure, transporting her naked, unshaven legs…
Zita Anders spends her summer vacation visiting her father in one of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia where she experiences the poverty, corruption, and perversion that rake the newly independent nation her father has come to call home. ROSE IN A BROKEN BOTTLE is Zita’s account of the people, their land, and their hardships, of the fear and scourge, of the beauty and joy in a country that is so very broken. Her narrative is about the hope and loving relationships that emerge midst that brokenness. Inspired by a true story. | Analynn Riley is a Canadian author. BUY IT HERE