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Aging Gracefully

As a caregiver, I have spent the past 11 months caring for those who need some extra assistance in order to remain at home for as long and as independently as possible. However, they often need help to perform even the most basic tasks. As I have worked and served in this way, I have gained insight and perspective I had previously been unaware was available. This was emphasized to me last October as I learned about the importance of being consistent throughout one ?s entire life. But particularly since the discussion concerning the care of the elderly here at Mormon Momma, I have been even more consciously aware of the needs of the elderly and the necessity of caring for them in a loving and consistent way.

And this month I have realized again that one of my great hopes is to age gracefully.

In mid-July I cared for a man for the first time. He has Parkinson ?s and can ?t speak any more, although he can understand what you say and try to smile or point. His wife assisted with his bed bath and his transfers [bed to wheelchair, wheelchair to recliner]. Later, as I was doing his range of motion exercises, he fell asleep. Having seen how calm and easy-going he was about his personal care and having listened to his wife and oldest son tell stories about their family, I noticed how peaceful – how whole and unravaged by disease – he looked while asleep. It is obvious that the disease has not robbed him of the inner person he is.

This month I also helped a woman at work during the day. Usually I am there overnight. Her paranoia and dementia are more pronounced in the daytime. At night, when she is groggy from sleep, she is more confused than paranoid. Later, when I was telling Ray about my day which included the woman getting agitated about some rather insignificant things that she interpreted as happening largely because I was unfamiliar ? with the day routine, he offered an alternative perspective: Being easily agitated is simply a part of who she is. Knowing and accepting this aspect of her personality, I can more easily brush off any such comments and not take them personally.

Some people are naturally kind; others are naturally cynical. Still others are going to find something, anything, about which to get upset. Ray used the examples of a number of people whom I have helped at work. Some, even with diseases and infirmities, are kind and gentle. Others are bitter and angry. And others are lost and confused by changes over which they have no control.

I have cared for other men and women – those suffering from dementia, Alzheimer ?s, ALS (Lou Gehrig ?s Disease), cancer, decline due to natural aging, or regret for harsh relationships and bad choices in their lives. I wish I had known them 5-10 years ago – that I could have the chance to see them in their previous lives of vitality before they were limited by their infirmities, diseases, and decline in mental and physical abilities. I wish I ?d had the opportunity to know the REAL person, not the debilitated suffering persona I help.

And I wonder about the type of person I will be in another 40-50 years. How will I react to the natural decline of my abilities, to unexpected changes in my routine, to new people coming to aid in my comfort and care? How am I going to accept these often inevitable deviations from what I have previously known my life to be?

These experiences with the transitions of aging bring to mind a scripture, and help me view the meaning of this verse in a new light.

? that same spirit which doth posses your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. ? (Alma 34:34)

The characteristics I develop now will be an ingrained part of me later. Right now I still have the mental and emotional capacity to choose the person I want to be – here in the present as well as in the future. I can start now to change gradually, to build on who I have been in the past, and to strengthen those personality traits that I want to shine through as who I am, even when physical or mental capacities may be diminished and my control is impeded.

This understanding increases my desire to improve and to become a better person NOW. This knowledge offers me the motivation to change some of my bad habits or instinctive reactions, so that later when I may become impaired in my abilities to control my actions and my words, they will be more aligned with the person I am trying to be and to become.

My hope is that in doing this I will indeed age gracefully.

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • spitfire July 27, 2008, 6:42 pm

    I read with great interest the comments of “Aging Gracefully” (can’t get the underline to work!). I have long believed that the individual we “are” in our younger years determines that individual we become in our “golden years”. Many habits or lack thereof i.e. exercise/lack of exercise, diet, activity levels contribute to either good or bad health. At the very minimum I think we can all agree that good habits optimize our health later in years. Of course we can not predict the onset of diseases unless there is a predisposition or family history.

    That being said, I truly believe our mind & it’s ability to function to capacity is driven by it’s use & abuse in younger years.

    EXAMPLE: My mother was one of 11 children; only 6 lives to adulthood. Both my mother & her younger sister suffered from dibilitating Alzheimer’s Disease. Both were physically active, obeyed the WOW, attended church & held callings throughout their lives. BUT, NEITHER ONE read their scriptures, EVER! Their older sister (now 98 & mother of 6) read her scriptures daily, often in the morning & night. Her mind is better & brighter than a 50 year old!! I just know in my bones that it is her daily scripture reading that has maintained her mental faculties. PLEASE, let me state, I know this is not an answer to all of one’s problems but I know that all 3 women grew up in the same home, ate the same food & lived on the SAME street as adults, raising their families. The only difference we (my cousins, all 45) have identified is the scripture reading, call me crazy, but I think there is something to it.

    So, I applaud your efforts to serve others & to be mindful of your own life. As I witness my 97 y.o. mother-in-law, who is not a member but does take a “nip” now & then, but also does the NY Times crossword puzzle, Soduku & balances her checkbook to the penny, even if she has to spend 4 hours finding it…I know her life long efforts to stimulate her brain have contributed to her mental sharpness. She is physically fit as well, still walking every day.

    So, thank you for your thoughts & the “kick in the pants” I needed to get myself back on track…

  • Amy E July 27, 2008, 7:08 pm

    Thank you for this, Michelle. I like the thought of preparing now for how we will age. I had already decided some things about aging after watching my grandma grow old and die, but I hadn’t thought much about how my efforts to be kinder now may affect how I act as I grow old. More things to think about. 🙂

  • nanacarol July 27, 2008, 7:47 pm

    I sure enjoyed your “talk”. There are some really personal reasons for me that it means so much. Now I know that I can look forward to getting older and being happier because it is a choice. And I hope my brain always remembers this!!I so wanted to be twinkled when the world turned 2000 8 years ago because I did not want to age. I still don’t want to but I am accepting it better. Have you noticed that people are living way beyond when they should? And I wonder why. Why can’t they be released. My dad is 80, has had form of luekimia that was the good kind. However, after taking chemo by mouth for 5 years the chemo killed his bone marrow and he doesn’t produce his own blood. Every three weeks he has a blood transfusion. Then another treatment that is so costly to take the pure iron out he gets in the blood transfusions. I just see what he goes thru and I wish he didn’t have to. But I know the Lord’s wisdom is greater than mine. I just hope and pray we all learn to grow old gracefully and be at peace with it.

  • agardner July 27, 2008, 10:09 pm

    Wonderful, Michelle. Good karma coming your way! (I probably shouldn’t talk about karma on MM, should I? :0)

  • facethemusic July 28, 2008, 7:59 am

    I loved this Michelle. I have a love for working with the elderly that actually started by going on Visiting Teaching visits with my mother. I must have been about 9 that first time I went with her. I remember her trying to prepare me for the visit– that the sister was old and poor– I remember her warning me that the house had a funny smell, was dilapidated, the kitchen floor was ripped and peeling up in places, etc. I think she was worried that I would say something that might hurt the woman’s feelings “Ewww gross, what’s that smell?” Or “What happened to your floor?”

    I think what helped too, was going on visits to nursing homes with the Young Women. I remember being a little nervous at first, but then slowly acclimating. A few years later, when my mother went back to work as a nurse, she started working in a nursing home and I started doing volunteer work there, helping patients with the crafts, singing, playing the piano for them, helping move them from their rooms to the cafeteria, painting the ladies’ nails, just chatting with them etc. So then, when I got married and our ward in South Carolina started doing devotional services on Sundays at some of the nursing homes in our ward boundaries, my hubby and I always went.

    Our ward here did that for awhile too. We used to take the kids with us– we figured if they started doing that kind of thing when they were really little, then it would just come naturally to them when they were older. Hmmmm…. our ward hasn’t done that in a really long time. I DO think it helped our kids though– they’ve adopted the widow next door to us as “Grandma”. They go by and visit her, draw her pictures, ask to invite her places with us.

    Anyway– I digress– the point I WANTED to make, was that over those years, as I’ve worked with the elderly and spent time getting to know them individually, and sometimes, their children as well, I’ve seen what you talked about. There ARE people who’s personalities change due to mental issues associated with aging– their mind deteriorates along with their body and they seem to become an entirely different person, and alot of that is out of their control. But for many, it’s not a matter of the mind, but a matter of the heart, and how they handle and face the difficulties and challenges from having a perfectly healthy mind that’s completely aware of the fact they’re losing their independence. Some people adapt as best as they can and move on, and some become bitter and angry and take it out on others.

    You see the same thing in younger people with disabilities and other hardships. They either accept what is, and just do the best they can with what they have, and do it gracefully, or they become bitter and angry.

    And honestly– I have to admit– I’ve often associated this same thing with women in labor. :shocked: I know, I know– I’m treading dangerous waters! But I really don’t see how it’s any different. I’ve heard some horror stories (from the women themselves) about the way they act during labor. Like somehow, the fact that they are in pain gives them license to be nasty to nurses, and worse, to their husbands. And people joke about it– Bill Cosby has that great routine he does about his wife hitting him, calling him names, screaming for morphine. I’ve heard women complain about how their husbands turn into whining babies when they get sick, broke their arm, etc. I always want to ask them– and how did you treat your husband when you were in labor?
    (Tracy ducks behind her desk to avoid the fiery darts of the adversary….)

    I know some women will say, “But labor is worse– it’s a lot more pain”.
    First– I don’t know that that’s true. But more importantly, I’ve seen women be graceful through the pain, even without any medications.

    I’ve seen people be nasty through hardships and difficulties, and I’ve seen other people be graceful through the SAME hardships and difficulties. I’ve seen people fall apart and lose their testimonies and marriages with the death of a child, and I’ve seen people GROW in their testimonies and saw their marriages STRENGTHEN after the death of a child.

    I think everyone understands– whether it’s the pains of aging and losing independence, whether it’s dealing with the pain of death or other emotional pain, whether it’s physical pain from illness, disease, injury, childbirth– we’re in pain. And I do understand that it’s HARDER to control our mouths, our tempers, etc when we’re struggling and are hurting. But it’s not a license, and it’s not an ‘excuse’.

    It IS possible suffer pain- physically or otherwise, gracefully. It doens’t mean you don’t cry, it doesn’t mean you don’t scream out every now and then, it doesn’t mean you can’t have medication– it’s more a matter of the person’s attitude about the pain, and how they treat others, despite the pain. Isn’t gracefully suffering physical pain, or emotional pain—the same thing as aging gracefully? Accepting what is, doing your best to cope, adjust, adapt and move THROUGH it?

    In the end– I think ALL these things are related. And I wonder how one thing might be a foreshadowing of another. I would imagine that someone who in their younger years, allows physical pain, emotional pain or other difficulties or hardships make them bitter, or angry, or hostile, or impatient, or snappy, or a “victim” or generally negative– will do the SAME thing in regards to the struggles and pains of aging–when the rheumatoid arthritis kicks in. When they fall and break their hip. When they realize they’ve lost their independence and when they can no longer drive. When they can’t read the labels on their medicines. When they can no longer control their bowels and have to start wearing a diaper.

    We have elderly people in our ward who are completely inactive because of problems they have as a result of their aging, and we have elderly people who come to church REGARDLESS of the SAME problems! (Bathroom problems, problems with “sitting too long”, difficulty getting around, etc) And the thing is– it’s not that their concern is an illegitimate one. Their concern IS understandable. But still, some people will stop coming to church because they have to go to the bathroom frequently. And others will be there every Sunday, EVEN THOUGH they have to go to the bathroom frequently.

    Something I’ve discovered, is that for the most part, though not in every case, the ones who are inactive NOW because of these problems were never really active to begin with. They may have had periods of activity, but over the course of their lives, they were mostly inactive.
    Like Ray said, that’s who they were.

    If we use pain, uncomfortableness, sleepiness, illness, emotional pain, financial difficulties, physical challenges, etc as excuses for things NOW– then most likely, we’ll do the same thing when we’re older. AND I think for the most part, all these things are related– because really, what we’re talking about is our free agency in how we respond to opposition and adversity.
    Who we are, is who we will be. How we handle struggle and pain NOW, is how we will handle it later. UNLESS we change.

  • jennycherie July 28, 2008, 8:14 am

    Believe it or not, this very thing was on my mind yesterday! We have a dear sister in our ward who amazes me with her strength in coming to church. She does have to miss a lot, particularly in the winter when she is more likely to be ill or the roads are bad, but she really is a delight. She not only comes, but she actively participates in the discussions. Occasionally, she raises her hand to make a comment and then forgets what it was or loses the spot in her scriptures that she was referring to. . . and she just smiles sweetly and shrugs.

    Posted By: facethemusicI’ve heard women complain about how their husbands turn into whining babies when they get sick, broke their arm, etc. I always want to ask them– and how did you treat your husband when you were in labor?

    Okay, I admit it — I’m guilty. I am not always super sympathetic when my hubby is mildly sick or injured. . . but I can be *very* sympathetic when he is stressed out or seriously hurt. . . hmmm. . . you know, maybe I should ask Michael how I was when I was in labor with Rebekah, because I seriously don’t remember…I might need to apologize. . . .

    Posted By: facethemusicwhat we’re talking about is our free agency in how we respond to opposition and adversity.

    excellent point.

  • Ray July 28, 2008, 8:34 am

    jennycherie, Just out of curiosity, do I know you?

    Michelle, you are aging gracefully – if you except the “gotta color my hair so I don’t look old” part. 😉 I would make the “fine wine” comparison, but I have no idea how fine wine ages, so I won’t go there. Oh, and the fact that this is a Mormon blog plays a part in that decision. 🙂

  • facethemusic July 28, 2008, 8:41 am

    Okay, I admit it — I’m guilty. I am not always super sympathetic when my hubby is mildly sick or injured. .


    I’m not either!!! But it’s because of this VERY thing we’re discussing. Let me reword that– it’s not that I’m not sympathetic– I am. But sympathy doesn’t mean tolerance for grouchiness. My hubby gets grumpy and really irritable when he’s sick or hurt– he’s quicker to jump on the kids, lose his patience, snap at them/me etc– and it BOTHERS me. My thing is, “Hey– your pain (illness, whatever) isn’t an excuse to get snappy with everyone else. You can be sick (hurt) AND nice (patient, loving, etc) at the same time.”
    And believe me, he’s been reminded of how loving and nice I was during labor. :tooth:
    If I can be loving and friendly during 36 hours of labor with no meds, he can be loving and friendly with a broken wrist. If I can be sweet and kind with strep throat, he can be sweet and kind with strep throat. Yeah— believe me, he’s been reminded. 🙂

  • davidson July 28, 2008, 12:04 pm

    Michelle, I thought your article was beautiful and so effective because it comes from the informed point of view of one who has worked closely with the elderly. You have a lot of insight, and I appreciate your communication of it. I also thought Tracy’s words were stirring and astute. It especially meant a lot to me after dealing with my mother this morning. They are remodeling their house. Last week I moved the contents of their bedroom to an upstairs room and a downstairs room. She is really angry about the remodeling, even though it is being done to accomodate her needs. Her laundry room is in the basement, and she is no longer safe packing loads of laundry up and down the stairs, and my father is crippled and can’t navigate them very well either, so they are adding a main floor laundry. They want to be independent for as long as they can, and I don’t blame them. I drove thirty miles this morning to help her finish moving the contents of her bedroom, because it is being torn down this week. She wouldn’t let me take the pictures off the walls. She wouldn’t let me take the sack of bedding to another room, so it sat right in the hallway where all the workmen have to pass. She rejected every offer of help, even though I offered as gently as I could, and my trip was wasted. She is particularly unreasonable when she is stressed. I guess it means my dad will finally move it when he can’t stand it any more, and it will really cause a cuss fight. My dad has grown to be very patient with her in her illness, but he is not a patient man by nature. I feel so sad that he will have to deal with this later because she wouldn’t let me deal with it this morning, and he is busy dealing with so many other things. I know from long experience that to act without her permission would be to incur her wrath, and she doesn’t forgive easily. I do love my mom. We will get through this.

  • Michelle D July 28, 2008, 7:13 pm

    I didn’t expect such a quick response from so many of you! I could respond with so much, but I will try to be brief.

    You all make such good points. I think one of the things we can do to train ourselves to be who we want to be – now and in the future – is to notice those around us. Our family, friends, neighbors, fellow ward/branch members, and others we encounter can serve as examples of how we want to be (or not be). Most of you mentioned family and Church members whom you have noticed with specific attitudes and actions that you either want to emulate or not.

    Tracy, you made a tremendous connection between aging and other disabilities/hardships. I had never made the direct connection between these situations and a woman in labor – but wow, do they correlate! It really does become a “simple” matter of how we choose to get through our adversities and challenges. And you are extremely blessed to have such good experiences throughout your life on which to base your thoughts on aging and the elderly!!

    I had a terrifying experience as a child visiting a great aunt in a nursing home, and it has colored my perceptions and attitudes up until last year when I started working as a caregiver and was in a position to truly learn more and shift my perspective! (If you’re interested, my thoughts on this experience and some initial thoughts on aging can be found here.)

    Nana, up until a year ago, I didn’t want to age either! (Largely because of the above experience.) I was terrified of losing the ability to function on my own. I still am in many ways, but now I have a better acceptance of the natural process that is aging. My understanding of these concepts is an ever-changing process. I certainly don’t have it all figured out already!

    Ray, thank you for the compliment! However I’m still going to color my hair for a few more years… ahem, I mean, for decades. (Speaking of which, the gray roots are starting to appear again… lol) 😉

    Davidson, prayers for you as you continue to deal patiently with your mother!

    Thanks to each of you for sharing your perspectives on this topic.

  • Tinkerbell August 9, 2008, 9:57 pm

    Really good post. It made me realize how much I need to work to make sure I am a nicer, more easy-going person – particularly with my kids. If they don’t want to be around me now, I don’t stand a chance in my later years.

  • Tinkerbell August 9, 2008, 10:01 pm

    And lest you think I’m kidding . . . I remember a post a while ago where we were talking about people who don’t go visit elderly people in retirement homes. I honestly can understand. It is kind of hard to have a desire to go visit someone who never really paid much attention to you your whole life. Now that they are in a retirement home, I should suddenly want to be at their side? Compassion and charity tells me I should, and I will do it out of duty (and I hope Christ will soften my heart so that I will find it a joy instead of a burden), but honestly, it is hard to want to be around people who never cared to be around you. Just because they are old doesn’t mean they are nice. Sound cold and heartless, but there you go.

  • jennycherie August 10, 2008, 5:00 am

    Posted By: Tinkerbellit is hard to want to be around people who never cared to be around you. Just because they are old doesn’t mean they are nice.

    but also, just because they are in a nursing home doesn’t mean they’ve not paid attention to others their whole life. Were you referring to someone specific? Many people end up in nursing home just because their family is unable to care for them–whether that is the complexity of medical care needed or because their kids are too busy or whatever. It is in making those visits that are hard to make that we do develop true charity.

    Posted By: TinkerbellI hope Christ will soften my heart so that I will find it a joy instead of a burden

    beautiful thought!

  • Tinkerbell August 10, 2008, 9:16 am

    Yes, jennycherie, I am thinking specifically of someone I know who spent most of their life in their own world with their own friends and who didn’t express much interest in children or grandchildren. Actually, this person isn’t in a retirement home yet – just recently retired. Isn’t it feasible that some elderly people might not be visited because they didn’t do much visiting while they were younger and had the chance? That seems to be the point of this post – that when we are old, we are the same people we were when we were younger. So, if someone didn’t take much interest in you when they were younger, it is kind of hard to suddenly become interested in them just because they are old. Of course it is the “Christ-like” thing to do, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally.

  • Tinkerbell August 10, 2008, 9:17 am

    But, my point is more that I realize how much more I need to invest in my children in time and attention so they know I am interested in them. I DON’T want to be alone in my older years.

  • Michelle D August 10, 2008, 9:58 am

    Tink and Jennycherie, you both make good points. As a caregiver, I have seen family who wanted their elderly parents to basically “just hurry up and die” – often for the reasons Tink gave, bad relationships, hurt feelings, etc. I have also seen family surround their parents with love, consideration, patience and care.

    Relationships are often fluid and change over time, but certain aspects remain the same. If a child always felt criticized, as an adult they are going to interpret comments made by an elderly parent as criticisms – even if it’s dementia or Alzheimer’s talking and not the former person who was in total control of their mind. There are so many scenarios – different personalities of everyone involved, different health difficulties, different attitudes, even different memories of the same decades-old family situation…

    This is why I feel it is so important for us to recognize certain characteristics within ourselves and do what we can to strengthen the positives and overcome the negatives now, when we have the opportunity to have the mental capacity to do so.

  • jennycherie August 10, 2008, 11:36 am

    Posted By: TinkerbellIsn’t it feasible that some elderly people might not be visited because they didn’t do much visiting while they were younger and had the chance?

    yes – I think you are spot on – I think when I initially read your post, I thought you might of been thinking that generally people end up in nursing homes because they were not nice enough for anyone to want to take care of them but obviously that is not at all what you were saying!

    Posted By: TinkerbellBut, my point is more that I realize how much more I need to invest in my children in time and attention so they know I am interested in them. I DON’T want to be alone in my older years.


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