There’s no escaping the inevitable, that we’re all dying from the day we are born. But in my opinion, it’s time to celebrate: We picked the best point in history to be senior citizens. Technology and modern conveniences have granted all generations greater independence, and, in particular, elders have more liberty and control over our lives than ever before.
It’s our choices going forward that make the difference between happiness and something less than.
Knowing we are all creatures that age and die, how do we handle the in-between part … from here to the end? Do we stay in our home, supported by family and friends? Or do we cast aside the chores of independent living to let others completely care for us and our needs? Perhaps you haven’t given any of this a second thought. This is on my mind because I don’t have children or an extended family of people who could care for me as I move closer to the end of my life.
Decline and death are ahead
While some, me included, feel elders are being overlooked for our experience and wisdom, perhaps it’s more that the respect for those attributes has been replaced with higher regard for independence.
With independence as the ultimate goal, it’s easy to forget that even freedom has its life span. At some point, every person becomes dependent. A serious illness or infirmary will eventually wipe out all independence. Then what? Many of us choose to ignore that equally inevitable truth.
Fixable and unfixable problems
While the bottom drops out eventually — whether by a long-term debilitating illness or a swift stroke or heart attack that quickly curtails any drawn out lingering — the good news is that the bottom is dropping out later and later thanks to newly discovered medical solutions and treatments.
Even though we joke about it, old age isn’t a diagnosis. New treatments for disease and methods of maintaining good health are prolific. Instead of the cliff drop from health to death, we can expect a longer slow fade, from health to illness to recovery or partial recovery, to the next illness and recovery, and so on, finally, to death.
While inherited genetics play a significant role in our characteristics: hair, eye color, height, etc., new studies are showing that longevity is not as related to inherited genetics as we’ve thought previously. Just because your parents lived to be in their 90’s, that doesn’t mean you necessarily will.
Something I learned recently that will hopefully lengthen my here-to-death time pertains to falling – or, I should say, NOT falling. Evidently, 350,000 Americans fall and break a hip every year. Of those, approximately 40 percent end up in a nursing home and 20 percent never walk again. The three primary risk factors for falling are poor balance, taking more than four prescribed medications, and weakened muscles. If you don’t have any risk factors, you stand a 12 percent chance of falling. If you have all three, your chances of falling are nearly 100 percent. Some doctors even go so far as to say your chances of dying from a fall are greater than having some form of a generally more debilitating medical condition like cancer or high blood pressure.
I don’t take four or more prescribed medications, but I have fallen before, so my balance isn’t perfect. I could do a lot more to reduce my chances of racing to death because of a fall.
While I’m focusing on falls here, my main point is to think about what our lives will be like, between now and our death. Will you live alone, seek out a geriatric doctor who can best treat the whole aging person, have conversations with family and friends about desires for the future with different scenarios, or take each day as it comes, blinders on, hoping for the best?
In closing …
I’ve heard that lots of elders say they don’t fear death, but they do fear the time between their now and death. Now’s the time, while we’re still cognizant and able-bodied, to think of these things, ask the hard questions, and have the tough but hopefully loving conversations.
May your time between now and death include plenty of good eating, entertainment, exercise, satisfying doctor visits, fantastic family and friend relationships, and the knowledge that you did the work to maintain independence and control and to make this time as enjoyable as possible.