As We Age (Podcast)
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I woke up this morning wondering – am I old now? I’m turning 57 in a few days. That doesn’t seem so old… especially this week -- when I’m visiting my parents who are well into their 80’s. My dad went into a skilled nursing facility recently and I’m trying to provide support to my mom during this time. It’s hard.
When I was in my 20’s, 57 definitely seemed old. I remember driving by 55+ communities thinking - that’s where people go when they head out to pasture. But so much about the way we age has changed since then. And lately, I find myself with more and more questions about this whole idea of “aging”…. How do our bodies and brains change as we age? How does it feel – emotionally – as we age? How can we make good decisions to insure that we “age well?” And what does it even mean to “age well?” How do we keep ourselves safe? How do we interact with our adult children and relatives in a way that spreads joy rather than angst? And if we can stay alive until 100, how the heck will we afford it? Essentially – I find myself asking -- how can we keep learning and loving and living well as we age?
I’m Lisa Driver and I’m going to explore these questions and more in this podcast. I’m going to call it “As We Age” because I hope you will join me in this journey of learning. I hope you’ll communicate with me and help me find answers to my questions and ask new questions that we can explore together.
I’m going to start by introducing you to my parents – Tom and Jeanne. Watching them age gets me thinking a lot about what I might want to emulate and what I might want to do differently. When people ask me, “how are your parents?” My common refrain is – “They’re great for someone who can’t talk and someone who can’t walk.”
My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 oral cancer about 8 years ago now. The research and quick thinking of my two brothers and the talent of her surgeon saved her life. But she does live with some compromises. Her speech is labored and she still hasn’t managed to figure out how to swallow solids, even though her Dr.’s say she should be able to. But she is with us and able to spread her love and enjoy her grandchildren and savor the wonders of this crazy world.
My dad suffered a major head injury when he was a child and almost died. Since he turned 50, he’s had seizures and stroke-like events and advancing arthritis. This has resulted in his mobility being seriously compromised. He’s on an anti-seizure medication and his memory is going. He remembers his loved ones and other details about his life and the past, but he has trouble following a conversation and understanding time in a linear fashion. He seems to think that all of the people he loves are alive together now. He gets confused easily and late afternoons are stressful for him.
My parents have managed for several years to stay at home with the help of my brother and some caregivers. But recently, my dad fell and it’s seeming like it may no longer be feasible to keep him at home. We’ll see. He’s in rehab now.
I’m a teacher and I’m here helping my mom and visiting my dad over my school break. We’re trying to get my dad’s situation stabilized and I’m helping my mom with some things around the house. It seems like there’s always something. This week - the toilet is clogged and the dishwasher broke. We need to deal with those right away. We’ve also been going to visit my dad every day. They just moved him into the dementia unit because he’s been wandering around in his wheel chair and straying too far from the nurses and other staff members. Part of me loves this – he’s trying to break out! I love a feisty spirit!
My mom and I talked today about the challenges involved with managing the care of someone who lives on for years in a compromised state. I’ve been urging my mom to think about the importance of finding balance. We have to do what we can to keep my dad happy, safe, and comfortable, but she can’t give up her life in order for that to happen. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation – we’re recalling some other family members, my grandfather and Aunt Peg, who were in similar situations in their 80’s. My mom’s speech can sometimes be challenging to understand. If you have trouble following her, the transcript will be helpful for clarification.
As people with dementia go, he’s very good-natured…
But he seems very confused and he seems stressed about it. Did you hear him say to you today, I don’t want to put the kids through this. He said something like that.
Oh, I didn’t hear that.
I think he was referring to George and the other people in the Rehab Center.
Like they thought they were his kids, too.
So he was kind of like, I don’t want to put the kids through this.
So I think on some level he does understand.
But then he can’t put the thoughts together to express how he thinks it can be resolved or what he wants to do.
Right, right, right.
And it’s just a little heartbreaking. I feel like…
It is heartbreaking, but there’s nothing we can do about it.
I think you’ve done all you can do, Pearl (nickname). And I think, you know, we thought it was going to be a year and it turned into 5 years.
Now – when we took Popa in our house…
No his Popa…
Right – but my grandfather.
Yeah. Aunt Betty would call and say, “Well what about your life?” I said, “Betty, it’s not going to be that long. And sure enough, six months later, he was gone.”
But with Popa, like you said, it’s been five years.
I know… you want to give your loved ones that comfort as they… But – how long did Peg last in the nursing home?
Oh God, ten years.
Well that’s the thing, right? That’s what can happen.
Medicine, medicine, medicine.
You just feel like you…
She was like Popa. Had a heart like a horse.
Strong heart. Feisty. Strong.
Well I do wonder if dementia serves the purpose of taking stress away?
But then sometimes people die young of dementia.
So I don’t know.
Right. Well like you said, every case is different.
Every case is different. You can’t generalize.
My mom is feeling overwhelmed and struggling with a sense of guilt. I’m struggling with a sense of mourning over my parents’ loss of independence and an increasing sense of my own mortality. These are heavy issues that give rise to serious questions.
How do we weigh our choices? How do we balance our desire to protect our parents and keep them as healthy as possible for as long as possible? Honor the lives they’ve devoted to us? Continue to live our own lives and maintain our own emotional well-being? And preserve everyone’s financial security?
What are you and your family doing? I’d love to hear from you. Please take a moment to share your thoughts, your experiences.
Until next time… this is Lisa Driver for As We Age.