We know it’s a poor cliché to say aging is a journey, but if you hadn’t mapped your path through school or work career experience where would you be now? From here, however - mapping your way through your elder years needs to be your focus.
This is because our culture does little to inform or remind us about what our needs are going to be as we age. We don’t always realize when we are full of energy at 30 and 40 - that by 50 we will be slowing down quite a bit and by 60 we will be seeing the results of our lifestyle and diet. Our knees and hips speak up and our eyes are usually beginning to strain to see well.
By 70, we will be experiencing the slowing down of both our brain and our bodies and by 80 we are more than likely to have some degree of age-related dementia.
Everyone already knows that stress causes illness. When someone realizes they haven’t planned well enough for their retirement or elder years - it isn’t just stress that sets in - it can be a life-altering panic.
That beautiful big home you worked so hard for is full of hardwood floors and stairs! Not so good for the aging knees and hips of a 70 plus-year-old. What if an old high school sports injury decides to come back as a need for a knee replacement? This happens.
What if the home you want to die in - isn’t elder friendly? Do you have the savings for a remodel? Do you have the flexibility to scale down without feeling you have lost ground? Aging forces us to confront our values, choices and future comfort in stark and intimidating ways. No one wants to end up in a skilled nursing facility. There are lots of ways around this - if you plan ahead.
If you have been medicating yourself with a healthy drinking habit - time to scale back. Elders on alcohol are extreme fall risks. Broken bones are the reason they end up in skilled nursing facilities. Some never rebound.
There is a lot of advice about diet - but the general rule remains the same; keeping to a diet that likens unto the Mediterranean diet - one low in processed sugars and carbohydrates and starches. One focused on fresh greens, simple proteins like fish and fresh fruits. Low in dairy, high in fiber and healthy brain oils like olive and coconut oil.
Cultivate an alkaline based diet for long-term healthy eating habits that have the power to carry you vigorously through those twilight years. Comfort is everything - and those who have settled into diets full of sugars, carbs, alcohol and starches may be headed for elder years filled with aching joints and very sore muscles. Why do elders move so slowly? Think carefully about this.
Many experts on aging, advise elders to garden. This simple and refreshing form of exercise attends to the whole body gently. Bending, pulling weeds, watering and raking are all very useful and gentle ways for an elder to remain more limber.
Making sure your lifestyle does not over impact your knees and joints through overly vigorous activities can help as well. Many recommend Yoga and the gentle full body stretching is even more beneficial for a life-long practice than a regular running practice as it is easier on the body and delivers more long-term benefits. A good Yoga instructor will also remind you that meditation yoga also reduces blood pressure and stress.
This is the big one. How do you predict an ever-increasing cost of living with the ever-stagnant amount of social security and - if you are lucky - retirement benefits that are not so versatile once they are issued.
Will your pensions cover your expenses with a little room for the unexpected? How big is your medical co-pay? Is your mortgage going to be paid off? How attached to not scaling down are you? Can you ensure a living situation where you will not be forced to move for any reason? Imagine having to try to move yourself after seventy. What would that look like for you?
This situation doesn’t leave us much room for future planning since many are working to survive now. Survival means utilizing all your income on survival - and not having much or anything left for saving into the twilight years. Financial planners can help developed a roadmap with you and the earlier in life you begin a dialog with one, the better your result will be. In this situation - planning ahead is critical. On the flip side-options include getting yourself onto the low -income housing lists and make sure you qualify for the In Home Support Services (IHSS) sponsored by the federal government. This will mean snap benefits, Medicaid and in-home help for some.
It is sheer folly to think you can live without in home support after 80 for most. You will need some help no matter how well you have taken care of yourself until then. Being prepared and planning are key.
You need friends and family to keep you stimulated and out of depression. All humans need company. All humans need to feel loved and remembered. Make sure you live close to those who care about you most. The best idea is to make sure you have others living with you in a harmonious atmosphere. Aging communities with continuum of care villages have formed to help with this. Check them out. Call and reserve a private tour. Many offer lunch in their dining room after you have explored their properties.
This may be a personal bias - however, the oldest and healthiest elders I have met are largely un-medicated. They retain their vitamins and a healthy diet and exercise routine. They are positive in attitude and experts at staying comfortable, active and in charge of their own care.
They make healthy plans for when they may not be good decision makers - which is often between 85 and 95. They leave earmarks for themselves about when to relinquish decision making and they allow those who love them most to move into that role at the right time.
Have a theme for your twilight years. Perhaps it is to deliver a book about your family’s history to your kids, or to finish a life-enhancing project that adds meaning and vitality to your daily living. Make sure your will, trust and health directives are in place and those you love most know your desires and details for death or celebrations of life ceremonies.
Write your own obituary. Plan with those you care about most. Finish what you have started. Create a slideshow for your own memorial. Leave in a manner that makes you feels respected and complete. You will thank yourself later.
Hospice nurses are some of the most amazing people. They fit right up there with the caring, patient care providers that are needed once our bodies stop helping and start slowing. The best hospice companies are there to help you plan the most comfortable, stress free dying process possible. One that keeps you in your home, surrounded by friends and family - and in no pain whatsoever.
Angels? Yes. This takes grit, guts and patience. Planning for the dignity of dying at home can take so much stress out of the last years. It can help the family transition in a healthy way. It can be simple and non - traumatic. Taking the mystery out of your own dying process can make life feel more valuable and death not as scary.
You owe this to yourself. Take yourself from the cliché of viewing your aging journey as something to do later and free yourself from worry, doubt and uncertainty by taking charge and creating a map for your aging process right now.
Some who are most qualified to offer guidance on this journey are Home Instead Senior Care (707) 586-1516, Kira Reginato, GCM and creator of the app CARING which is now available on Apple or Android or she can be reached by phone (707) 7625433, the compassionate and knowledgeable team at Legacy Concierge Services(707) 732-4527 and those angels I spoke of earlier...some can be found at Petaluma Hospice (707) 778-6242or Memorial Hospice (707) 568-1094.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.