PV MIrror, Nov 20-26, 2010, issue # 110, pg 17

So often our age sneaks up on us. We think we are fine and then suddenly there are problems, whether we are in our forties and accepting that we need reading glasses or we are in our eighties and can’t get around the way we used to, can’t remember things we should, or we’re taking a handful of medications. None of us like it and yet all of us must face it. Of course as we grow older, there are potentially more complications and considerations. Today I am going to discuss such things as they relate to the “elderly” or “seniors”, but hopefully all of you are paying attention so that certain decisions can be made ahead of time and options can be considered.

Life happens

The life cycle is a fact and moving through the different stages is an interesting journey to say the least. Although, I am not suggesting that retirement age is “old age” or puts you in the category of “elderly”, but it is the beginning of a phase in life where productivity is no longer the goal. Once you reach retirement age, you expect life to be a blast, after all, it’s what you looked forward to all the years that you worked and raised a family. In fact, you counted on it. Retirement brings expectations of fun carefree days when it doesn’t matter what time you go to bed or wake up and you finally have to time to enjoy all of the things you dreamed of and planned for.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works out for many people. Many find their retirement years aren’t what they expected at all. Instead, they may have lost their spouse or have health problems, and their dreams and goals are slowly slipping away. Loneliness and boredom are extremely common. Their life doesn’t have a purpose; they’ve lost their reason for living and getting up everyday. Their friends may have moved away to be near their children or are living in nursing homes. Their own children may live far away. They may not be able to drive anymore or physically get around like they used to.

Most of you living here are probably enjoying a wonderful retirement and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Your days are fulfilling and you are active, going out and doing whatever you like. And like most of us, you assume it will continue like that, never considering what you would do “if…”.

What would you do if…?

What if you were alone, or your memory was failing you, if you were confused, lethargic? What if you were losing your independence and could no longer drive or manage your finances? What if your friends didn’t call and invite you out anymore? What if your children weren’t around to help? What if you couldn’t travel to the places you’ve dreamed of because you couldn’t walk good enough or your heart couldn’t take it? How would you feel? How would you respond? What solutions would you consider?

Undiagnosed depression

Sadly, an extremely high percentage of depression in the elderly goes undiagnosed and an extremely high percentage of seniors are depressed. Depression is often the result of life circumstances, which is the case in most seniors, (versus a life-long chemical inbalance in the brain), as they react to life changing events such as the death of their spouse, retirement, health complications, and their subsequent impact. Anti-depressants can be very helpful and make a world of difference. They come back to life. They regain interest in things they once enjoyed, they are motivated to get up and out and become more active, they sleep through the night again, their appetite returns, and they smile and laugh again.

Confusion, dementia, irritability

I have seen a surprising number of seniors have symptoms of memory loss and confusion, and jokingly say how they can’t remember anything anymore like that is normal or okay. Before you run to get checked for Dementia or Alzheimer’s be sure to have your blood pressure checked. I am amazed at how many seniors have symptoms that mimic dementia including memory loss, confusion, inability to follow a conversation, irritability, unreasonable anger and frustration, and after they successfully balance their blood pressure, the symptoms go away or diminish greatly. An oxygen depleted brain cannot function normally and once the blood successfully oxygenates the brain, it works again (obvious and not so amazing, but true). Often times the doctors only look for the more tell-tale signs of high blood pressure like dizziness or headaches. (Note: 120/70 is ideal for most people, 160/80 may not be terrible but it’s not optimal and you may have such symptoms).

Hire a companion

I chose the word “companion” instead of “caretaker” in order to make it easier for you to consider/realize that you don’t have to be so bad off that you need a caretaker in order to consider hiring someone to accompany you and help you out. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to finally be able to get out and go do things with that you would not otherwise be able to? What if you could finally go and do, be involved in activities you left behind years ago or never pursued or felt comfortable doing alone? Just imagine, now you would have someone to go exercise with, go to breakfast or the movies, someone to take you to the grocery store and make meals with, someone to make sure you take your medications. Just having someone to talk to or tell your life stories to, is extremely important and very consoling.

Do not underestimate the devastating impact of loneliness and boredom. There are enough challenges with old age, without suffering needlessly. Recognize the signs of symptoms and explore your options. Do not passively accept your demise or that of a loved one. Quality of life is always the goal, no matter the restrictions or obstacles. Solutions are within reach.