Aging Parents: The Value of Walking With Your Parents if You’re Over 44

What we and aging parents need to know about postponing
age-related changes

An October 10, 2010 Jane Brody column in the NY Times about age-related changes, continues to be timely. I was reminded of this column as I passed a former neighbor’s home. A garage sale was in progress.

I hadn’t seen my former neighbor, Jane, since last fall, yet I had known  her well and watched her children grow up.  Her husband died prematurely and last fall she introduced me to an important man in her life, Pete.  He was moving here, she said, to be with her.

She shared that Pete was an only child; didn’t want to leave his mother out west.  So although his mother was in her late 80’s she too was moving here into a really nice apartment they had furnished for her, complete with her recently-shipped-out furniture.

I gently questioned about leaving friends, doctors, other supports behind and was told Pete’s mother never went out, just sat home and watched TV, so it really didn’t matter whether she was here or back home. It was the same TV, the same furniture, only now she could be near her son plus Jane. And they could both help her.

As I looked at the sale items neatly organized on the lawn and driveway I spotted a walker. Since another neighbor was a partner in this garage sale I asked “who’s walker was that?”

“Oh, that was Pete’s mother’s, she died a few months ago.”
“I remember she was coming out here,” I said.
“Yes, she came, but it turned out she had a lot wrong with her that we never knew about,” Jane offered.  “She had congestive heart failure among other things. I guess I should have realized.  During the years I’ve known her she stopped walking unless it was absolutely necessary.  She used to go into the market with us to shop, but made excuses to stay in the car the last few years.  And all she did was watch TV.  I realized her figure changed–I guess from so much sitting–her waist, hips, legs got bigger from sitting around and the congestive heart failure, I guess.”

I offered my sympathy.

Jane Brody’s column immediately came to mind. We learn that lifestyle choices we make from midlife on can influence the damage from age-related changes and impact our functioning in late life.

Then a book by Mark Lachs, director of geriatrics at the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System becomes the focus. Dr. Lachs identifies two major influences (among others) that impact how well older people function and we learn that we start to deteriorate (my words) without realizing it at an early age.

Around age 30, for example, muscle strength begins its unnoticed decline until we have muscle weakness. While this may not affect healthy people’s lives until they’re 80-90, lifestyle choices, whether we make them at 50 or 90, can allow us to postpone that rate of decline.

Dr. Lach writes, for example, that if you begin walking daily at age 45, you could delay immobility to 90+. Conversely, immobility can impact a couch potato as early as 60.

Check out Jane Brody’s column and check out Dr. Lach’s book, Treat Me, Not My Age, (Viking)  Think I’ll give his book to a 45-year-old friend; it could also be a Father’s Day gift.

Older people may respond to and prefer advice from a book or, as I’ve often mentioned, “from their doctor,” rather than from us adult children. If this information can help us and help our parents to age well–isn’t it a win-win?