Aging Parents and Us: Must Age, Health Decline, and Dependency go Hand in Hand?

 Growing Older Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Growing Old

We may question this assumption if we’re in the midst of caring for aging parents with health issues. On the other hand, the results of research, published last month in the Journals of Gerontology, may be heartening for us if our parents are still relatively healthy and independent–and also heartening as we think about our years ahead. It’s written by Dana Goldman, a most distinguished professor at USC, who is an adjunct professor at UCLA as well.

In short: after analyzing extensive survey data of Americans aged 51+, researchers  from U. of Illinois at Chicago, Stanford, and the University of Southern California, “found that a substantial group of individuals at all ages experienced not just exceptional health, but their mental and physical functioning was at a level exhibited by people decades younger.” (The MacArthur Foundation, a longtime a leader in aging research  and the  National Institute on Aging funded the study.)   Isn’t that good news!

Dr. Goldman’s article is an easy, quick read (less than 2 minutes) with interesting details. Sometimes, when we feel burdened, hearing something positive, based on  facts, is just “what the doctor ordered.”

And if you need/want more of “what the doctor ordered,” watch/listen to the interview link below, courtesy of the 12/2/13 Huffington Post, for a futuristic way of delivering medical information and services.

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If we’re currently dealing with parents’ health issues, and frustrated with the communication problems that often arise, this interview from the 12/2/13   Huffington Post, with Dr./billionaire Patrick-Soon-Shiong is a must-watch. I believe cancer was an initial motivating factor in his work, but everyone who has health issues will benefit.

Using the cloud, genome data, a specially designed super-computer, and more, he has created an infrastructure for a new medical delivery system that includes a “fluid medical information highway.” This could soon bode well for everyone’s health care, regardless of age. (FYI– Pancreatic cancer patients have been free of the disease for 5 years using these futuristic technologies.)

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The Thanksgiving holiday provided me time to catch up on some reading and  learn a bit about telomeres and aging from my husband’s cousin (a highly respected researcher at one of the two top institutes of technology in the US). It also caused me to post this a day late.  (Returned to NY last night.) A post about telomeres will appear once I’ve had it vetted for accuracy.

Research clearly provides us with interesting, exciting and hopefully personally helpful information, as we continue to meet the challenges of helping parents age well.

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

 

What Pope Benedict XVI (85) and Sr. Advisor R (99) Have in Common

“I want to quit, ” Sr. Advisor R’s voice came clearly through the phone early Monday morning around 9:30 am. It was the day before yesterday…a cloudy, gray day with periodic rain falling. I phoned her –basically to double-check that there were no new developments in R’s life that I should be aware of before coming to pick her up for her wound care center appointment at 1:45.

https://i1.wp.com/www.biography.com/imported/images/Biography/Images/Profiles/B/Pope-Benedict-XVI-15045109-1-402.jpg“The Pope is quitting. I want to quit,” she continued. (Obviously she had already read the paper.) She went on saying something like “I understand his not having the energy for all the responsibilities.

“You know I’ve been feeling this way for some time now. I’m tired. I’ve done everything. Helped everyone I can help; given all I can give–financially not that much, but every bit counts– to help people and the charities I know do good right here in town; and I just don’t have the energy for the responsibilities any  more.”

Of course the Pope can quit and basically remain in the environment he knows with people to take care of his needs. R, on the other hand, would need to give up her home and go to a new environment–a senior retirement place, she decided. Why? Because the responsibilities associated with taking care of her home are feeling overwhelming. That said, she wants to research before making any decisions.

At 99 years of age, she’s dependent on certain people, but… The gardener no longer comes when he should, “the grass looks awful.” She’s alway taken pride in her home. Her cleaning lady (R cleaned until 5-6 years ago) leaves dirt in the corners, always wants to talk, no longer does the heavy cleaning; and the man who comes once a week to take care of the shrubs and citrus trees and do small errands has a bad back. R doesn’t know how long he can continue. Plus the weather–it’s supposed to be warm here but this has been a cold winter. Her bones hurt. R tells me I’ll understand about cold weather and bones when I get older.

My thoughts go back to Dad. He died at 94 1/2 (as he liked to tell everyone). Being a far-away-living daughter it was easy to notice that the last year and a half he began to “pull in,” often preferring to sit in his recliner chair alone in the den, reading his favorite (“because they have happy endings”) Louis L’Amour Westerns with the stock market channel on TV as background noise. Having some of my childhood friends (who he’d known almost all my life) visit, was an added stress, added commotion–even though he liked them. And even his granddaughter (age 2) often generated too much energy and noise for him and he turned down offers to have her come and visit.

So what are we saying? People who have aged well can legitimately feel “old.” At different chronological ages (perhaps 65, perhaps 99) they share commonalities. Their energy wanes, former challenges and responsibilities that they handled impressively before, begin to weigh more and more heavily. They have pride. They want to do. Their mind is still good. They may even feel young inside. But they–if they know themselves–realize the need to relinquish certain responsibilities and simplify and/or de-stress  their lives.

We try hard to help parents age well. If we’re lucky, they do and they live well longer. But there can come a time when they feel it’s time to “quit.” For me, who’s a cheerleader at heart, and my dad it was clear (knowing he had no clinical depression) that I needed to stand back–and basically be a loving daughter.