Aging–Macular Degeneration: A Determined 100-year-old’s Efforts to Maintain Quality of Life

R's 100th Birthday

                                                               R’s 100th Birthday

Sr. Advisor R has been called “amazing” for years by so many 40-60-year-olds, who also call her “terrific” and “timeless.” Past posts have underscored their respect for her wisdom and admiration for her ways of handling things. She’s both an advisor to this bog, and my m-i-l. And currently she is facing another challenge: a big round spot blocking vision in one eye–macular degeneration.

During 100 years of living she has overcome much–the last big hurdle: her impressive recovery from a broken hip (femur) at 97. That was three years ago. Her mind remains excellent for her age and she was aware her sight was suffering “a little” degeneration, but was getting no professional treatment and hadn’t noticed that her sight was changing until it suddenly began over several days.

Coincidently she had an opthalmologist appointment scheduled a few days later. While she began immediate treatment, the prognosis from two ophthalmologists is that results will be slow and no doubt limited. With her vision impacted and depth perception a real problem she is making adjustments.

“We take eyesight for granted–don’t realize how important it is–it’s your connection to the world,” says R, who adds “I’ll do the best I can with it.” With one “weak but useable” eye, she is using two magnifying glasses of different magnifications to finish doing her income taxes (making itemized lists) for the accountant next week. Everything takes much more time now, and planning how long something will take is “ify,” especially getting ready to go some place.

R acknowledges that when facing serious challenges in the past, she had to let go of some things and prioritize others in order to redirect her energy towards maintaining independence. This is the last year she will do her taxes. Which brings us to yesterday.

R continues with her life, albeit at a slower pace because vision problems affect simple things like putting on make-up and doing her hair. Yesterday she needed to go to the bank.  My husband or I could have done that errand for her but she didn’t want to give in to that.

She requested I pick her up more than an hour later than the usual time. The young woman who usually helps at the bank, J, was away when we arrived. She later heard R was there and appeared as R was finishing her business. “I haven’t seen you in months and I was worried,” was J’s greeting. Then ensued a conversation about R’s eye situation and being 100 and how much she admires R.

J then told what I believe to be a true story about a friend’s grandfather. We seem to like to talk about amazing older people who still make the effort.  At age 103, he still works out at the gym 4 days a week. Evidently one of the trainers told him that perhaps he should cut down the number of workouts–or at least shorten them. To which the grandfather asked: “How old are you?” Response: “30 something.” “I’m 103,” said the grandfather.

Whereupon a thought entered my mind: When older people are doing great and still have a good mind, why do younger people feel a need to give them advice? I know R doesn’t believe in what she calls “unsolicited advice.”

We hear more and more about people living into old, old age. No doubt all have some aging problems. The ones who “soldier through,” who make the effort, are the amazing ones. They have been called “The Greatest Generation.” I wonder if we will do as well.

R has often said “I’m a realist.” Yet I’ve never heard her say anything like “Growing old is not for sissies.” Instead she will be the first to tell you getting old “isn’t easy,” explaining “it takes willpower, energy, and common sense–more every year.” She has been widowed half of her life, thinks deeply and shares knowledge of a lifetime when appropriate. Her younger friends say she has taught them so much about living. It has cemented a special bond.

“They care about me and I care about them too,” she says.

If that doesn’t provide the bedrock for quality of life and a reason for making the effort, I don’t know what does.

Related:
In sidebar– 12/11/13 Mayo Clinic’s Age-Related Vision Problems and How the Eye Perceives Them

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Changing often: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Timely links to research and information from top universities, plus some fun stuff to help parents age well.

 

Aging Parents: Feeling Alone in a Crowded Room–plus 2 Additional Reasons They May Not Want to Go Out Any More

It may all boil down to pride; staying home is safe.

No one likes to feel diminished, whether it’s unintentional or not. Yet going someplace where interaction with others is the norm can pose a threat to older people’s pride and self-esteem when they have certain aging issues. I think it’s safe to say many–if not all– older people begin to recognize what octogenarian Julia calls “a lessening of oneself,” adding “it’s not pleasant.”

When others no longer pay attention to them and/or or older people don’t want others to discover their “lessening,” thoughts of being with others away from home can be emotionally troubling. Three issues (you may think of more) that can cause this.

1. Mobility
2. Vision
3. Memory

Mobility: We Can Change This Scene

I’m was at a family gathering that included my oldest cousin (age 88) a widow, now living in Assisted Living due to heart and mobility problems. My cousins’ ages have a big spread. Many cousins (plus some of their children, grandchildren and a great- grandchild) were at the gathering. Age range was 2-90 (a cousin’s husband).

Since I live across the country I don’t see family members often. Things change in a year as we know. I try to remember Sr. Advisor’s wise words: Don’t assume. Nevertheless, I keep being surprised.

I was surprised, upon arriving at the gathering, to find my oldest cousin (a once capable working mother and volunteer) sitting basically alone in the living room, in a very hard-to get-out-of chair, while the rest of the family was socializing outside on the patio or busying themselves placing food on the nearby table for a buffet-style meal.

From time to time the youngest would run through the living room, with his aunt in hot pursuit.  My oldest cousin was in the scene but out of the action….ignored.  She could not move from the current chair without help. Evidently no one thought about that.

As she and I talked, I asked if she was comfortable or would prefer sitting on the patio. She wasn’t comfortable, she said, and two of us helped her out of the deep-cushioned chair and walked onto the patio with her. We found a suitable chair with a firm seat and arms from which she could stand up and walk (if someone put her walker into position for her). She was back in the action.

In hindsight we can change the scene by:

  • initially providing a sturdy armchair (with a firm seat) which is easy to get up from. A wheel chair would work even better for those who use a wheel chair.
  • watching that no one is ignored
  • having a sit-down meal, using informal place cards, for compatible seating

Seder: The O’Learys, the Steins, 99 1/2-year-old R, Us + 47 others, a previous post this year, is a model of sensitive people hosting a large event that includes an old person who hasn’t the energy to move around a lot.

Vision: We can be the eyes in an unobtrusive way

I think about a good friend whose mother was declared legally blind in her 90’s. My friend had an innate understanding of how to help parents age well–respecting and empowering. She related how her mother no longer wanted to go out if there would be too many people she knew. Her vision was so poor that she feared she wouldn’t recognize someone she knew well and that would be embarrassing.

We can’t change the scene, but we can safeguard elders’ pride and self-esteem.

  • When in a smallish group it was easy for my friend to remain by her mother’s side and whisper the names of people who were heading towards them. (Her mother didn’t want to be embarrassed by having her daughter say “You remember so-and-so.”)
  • Or she would take the initiative and say, for example, “Hello, Kristi” so her mother had the name before needing to use it.
  • When parents no longer drive but otherwise seem unchanged, let the person driving your parent know about the vision loss so when people can come over they can initiate “Hello Mary, it’s so-and-so.” or I’m so-and-so.

Memory

Memory issues seem more tricky. I am told a very successful man–once a leader in his community–was invited to a party all his friend would be attending. He had memory loss that was worsening. His wife, assuming it would be good for him to be with his old friends and attend a happy event, was insisting he go. He didn’t want to go, but gave up arguing. Instead he decided not to get dressed for the party.  His pride wouldn’t allow him to be any less of a person than his old friends knew and remembered. His wife didn’t get it….until he finally “put his foot down” in a way she couldn’t ignore.

As we try to help parents age well, we realize that older people can be easily marginalized by unthinking people–even caring people who would be appalled if they realized what they were(n’t) doing. Why does it seem easy to forget our elders have pride?
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Note-New: Check out “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities about cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.    

 

Aging Parents: Loss and Grief We Might Never Realize

We know parents lose friends, and spouses, and sometimes a child. Yet the lasting grief and the totality and nature of losses is an eye-opener. We hear from an active, obviously intelligent older person:

Yesterday I traveled to the city to meet a group of art buffs who get together once a year for a tour of the galleries of new art. We hoot at the craziness of some exhibits and press each other to understand what’s going on in each installation and interactive piece. This year, however, I could not stand and walk easily. Fatigue overshadowed my pleasure in the art, and I knew that next year I would forgo an event that for twenty years has been one of the highlights of the fall season for me.

On my calendar is the evening wedding of a friend’s granddaughter. In the sixty years of our friendship, S and I have participated in each other’s celebrations, and now I will see a grown-up Rachel in a bridal gown–Rachel, the family nonconformist, in the traditional ceremony. I’ll embrace S’s friends and family members whom I’ve seen at previous celebrations, noting how they’ve aged along with me. Can I travel for two hours to a wedding that will begin about my usual bedtime? Easy, I tell myself, just rearrange your day to include a nap. But at 86 I don’t adjust to changes in schedule and try as I will, the nap won’t happen. Would it be foolish to go? Yes. Will I go? Probably…but certainly not to a similar event next year.

Another pleasure that has come to an end: my jaunts with R, who delighted in driving, as many men do, and would drive us twenty miles for lunch at a restaurant with a view of the lake or ocean. R and I are the only ones left of the six friends–three couples–who met abroad thirty years ago, but alas even the two of us are breaking up. His failing eyesight has forced him to give up driving and yield to his children’s desire for him to move to another part of the country, closer to family.

There have been worse losses than a party or a trip. In the past decade alone, many friends have died. R’s wife, H, with cruel suddenness. An older friend, the worldly A, who guided my plans and purchases when my husband and I began to travel. She taught me how to be a friend. J, a younger colleague whose admiration spurred me to achievement, gone before her time. B, my exact contemporary, is gone, and E, a friend from college died three months ago.

Also lost in the past decade…a deeply admired younger brother, a bon vivant whose word of praise–for a purchase made or a dish well cooked–made all the trouble worthwhile.

And the deepest loss, the steady love that buoyed me for most of my adult life. How to tell children and friends that I haven’t stopped grieving for my husband, who died eight years ago? I’d be disgraced in their eyes, a pariah, a dinosaur who can’t adapt to the present world. And so I hug this guilty secret about a loss that should have healed seven years ago and still stabs daily.

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