Writer’s Name: Nanette Buchanan
Title: Aging Gracefully has its Disadvantages
As one lives, one ages. It’s just that simple or is it? Are we really prepared to age with grace? Mentally, physically, and emotionally are we prepared to take on the challenges one faces when aging?
The fears of growing older are much more than the fear of being alone, losing your spouse or mate, being unable to care for yourself, or succumbing to illness. To be independent and to reach the golden era, only to be met with a health crisis is not what we long for as we gracefully enter our retirement. After years of employment, raising families, and securing our finances to enjoy the peace of life after its unforeseen challenges, we are faced with the perils of aging. As adults we seek to be successful so that we can retire and age gracefully. We rarely think of the new challenges or fears we will face.
We all have that elder in the family that has been totally independent for what seems to have been decades. They are stronger than most of us who work and have a full schedule. Although we know they take medicine, have aches and pains, they don’t complain. Most carry on until the days become slower, night becomes day and they sit more than stand. Aging gracefully holds its beauty when surrounded by family and friends. Being active seems to prolong the years of illness that creep upon those who have no family attachment. We love them, not understanding that their illness has been with them unprepared; we seek medical advice only to find these diseases come with age.
Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Cancer, Glaucoma, Fibromyalgia, and Alzheimer Disease have become expected diseases as we age. Each is serious in nature, add fear and isolation, and often link to depression, stress and hopelessness. Most have symptoms and signs that can be treated in the early stages. The fear of dying with an illness certainly overrides the fear of aging with grace.
When I think about aging, I avoid the thoughts of sickness and disease. The reality of visiting my doctor, taking more medication, and a slower schedule isn’t a part of my plans for my golden years in life. I’ve done the best I could to educate myself so when reality sets in, I won’t be afraid. I remember wondering, during my youth, what the senior years of fifty plus would bring me. Now at fifty plus I realize, being fifty is similar to being a pre-teen; you’re not quite there but you know it’s coming. During those young years waiting to be a teenager I couldn’t wait to be older, be independent and yes be grown. Well today, I am well aware that my aging gracefully has begun. I’ve gained weight, loss hair, and my skin has changed even with all the products that say it won’t happen. I’ve changed my diet, my sleeping habits and even added a regular regiment of vitamins and supplements. I go to the doctor regularly and drag my husband, who no longer complains agreeing that we need to face the fact that we are getting older.
My fears of disease began with watching the elders of my family pass on. Most died from cancer or heart conditions, which the doctors said was genetically passed on. My worries didn’t lessen as I checked my health constantly for anything that would link to a prolonged illness. High blood pressure, arthritis and checking my diet for cholesterol became a part of my norm for I assume whatever my family may have suffered from held my fate. Five years ago my husband was stricken at the age of 52 with a stroke; aging gracefully took on a new meaning.
After numerous tests, it was determined that my husband’s triglyceride levels were increasing rapidly and becoming a danger to his health. Prior to this I had never dealt directly with anyone who had a stroke. My knowledge was limited and fear took over. Our golden years together were to be filled with doctors, medication and the possibility of him losing mobility. My mind took me on a rollercoaster ride of perils that would befall us, our life and our marriage. God blessed him, giving us time to get a diagnosis and interfere with what could have been a massive stroke, he was sent home with medication and a new schedule for life. If he was to continue living the best he could, he would have to take medication daily, get rest throughout the day, and quit working. Aging gracefully, a man who had worked since the age of 16 could no longer work if he wanted to live. It struck us both, mentally and emotionally.
I immediately read all I could about strokes, the limitations, and the causes. My fears increased as I saw the symptoms of another disease and wondered, could this be our fate? Would my husband give in as many have? Would we have the support of our family? What would we do if my husband had the early stages of Alzheimer Disease?
After the stroke it was determined that the part of the brain that was affected controlled my husband’s short term memory. The problem that became evident was that we all, even those who have never had a stroke forget things only to remember them later. However, my husband’s memory had taken this simple task overboard. I pray often that he is not out and about and forgets where his home is or who he is. I cry often praying he will not forget his family, friends, and loved ones. Alzheimer Disease has peeked into our life and we are looking to fight it at all cost. The doctor concludes that because the loss of memory is not limited to Alzheimer and he has no other symptoms of the disease we need not worry. “Age gracefully, enjoy life to the fullest, and keep his levels stable, and he’ll be fine.” We can only pray.
In talking with friends, I’ve found that they too can remember early stages of the disease that has now taken a toll on their family members. Hoarding was one of the largest complaints. We found that one of the first signs “Dementia” included hoarding habits. Often this is done without the person realizing they are over stocking, keeping things that are not needed or placing them where they do not belong.
Another sign was talking about the past as though it was happening currently. My husband and the loved ones we discussed often confuse the past and the present; places, times, and occurrences seem to all run together without a timeline. Other symptoms are minor and can be confused with those of us who will attest to the fact, that we are not early candidates of this disease. How often do we find ourselves in a room forgetting what we were looking for or why we entered it? For those suffering the early stages of Alzheimer, this is done regularly and overlooked because we all do it. Not being able to recall or bring to mind many things is often ignored because it will “come to us” later. This is a daily struggle for those who suffer through and don’t quite understand that they are headed for a difficult stage in their life.
My fears are real. Aging will not be graceful if I worry daily about what can’t be remembered by my spouse. What if I can’t remember? The stress of it alone will add to my disrupted sleep patterns and new found wrinkles and gray hair. I smile though, as we age gracefully together because we’re only at the beginning. Neither of us is what we consider over the hill. We still live a vibrant life, interact with friends and family, travel and have a healthy loving relationship. So need we concern ourselves with the inevitable? It could be worse, as one elder once told me -“If I’m getting older, it means I’m still here to see another day.” That in itself is golden.