Flashback Friday: "Growing Old Graciously" 10/2012

“Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life.”

“…I’m old and tired in a lonely sort of way…”  JS

“…I feared growing old and dying, until I realized I could wake up dead at any age…”  JS

Growing old is inevitable, much like death and taxes. Okay, that’s not exactly true, not everyone gets the opportunity to grows old, many are called home early on and never pass through the so called ‘golden years.’  But if your one of the ‘lucky’ ones with a strong heart and good genes, barring some unforeseen accident, you my friend, will grow old.  It seems we have no alternative, it’s just part of the trip God has planned for us.

So when are we actually considered to be old? I remember when we used to think that anyone over 30 was old? Hell, now I’m twice that! I’m really old! Believe it or not a group of researchers with nothing better to do with their time have actually come up with a specific age denoting when old age begins. Using some sort of massive survey system and census results they have determined that old age begins at the age of 68, that’s right 68! It doesn’t matter that AARP considers you a senior citizen at 50, or that you qualify for senior discounts at several restaurants and stores at 55, or that you can begin collecting Social Security at 62, you don’t begin to grow old until age 68. Of course we all know people who are old long before that and others who are young at heart long after that.  Like I’ve always said ‘age is just a number.

Let’s face it people, whether we like it or not we will all be joining the ranks of the elderly, some sooner than others. Currently over 17% or approximately 53million Americans are 60 or older, 39 million Americans are 65 or older, that’s 13% of the U.S. population. A hundred years ago only 4% of the population was 65 or older. Americans are simply living longer, a result of dramatic advances in medical science and public health.  Researchers project that by 2050, 5% or one in five Americans will be 85 and older, up from 2% today. Ah the wonders of modern medicine.

I’ve always likened aging to being a passenger on a high speed, bullet train. You’re destination is uncertain and the route is constantly changing. The throttle is locked at full speed and there is no way you can stop it. You’re on a collision course with destiny and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. This my friends is life, our lives. At birth we board this train and don’t disembark  until we reach the end of the line, our demise.

Speeding through life we may pass through as many as 10 phases or as few as one, the final one. The phases are: Infancy(birth-2yrs), Child(3-9), Adolescent(10-19), Young Adult(20-29), Adult(30-39), Middle Age(40-60), Independent Elder(60-onward) and End of Life. There are also two optional phases that everyone hopes they can skip or at least put off for as long as possible. They are Vulnerable Elder and Dependent Elder. Both can begin anytime after age 60. Vulnerable Elder includes the beginning of frailty, cognitive reasoning or multiple health problems and the need for some assistance. The Dependent Elder requires daily care and is unable to perform all personal functions. The person is totally dependent on others. In both these phases the quality of life is greatly diminished.

So, the way I see it, the idea of growing old graciously is completely gene dependent. If we are destined to live to a ripe old age we will either be fortunate enough to retain enough of our mental faculties and health to enjoy our old age or we will be dependent to varying degrees on the attention and care of others, be it family members, friends, or heath care professionals. Care that some may or may not even be aware that they’re receiving. God I hope I’m one of the lucky ones.

Our new house guest

So what brought on this talk of aging, runaway trains and life phases?  My 87 year old dad. Today we had an appointment with his regular doctor. After his episode last week the doctor strongly suggested that my dad no longer live on his own and begin making other arrangements.  This isn’t a problem as he has been staying with us since his release from the hospital last week. He is more than welcome to remain with us and he know that. There won’t be any nursing home in his future.

The doctor also told him that because there is a chance he could pass out unexpectedly again, it is simply too dangerous for him to be behind the wheel.  His driving days are over. We knew this day was coming. I thought the driving thing was going to be tough. My dad’s driven for nearly seventy-five years. He was a Teamster truck driver for over 40 of them. I was worried that he would be very upset. He has always been independent and has lived on his own for the past 18 years. He has no cognitive problems, but his body is beginning to fail him. I’m sure he’s given plenty of thought to both eventualities and knows it is the best thing for him. Still, to lose two personal freedoms in a single afternoon is harsh. I must say he handled the news much better than I expected and even joked about it! I hope when and if I’m faced with the same situation I handle it as well as he did. I guess you can grow old graciously…

Just a Thought…


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