What to Expect When You Grow Old

Mom and Her Faithful Companion

Although on this Easter Mom had other company, her cat was her only company most of the time.
Although on this Easter Mom had other company, her cat was her only company most of the time. | Source

What You Don't Expect to Feel When You are Old

When you are young or middle-aged, you cannot imagine the way your personality and lifestyle may change when you become elderly. Part of aging is physical, and that part most of us are resigned to and just hope we won't ever become dependent enough to have to leave our homes.

What you may not expect unless you've been very involved in elder care or are very close to aging friends or relatives, are the changes in the way you may feel about yourself and your life. They've always said you are only as old as you feel, and we never really expect to feel old, even when we are old. And in one way, that's true. We can still hold on to the wonder and optimism we have as children or young adults. But we also begin to recognize that some things we have always controlled may be moving beyond our control. One of these things is how people we don't know look at us. Another is to maintain long held friendships as old friends die off before us. We also may have unexpected health and mental health issues, only some of which are under our control.

Some people are mentally and physically healthy enough in old age to be able to stay independent and keep control of their finances and stay in their homes. But even they may deal with the emotional issues they did not expect. In this hub we will look at some of those.

Age Discrimination

Respect vs Invisibility

In some cultures, the elderly are respected for their life experience and greater wisdom they've acquired over the years. The United States does not appear to revere its elder citizens this way, though. They are often considered foolish, incapable, irritating, demented, and insignificant. It's often thought they have all the time in the world. I remember one morning I took my mother to her cardiologist for a 9 am appointment. She was in her eighties. We sat and sat as everyone else in that waiting room, even those who had arrived much later than Mom, were called to see the doctor. It was as though Mom was invisible. Finally, about 11, I couldn't take it anymore. I finally asked the receptionist what was taking so long. Mom had just been overlooked as the younger, working, more important people had gone ahead of her. They called her a few minutes later.

Pat Moore, who wrote Disguised: A True Story, an industrial designer for products for the elderly, decided to see what it was like to be elderly, in order to design better products. As a businesswoman, she was used to being important and respected. With the help of a make-up artist, she disguised herself as a much older woman and continued to do that for three years. What shocked her most during this time was the difference in how she was treated because of her perceived age. She was often ignored, and people tried to take advantage of her, assuming her to be gullible. Instead of being respected, she was often overlooked. When people explained things to her, they often talked down to her, as though she would not understand what they might say to a younger person. Her gray hair and frail appearance suddenly made her insignificant to many people who would have treated her undisguised 26-year-old self differently. To really understand what some of our elderly are faced with daily, I highly recommend this book.

The Vulnerability of Old Age

As you anticipate growing old, what do you most fear?

  • The loneliness of surviving my spouse and friends
  • Becoming immobile
  • Becoming blind or deaf
  • Not being able to drive anymore
  • Living alone
  • All of the above
See results without voting

Vulnerability.

As Pat Moore found out after being mugged, the elderly are often targets of criminals because they look like easy targets who can't fight back. This makes many in their last three decades hesitant to go out alone after dark. Even I, almost 70, am beginning to feel a bit of this vulnerability.

Some elderly citizens are also developing health issues that limit what they can do physically. Arthritis, which is very common as people age, makes it harder to open jars, pop up the tops of canned goods, and use some tools. It can also become hard to turn door knobs and faucets. These are all activities these people once took for granted, and it's frustrating to discover, especially if you live alone, that you can't do them anymore. One problem that troubles many as they age is no longer being able to cut their own toenails. These changes in abilities can make people feel less capable and more dependent upon others for help. If they are fortunate, they have children who will be there for them, or they can afford to hire help.

For some, eyesight begins to dim and hearing fades, or both, depending on age. This can make it harder to drive and harder to communicate with people, and it increases a sense of isolation and dependence if one has to stop driving completely -- especially if there is no good public transportation available. It also increases the perception that one is no longer of use to anyone. Society often makes people who can no longer "contribute" to society by volunteering or working for pay, feel unimportant. This attitude then might begin to rub off on the person himself, thus making him feel useless.

Sometimes even mobility within one's own home decreases. When one has to use a walker or wheelchair, independent living becomes harder and harder, and adult children may put pressure on a parent living alone to move in with them or to move to an assisted living facility. This can be a very hard blow -- to give up a home and the privacy and autonomy you've enjoyed -- to move in with others who will help take care of you. Giving up independence is very difficult if you've had it for your entire adult life. Hand in hand with this may come the pressure to give a relative or trustee complete power by letting them handle even your finances.


Loneliness

Mom with her two nieces after her sister's funeral.
Mom with her two nieces after her sister's funeral. | Source
Residents in convalescent home wait for carolers to to add some variety and cheer to their holiday season.
Residents in convalescent home wait for carolers to to add some variety and cheer to their holiday season. | Source

Loneliness

One of the biggest challenges in aging are the changes in one's social life. For many, retirement offered the opportunity to socialize more with friends, play golf, travel, volunteer in the community, and spend quality time with grandchildren. I know how active my mom was in her sixties, the age I am now. She was president of two organizations, and active in others. Then, when she was 70, she lost my dad. Although she remained active, instant and unexpected widowhood was a great blow. She'd lost half of herself. She was no longer part of a couple that socialized with other couples. She was a widow who socialized in organizations and with other widows and with her children, one of whom was me, living 250 miles away.

She received another blow at 76 during a family crisis. She needed to move my then five-year-old nephew in with her for almost a year while his parents were away, and we took his 13-year-old brother. In one way, this gave her added purpose, but it was also very difficult to parent a disturbed five-year-old for a year with little help. Being a parent at 76 is hard enough, but single parenting when all your friends are in their sixties and seventies is even harder. That year taught us Mom should be closer to me, in case such a thing were to happen again. I didn't have room for two children where I lived, but I would have been able to help out on weekends and give her a break. So Mom moved here. As it turned out, the children did not need to live with us again, but Mom was still here, and I was at first the only person she knew in this community.

Many older folks find themselves in this predicament, having to move closer to or even in with their children when they are in their seventies. That means they have left their social contacts behind -- their normal activities and close friends. It also means they are more dependent on their children socially, but their children are often still working or have children at home, and they don't have all the time to spend with a parent that the parent would like. Thus, the parent feels isolated. Mom made a few friends at church and volunteered at the library for a few years, but then she had to drop choir and Bible study because they met at night and she couldn't drive at night anymore. She was dependent on rides to get to those activities.

One thing Mom really looked forward to were semi-annual trips to visit her sister and son and friends in the city she had moved from. A couple of times a group of her bridge friends from back home came to see her. But, sadly, one by one they died, and finally even her sister died. She had basically lost everyone she loved except her children and grandchildren. This is something almost every elderly person faces if she survives to the late eighties or into the nineties and beyond. She no longer has close friends with a shared history.

This same thing happened to my Cousin Edna ( my father's mother's first cousin), who also lived many years by herself at the end of her life. Her mother died when she was only 16, and before she died made Edna promise to take care of her father. Because of this promise, she never married, and thus had no children. She lived with a college roommate most of her life, and they taught school. She cared for her father in their home and later her brother as well. Though she never left her community, as my mom did, all her close friends, including her roommate, eventually died off, and she had only my dad and us, to help her at the close of her life. Like many, she "didn't want to be a burden" on her remaining loved ones. She had carried "burdens" most of her life. Unlike many, she was financially able to move into a secure senior condo when it no longer made sense for her to keep her large family home. When she could no longer be independent after her health deteriorated, she moved to assisted living until her life's end. In her last years, she could no longer read, since she had macular degeneration, and even with hearing aids she could not always hear everything. I often wonder what her life would have been like if she had not died three years before my dad did, since my dad visited her regularly and toward the end ran errands for her, carrying documents to her lawyers and banks, etc. Till the end she was mentally strong and managed to control her own finances and legal documents. She was a woman with great faith in God, and as she had less and less human companionship, she relied more on her relationship to him.

Although Mom's volunteer work was in the daytime, by the time my mom was 85, she had to drop that, too, because her memory was starting to go. She couldn't remember to show up at the right time -- even for her appointments with the hairdresser. We decided to see if a senior residence might be the answer, but we made it a 90-day trial. We thought it might improve her social life to have others around, and she wouldn't have to eat alone during the day. Unfortunately, she was having a lot of problems with her hearing aids then, and so she couldn't hear well enough to communicate with potential friends. She was afraid to respond to what they said because she didn't want to appear foolish if she hadn't heard them right. She remained almost as isolated as she had at home, but she felt more independent at home. After three months, she came back home.

After Mom moved close to me, I was in the habit of stopping by to see her on the way home from my daily post office trip in the early evening. I'd normally stay about an hour. We'd also spend most Sunday afternoons with her. Normally when I arrived, she was reading. I think she went through about three books a day after her social life went down to just my visits and church on Sunday if she felt up to it. She had become what many of the elderly become -- a shut in. She had no hobbies or strong interests she could pursue alone except reading. After she turned 85 and the volunteering had stopped, she only drove around the corner to the grocery stores and Walmart to get what she needed, and to the library. She was just not that secure with driving anymore. After we hired a companion, she didn't drive at all. The companion drove her, or I did. Except for the companion and me, and my brother's visits on major holidays, Mom was almost isolated during her last few years, except when she received visits from friends from church or her pastor.


Nutrition for a Shut-In

What a shut-in may look forward to for breakfast, with the newspaper for companionship.
What a shut-in may look forward to for breakfast, with the newspaper for companionship. | Source

Nutritional Needs of the Elderly

One reason many of the elderly aren't as healthy as they could be is because they don't eat right. They just aren't motivated to cook nutritious meals for themselves. So they eat convenience foods or easy things like peanut butter sandwiches. Or they go out to lunch if they can find someone to go with. I could only go out for lunch once or twice a month. And, although I sometimes brought prepared meals to Mom, it wasn't a regular thing. Our answer to that (mostly mine, since Mom was resistant) was to hire a companion to come in three days a week for three hours a day to cook and do light housework and just be there. After about three tries we found one Mom really liked, and it proved to be a Godsend when she became more frail and needed 24 hour care toward the end of her life.

Unless an older person is very fortunate and remains in good health until the end of life, they eventually will need help to stay in their homes or they will have to move in with a child or into assisted living. Mom chose to stay in her home and hire the help she needed, and it proved to be a good decision. It worked because we started thinking about it before the need was urgent -- before she became very ill. By that time she and her companion had become fast friends and the companion was able to be with her when she was awake. I came in at night for the "swing" shift, and we had someone from an agency come during the sleeping hours. It was expensive, but so is assisted living, and even assisted living has its limits when someone gets very sick.

Eating Right to Make Aging Easier

Aging: Fight it with the Blood Type Diet: The Individualized Plan for Preventing and Treating Brain Impairment, Hormonal D eficiency, and the Loss of Vitality Associated with Advancing Years
Aging: Fight it with the Blood Type Diet: The Individualized Plan for Preventing and Treating Brain Impairment, Hormonal D eficiency, and the Loss of Vitality Associated with Advancing Years

When we are young, we don't feel it as much when we don't eat for optimal health. As we begin to age, our health problems become more evident. Dr. Peter D'Adamo has provided diet and life style advice for each different blood type, since his research has shown that each type is more susceptible to different diseases or to different forms of cancer. The sooner one starts to eat properly for one's blood type, the better off one will be as one ages.

 
Eat Right 4 Your Type: The Individualized Diet Solution to Staying Healthy, Living Longer & Achieving Your Ideal Weight
Eat Right 4 Your Type: The Individualized Diet Solution to Staying Healthy, Living Longer & Achieving Your Ideal Weight

In this book Dr. D'Adamo explains the research that supports his individualized diets by blood type. It is good background for the book described above.

 
Eat Right 4 Your Type Home Blood Typing Kit with Eldoncard
Eat Right 4 Your Type Home Blood Typing Kit with Eldoncard

This inexpensive kit will help you determine what your blood type is in the privacy of your own home. Except for a prick of your finger, it's painless. If you tend to be squeamish, you might want someone to help you with the procedure. Or you can donate blood and find out for free, as I did.

 

Preparing for Old Age

Fresh and delicious strawberries from Farmers Market
Fresh and delicious strawberries from Farmers Market | Source
Summer squashes from Farmers Market
Summer squashes from Farmers Market | Source
Couple walking at Lookout Park in Summerland, California.
Couple walking at Lookout Park in Summerland, California. | Source
One of my beginning tomato gardens.
One of my beginning tomato gardens. | Source
Practical one-story house that is accessible to the physically disabled. This is where we are likely to wind up.
Practical one-story house that is accessible to the physically disabled. This is where we are likely to wind up. | Source
A gorgeous tri-level house for the young, but not practical for the aging who need something more accessible. This is the house we passed by and rented to someone else.
A gorgeous tri-level house for the young, but not practical for the aging who need something more accessible. This is the house we passed by and rented to someone else. | Source

What You Can Do Now

Although we can never see exactly what the future may hold for us, there are some things we can do now that may help us in our later years. One is to seriously plan for financial security after we retire. Another is to form good eating habits now. Find easy to fix foods that you like and that are nutritious. Put the recipes in writing and keep them easy to find in case you need to instruct a caregiver at some point in your life what to cook for you. Get into the habit of eating fresh fruits and vegetables -- lots of them. They can help protect you from many ailments, including macular degeneration, heart disease, and cancer. Consider taking supplements for nutrients your eyes and brain need to stay in good working order. You might want to consult a doctor who is open to nutritional therapies.

Consider now, if you are married, that someday you may be widowed. Begin now to develop some hobbies or interests you can enjoy independently and pursue almost anywhere. Maybe you will want to write down some of your family history to pass to your children. While your husband is still living, maybe you can interview each other on video about your early lives as part of that project. This project will give you some interesting topics of conversation and will also bring back wonderful memories that will be good for you when you are feeling isolated. If possible, try to make some friends with common interests who are younger than you are and might survive you.

Take walks together if you can, for it will help keep you in better mental and physical shape if you get regular exercise. If you are single, try to find a friend to walk with, or get a dog who will walk with you. Gardening is also good exercise if you are physically able to do it. The earlier you start, the easier it will be. If you are still relatively young, consider making high raised beds now that will still be easy to work in when it's hard to kneel or bend down to work. Raising some of your own vegetables will also keep you healthier.

When you are still healthy, but approaching your seventies, you might want to move into a house that's all on one level and make sure it is accessible to wheelchairs and walkers. Put in shower grab bars and make knobs and faucets elder friendly with handles that go up and down instead of being turned. Take a walk through one of the senior residences and see what they have done to make it easier for their residents.

This is something most people never give a thought to in their fifties or sixties before they start to encounter physical limitations. My father-in-law was an architect who built a beautiful tri-level home in Carmel Valley, California. It was perfect for people who were not disabled. All the bedrooms and bathrooms but one were on the main entry level. Half a flight of stairs up was the spacious master bedroom suite with an equally spacious master bath with separate tub and shower. The kitchen, dining room, living room, and family room were all downstairs -- but there was no bathroom down there. When my in-laws hit their seventies, they had to convert part of the garage to another kitchen, much smaller and less beautiful than the one downstairs. Downstairs had become pretty inaccessible to them by then. They no longer could use their master suite for anything but storage, since that also meant climbing stairs. We inherited that house, but it seemed stupid to move into it as we were in our sixties by then. As we age, we will probably move to the house I inherited from my mom that is wheelchair accessible and has grab bars installed. Until we saw the predicament of my in-laws, we would never have thought like this. They hadn't thought about it either, until it was too late.

Thinking ahead can't solve all the problems of aging. But it can help you plan for a living situation you can function in should you become disabled, close to shopping and medical help with public transportation available nearby if you can no longer drive.

To guard against later social isolation, begin now to cultivate relationships with new people who have common interests. Don't neglect being active in a worship community of your faith. Not only will you get to know people of all generations, but you may have a lot to offer them. You will be able to help others when you are still strong, and if you ever become frail and more isolated, they will help take care of you. They may offer you rides to worship services and help out in an emergency. I've seen this in church after church I've belonged to. In my previous church the men of the church took turns helping to get a man in and out of bed morning and night. His wife couldn't lift him, but this help enabled them to stay in their home. Others came to take care of their lawn and clean the house periodically. Most churches bring meals to those who have lost a loved one or have had a severe medical emergency until they are able to carry on with their lives. Church members also offer emotional support at such times, even coming to the hospital to sit with you when your spouse is in surgery.

It's a great comfort when you seem invisible and unimportant to a lot of younger people to know that God loves you and that you are significant in his eyes. Getting to know your creator now will be your greatest resource when you are old. He will listen to you when no one else is there. He will still be with you when all your friends are gone. He will be your help in time of trouble. And he will finally take you to your eternal home when the time comes to leave this earth.

A Church in Action

Men talking after church on Easter Sunday. One has just finished a round of chemotherapy and experienced church love. He, himself was a hospital chaplain.Two helped us the day we moved in. One helps with our weed abatement.
Men talking after church on Easter Sunday. One has just finished a round of chemotherapy and experienced church love. He, himself was a hospital chaplain.Two helped us the day we moved in. One helps with our weed abatement. | Source
My husband is in the foreground. As you can see, many ages gather here, including the children, who aren't in this picture. Our church is like a family, and they help one another. That's why I pictured people -- not a building.
My husband is in the foreground. As you can see, many ages gather here, including the children, who aren't in this picture. Our church is like a family, and they help one another. That's why I pictured people -- not a building. | Source

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Comments 20 comments

cloverleaffarm profile image

cloverleaffarm 4 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

Great hub! I enjoyed it. My mother-in-law once told me that I was not going to make a good old person. She is probably right. I've had limitations for 9 years because of vertigo, and I hate it.

Voted up, useful and interesting!


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

Your lovely and useful article is beautiful also. You have much advice that people can think about and prepare for the future. Aging is something that we all shall face and knowing how to be ready is important. Thank you for this wonderful and loving perspective. I hope it becomes a Hub Of The Day.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Cloverleafarm, physical limitations can strike at any age. I'm sure few people would rejoice to have these limitations. Besides limiting your physical activities, has this limited how you perceive yourself? Affected your self-confidence? Thanks for stopping by to read and comment.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Hyphenbird, I wish I had started thinking about some things sooner. I still have a lot to do to prepare to move anywhere -- even though I have a place to move into. It seems there's this mentality that always thinks we can do it later -- that we have more urgent tasks today that have to be done first. Then, before we are ready, later arrives when we least expect it. Thank you for your comments.


cloverleaffarm profile image

cloverleaffarm 4 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

I guess in some ways it has changed things. I don't drive, so I am dependent on others for that, which to me totally bites. I was always so independent. I don't think it has bothered my self confidence. Never really thought about it. It does bother me that I can not do what I would normally do. I guess, it has changed my perception, in that I feel "weak", where I was always the strong one. Good questions.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Thanks for sharing this, cloverleaffarm. I think not being able to just go somewhere when you want to would really cramp an independent person.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

Great informative hub. Much to think about, stay active, that's the key...


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Always exploring, you're right. Staying active is a large part of preventing some of the problems of aging.


Diana Lee profile image

Diana Lee 4 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

This is a great article which gives us all something to think about. Voted up.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Thank you, Diana. I wish I had known all this during Mom's last years. I had trouble relating to how vulnerable she felt. As I look back, she displayed a lot of courage I didn't recognize, because I didn't realize what she was feeling inside. Now I am beginning to understand.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States

Very thorough hub of the many considerations for the elderly. This hub gives everyone something to think about whether they are getting up there in years or whether they have a parent and need to become involved in their care. Voted up and useful.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Thanks, Pam. That means a lot, coming from you.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

Thanks for this good practical look at life for the elderly. This will be helpful for those helping elderly relatives and for those planning for their senior years.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

RTalloni, There's a lot here I wish I'd been able to understand about my mom's eroding self-confidence in things such as driving 250 miles on freeways to Los Angeles when she was in her late seventies and early eighties. It seemed so simple for me, and I had no idea what a huge thing it was for her. Now I understand.


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 4 years ago from US

I took care of my mom her last years, well my dad too really as long as I was allowed to and I know how important this write is. We should face the inevitable while we are of sound mind to do so.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Pollyannaiana, You are correct. We have to be willing to to face our own aging and mortality and plan for it.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

WannaB - You have written an excellent article about aging, what to expect and how to prepare for it. This is extremely helpful and anyone who has parents needs to read it. And you are right, even when we think about our future, it is still hard to make ourselves actually do what needs to be done. Excellent, excellent Hub. SHARING


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 4 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

Thank you very much, phdast7, for those kind words. I am trying to make myself practice what I'm preaching as I face my own future. All these preparations take time away from the demands of life now. But they somehow have to be done.


Mind Warp profile image

Mind Warp 3 years ago

Very good article. Everything you wrote about the social isolation, the need for help and the loss of family and friends was SO on target - for the disabled OR elderly. We actually share many common traits in our lives.


WannaB Writer profile image

WannaB Writer 3 years ago from Templeton, CA Author

The advice you gave in your hub, Middle Aged Youngsters, was right on, as well.

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