If you ask people what’s important to them as they age, they will almost always mention staying in control of their life and making their own decisions, with independence and choice being dearly held values at any age. Recently, I had the chance to chat with someone who is ensuring that she ages with choice and independence, and I think her story has great lessons for many of us.
Many of us now know that our health and longevity are impacted much more by our lifestyle and behaviours than by our genetics. This may make you worried that you waited too long to make good choices. Good news: there is evidence that it’s never too late to make changes that positively impact our health. John Hopkins Medicine published an article titled, “It’s Never Too Late: Five Healthy Steps at Any Age,” and The Guardian published an article with the headline, “Key to Longer Life May Lie in Keeping Fit From the Age of 70.” It continues: “Former Lifestyle May Not Determine Longevity.”
It may seem inevitable that we will become less active, both physically and socially, as we get older—especially when faced with mobility or health challenges. But people like Rose show us how our lives can actually expand as we get older, and how we can become active and joyful again.
Many older adults who decide to remain in the family home may find their world getting smaller as the years go by. I frequently talk with older adults about the potential for the home they have thought of as their “palace” to turn into a place that becomes less and less accessible they age. A health challenge or mobility issues can make it harder to get out and enjoy the things they love to do. Difficulty driving may also make it harder to get out and socialize. And, of course, our Canadian winters can add to these challenges!
I recently worked with a family whose parents were still living in the home they’d been in for over 45 years. Like many people, Ben and Margaret* felt strongly that they wanted to stay in their family home forever. They were not open to considering other options. Then, Margaret fell and broke her leg. It was a serious break and she wasn’t going to be able to navigate stairs for several weeks, and possibly even months. In addition, Ben was not able to manage all the household responsibilities without his wife’s help. After considering their situation, they decided to move to a retirement residence while her leg was healing, with the intention of returning to their home as soon as possible.
I often talk to caregivers about the need to recognize that it may not be reasonable for them to provide all of their loved one’s care alone. And I have found that the hardest people to convince that they don’t have to go it alone are often caregiving spouses! Sometimes they feel that needing help caring for their spouse means they have failed. Actually, I think the best thing a spouse can do is ensure their husband or wife has the best care available, and sometimes that means asking for help.
Hi, I’m Dr. Amy D’Aprix. I’m a gerontological social worker with over thirty years of experience working with, and on behalf of, older adults and their families. I’m an author, professional speaker and a life coach, and I’m passionate about helping people find meaning and fulfillment as they age, as well as in their role as a family caregiver.