At What Point Do I Start?

October 2, 2020

So here it is over 6 months since we have been living with COVID-19 – the pandemic.  Lives have changed forever.  But while I write this, life does go on in some fashion as before.  Basic needs are met one way or another and we try to look forward to better days.  In the meantime we are continuing to grow older and for many of us, age is feeling older every day.

At what point do we as older adults recognize we can’t do it all.  In thinking about this, I realize it’s a gradual shift from doing it all to recognizing that I don’t have to do it all.  In fact, if I am really honest, I can’t do it all anymore.  I’m in that older adult category.  How hard it is to admit that fact and start to come to terms about how best to preserve my independence and well being.

For many of us that recognition comes when we asked the grocery clerk to help us take out & load the groceries into the car.  It may have been when you hired a chimney sweep to climb on the roof to clean out the chimney or someone to clean out the gutters.  If/when we put up holiday lights. They are lower & easy to put up/take down with no climbing ladders to the roof.  Perhaps it’s putting in grab bars in the bathroom, using a cane or holding on to walls as you go down the hall or up/down stairs.  It can be so subtle and miniscule to you that we don’t notice.  It may not even be physical.  Our memory isn’t so great either.  We lose glasses, people’s names and sometimes can’t remember the name of that great movie we watched just the other day.  Sound familiar?

At some point and really, sooner is better than later, we had better take action about these losses we’re experiencing.  We’re competent but sometimes tend to procrastinate.  The intent to live independently without our adult children’s help or advice is strong.  You may live alone and have no one but yourself to depend on. The reality is that it sometimes takes a bad fall, a stroke, a fender bender with the car or another minor problem that highlights the need to activate the next phase of the plan.

You do have a plan don’t you?  After all, you’ve lived successfully for many years (and more every day).  If you want to continue to have control over your life and your plans, it’s up to you to put your plan into action.  Once the crisis occurs i.e., a broken hip, a serious health diagnosis or a degenerative disease that is progressing, your ability to “steer the bus”  lessons or ceases all together.  Now someone else will be in charge and they may or may not do what you want.

What’s a plan you may ask.  A plan is what you do next when what you’re doing now isn’t working the way you want it to.  Let me give you an example.  I love to garden, the dirt, the plants, the sunshine and being outside.  We have a large yard, a garden, an orchard and several acres.  In years past (quite a few actually) I went outside after breakfast before it got hot and worked for 3-4 hours.  I would go back outside in the afternoon and then perhaps in early evening.  Flash forward to the present day.  I still love all the reasons for gardening and being outside.  But, I get tired after an hour or two of work (modified of course) and go inside.  In the afternoon it’s not unusual to take a short cat nap.  Fortunately, we were able to hire a competent younger person who works off an outside “to do” list when he comes once a month.  He makes light work of the projects that I once could do very well myself. He’s part of our plan.

Why is it that having to pay someone feels more difficult that asking a neighbor, a friend or a family member to help with a chore? It does seem to formalize the need for something that really I can do by myself.  Does this sound familiar?

  • I don’t need a cane (a walker). I only fell because the sidewalk was uneven.  I tripped over a rock.
  • I only hired someone to help with the gardening because I got behind on the projects and wanted them done.
  • I don’t know who to trust or who to call? What should I ask for?
  • I don’t want to talk about my weaknesses or shortcomings. What will people think?
  • I’m worried about how much this will cost. I’m sure I can do this a while longer.
  • I’ll have to admit I’m getting old and need help.

How hard it is to admit our own weaknesses.  How hard it is to say them out loud to someone else.  How even more difficult to admit you need help with those tasks!  But…if and when that happens, it’s apparent that the support and hands on help allow you to continue your life when, where & how you’d like.

So think about your plan for you and your life going forward.  A plan can be thought out in broad and general terms.  An example might be:  Staying in your own home with ideas acceptable to you.  You may know the resources that are available including costs but you’re the one who has to agree to start the process in order to remain in your own home.  Making those decisions from a hospital bed or worse yet rehabbing in a skilled nursing home may be too late.  Some good discussion ahead of time may be the important key to get resources in place to prevent the fall off the ladder and broken bones. A plan is only as good as its implementation.

How does it feel to admit you need help?  From my perspective – awful.  But just for a minute or two.  I got over it really quick after our yard maintenance person came once and got a lot done.  I was already putting together a to do list for his next time at the house.  What a sense of relief!

So I know you don’t really need help in/out of the shower but did you know that a huge percentage of older people fall in the bathroom?  Having someone get the shower going and being there to help you in/out safely will be well worth the time and money.  Knowing you can do this whenever someone is there to keep a watch out for your safety will give you and everyone close to you a sense of relief that help is there.

At what point do I start?  Although money is usually a factor, I think for me it’s an emotional decision as well.  It’s having to admit I cannot do it all anymore.  So think about your plan, what’s important to you and when you’re ready to implement the plan – a step at a time.  Good luck.  Get started. We’re aging together you and me.  Fun isn’t it?

Carol S. Heape, MSW, CMC is Founder/CEO of Elder Options, Inc. and an elder herself.