Everybody ages differently. If you gather together hundreds of people who are in their ninetieth decade of life in one room, you will have on hand marathon runners and mountain climbers, retirees and workaholics, as well as people who spend every waking moment in a wheelchair – and every other lifestyle and health condition imaginable.
According to the ground-breaking MacArthur Foundation Study of Successful Aging, genetic makeup plays a role in the aging process; but only 30% according to Drs. Kahn and Rowe, co-authors of Successful Aging. In addition to what we inherit from Mom and Dad, how we age is also determined by an accumulation of life experiences and belief systems.
These findings play themselves out in many ways. Some people welcome challenges and are open to the possibility of learning new things. On the other side of the fence are adults who shy away from trying anything “different.” Some people are quite social and eagerly reach out to others and help those in need. Others isolate themselves, day after day, and make little to no contact with the rest of the world.
I often wonder how old people cope with the question – What is age for anyway? The people I care for often tell me that their fear of dying has been replaced by the fear of living too long. What scares them the most is feeling useless and becoming a burden on others.
As a family caregiver, I encourage loved ones to participate in simple activities that create meaning and purpose for them. The more they engage in life, the less they may be dependent on me – and that is a good thing.
I begin the process of engagement by asking questions. My book, The Complete Eldercare Planner offers a wealth of ideas to influence people you care for to get back in touch with the things they love to do.
To get the conversation started, here are a few questions to ask your parents:
- What is important for you to do right now?
- Is there anything new that you would like to learn?
- Do you have a skill that you can teach to others?
- Have you considered volunteering for a cause that is important to you?
- Have you investigated local community classes or senior center activities?
- Would you like to pursue any unfulfilled dreams?
- Who is alone and lonely that you can visit or call?
- Have you contacted everyone you want to see or talk with?
Lucky are the people who have time on their hands. Encourage them to cultivate a new interest and explore ways to learn and connect with others.
Click here to read Part 2 of this story.