“I want to talk about another word that is used to demean and diminish older people.” The first sentence in a recent blog post written by Dr. Bill Thomas perked my interest. It wasn’t a word that immediately came to me, but is such an “ah-ha” after reading his post. We say it often, “My mother is 75, but she still drives.” Still is the word. In other words, the person is old, but they can still do this or that. They are old, but still useful. Still able to get by on their own. Still smiling. The list goes on and on.
We are all aging, yet many want to ignore the aging changes and make note of what we can still do despite our age. Age changes us. It’s not always what we want, but it’s part of our journey. Hard to swallow, but our life trajectory includes growing older. Maybe aging changes wouldn’t be so difficult to accept if we talked about them–taught about aging, embraced aging, even.
Jonathan Rausch shared his story of caring for his dad on my radio show, addressing some of the unspoken issues that come up when caring for an older adult. Just think if we openly talked about all the elephant issues surrounding family caregiving–the parts we don’t understand, the parts that cause us to cry in public, the parts that wear us down. If we had a safe place to let out our frustrations, our fears, and even the times when we tried a new, creative idea and felt so very vulnerable. Sharing and getting support is vital during this journey.
As is getting support around our aging process. Aging in and of itself doesn’t cause disease or loneliness, but because we know so little about aging, it’s easy to buy into the myths that the natural process of aging makes us less of a person. And who wants to be a family caregiver to someone who is less than? Caring for an older adult, especially one’s parent, is already laden with emotional baggage. When we add in the overall fact that aging is discounted in society, that many healthcare professionals can’t, don’t or won’t “deal” with aging issues, that most of us would just as soon see these “old people” shuffle quietly into the night, the journey is that much less supported.
I encourage you to look into the eyes of aging. Ask your parents about their experiences of getting older. Get past the initial negative reactions to your questioning and move deeper into how they feel as an older adult. Not only has the number of adults 65+ grown from 3.1 to 40.4 million (AOA statistics), but the population overall is getting older. It’s time we embrace aging, our new role as family caregivers, and that we just may need help in accepting both of those facts. Hire me to present to your associations or groups and let’s get this long-overdue conversation started!