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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Many small decisions drive the quality of our later years

I have been thinking a lot lately about how my Mom's many small decisions have left her living alone in a large house with little human contact at the age of 90.  She alternately argues that she doesn't "need" human interaction and then says she is bored and lonely.  When someone does ask her out for lunch or some other activity the "high" endures for some time and she talks about how great it was.  Yet she resists all suggestions for changes even as simple as calling friends and asking if they would like to go to lunch.  She says since she can't drive anymore it is not appropriate for her to ask others to go places because they would have to drive.  I'm not criticizing her, I just don't want to end up in her situation.

So what were the series of decisions that left her in this situation?
- She and my Dad moved to a very rural area soon after retirement to live near my brother and his family.  A good move as they got very involved in their small community, rekindled relationships with my Dad's brothers, nieces and nephew, and had the joy of grandchildren as an integral part of their lives.
- Then my brother and his family moved 30 miles away to a larger town with good schools, a college, and the medical care facilities that my parents used.  My parents decided to stay put.
- Their health deteriorated, we toured alternative living options in their area and they decided to stay put.
- My Dad died, my brother and I have both offered her space in our homes, and my Mom decided to stay put.
- She had a health crisis, her driver's license expired and she decided it was a good time to stop driving (I agree) yet stay put.  She hires yard and housework help and a driver to take her to her medical appointments yet won't consider having someone move in even as a roommate/housework helper.  A friend takes her to the grocery store every other week and she complains about running out of food (that is the food she wants, not food) in between but won't give my brother a list of what to pick up because she doesn't want to "bother him".  The town librarian delivers books when she needs new ones.  My brother and sister-in-law come to visit at least once a week and go with her to more serious medical appointments.    She sits and reads most of the day - alone.

This is a 90 year old woman who has an active mind, stays on top of current events, loves going out to eat, see art exhibits or plays, visit with friends at the library, etc.  Yet she won't go to the senior center (which provides transportation) or anywhere else to exercise and socialize, ask friends to go places or take her to the library, or move to a retirement home with activities and transportation.  I mentioned to her that we were at a concert earlier this week and saw a dozen older folks there who had ridden to the concert in transportation provided by their retirement homes and wished that she could do that.  She said that would be nice but she wouldn't consider any changes.

So what have I learned as I attempt to avoid being in the same situation?

- On the plus side, good friends and family close by are critical as are enough time in a community to develop close relationships.
- Living near the things you want to do and having transportation alternatives are crucial.  Having to hire a driver to even get to the hair salon increases isolation.
- Being willing to make changes in your living circumstances is vital at any age as is staying physically active.

I don't know what our decisions will be as we age further, but we do at least recognize that waiting too long to put oneself into a supportive living environment is a mistake.  Hard things to think about and decide but essential!

11 comments:

  1. It's an intricate dance this understanding and reasoning with older parents. On one hand, I want to dignify them and respect their choices but on the other, does a bit of stubborness set in after 80 making, what should be obvious, choices, harder to do. I don't know the answers--especially since we deal with some similar issues with my MIL and I remember my parents going through the same things with my Grandma. I just hope I am more versatile when it is my turn.

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    1. I don't know the answers either. Logistics are part of the decision making but I think the other part is subtler. It involves turning away from engaging fully in life and being willing to do things that may be uncomfortable or otherwise hard. I think my Mom chose to make her life very small after my Dad died rather than push to create a larger, yet different, life. I'm trying to learn lessons for myself as we go along here.

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  2. Oh do I know this problem! My parents have done pretty much the same thing, but my particular problem is that they cop an attitude with me and my son, making sure that they consider the resulting problems of living in an isolated area to be our fault. It got to the point where they were both very verbally abusive to us every time we visited, and so now the visits have stopped. They hang on to their anger and make it impossible for us to help them in any way at all, then when we don't help they use that as more fuel for their anger. Never thought things would turn out like that, but there it is, and it is a tragedy.

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    1. How sad for all of you Meg. I know I am fortunate to have a good and close relationship with my Mom as does my brother, sister-in-law and husband as well as all the grandchildren. I just want a larger life as I age and am trying to learn how to have it.

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  3. My Aunt and Uncle stayed in their rural home into their 90's, they had the money put back to hire help around the place and were happy to be home, they had no children. They had found contentment. A few months before each of them passed they did end up in a nursing home due to health problems and died within a few months of each other. My hope is that hubby and I can follow their example.

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    1. It is great that they were content there. My Mom is relatively content but her isolation has increased a lot in the last couple of years.

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  4. My MIL lives with us and at 84 is getting more and more difficult to live with, there are often times she is invited out but she lets things stand in the way of that happening, things like her medication, her bowel movements, her sleep patterns, or just a general feeling of finding it just too hard.
    In the 10 years since coming to Australia she has not made ( or wanted to make ) any friends, leaving family her only source of companionship.
    I love my MIL but I am too young to make a tetchy 84 year old my BFF....

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    1. Maureen, where did you live before you moved to Australia? The phenomenon of finding reasons not to go out is common I think as we age. My hubby and I are pushing ourselves to get back in the habit of going out on weekday evenings and finding it very energizing.

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    2. We Emigrated to Australia in 1986 from Scotland and gradually over the last few years most of our family members are over here with us....

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  5. One my great, great, great aunts is now 98 and still lives on her own. My grandma does check in on her quite often, but she's still cooking her own meals, cleaning, gardening, etc... I think it's a different generation than it is now. I really admire the older generation!

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    1. That is great that she is still doing all of those things. My Mom is much less physically active as she only cooks, does her laundry and picks up around the house and hires the rest done. Physical activity and strength is one thing I want to fight to keep. I do admire very much how she has coped since my Dad's death. However,if she lived somewhere that she could get out more easily and socialize more I think she would be happier.

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