Everybody has a different reaction to health problems, but one response I consistently hear is, “why me?” A fair question. Life isn’t fair.
Another person recently stated over and over, “I’ve fallen apart, mentally and physically”. When he learned that his assets were depleting, he told his friend and POA, “just take me out back and shoot me.” I told him we could do a LOT better than that for him while thanking him for his service and explaining the publicly funded long term care available to him.
Another visit comes to mind when I was talking with a woman in a nursing home who just had her leg amputated. I saw her staring at my feet, exposed due to the sandals I was wearing. I was suddenly aware that I was reminding her of the leg she will never have back. Why me, she seemed to be thinking.
Then there was the individual I called to remind of some needed paperwork he had not submitted. “You have no idea what it is like to be disabled”, he stated. There is no response to that statement.
There is no place to hide when discussing matters of such importance with people. It is a part of being human myself and acknowledging the humanness in others. Again and again, I am reminded of how fortunate I am and how I must come across to people, many of whom are isolated and have little contact with people other than care providers. It is at these times that I realize the significance of this type of work, even though it is not very glamorous.
I read an article published by Next Avenue for Older Americans Month in May that talks about the need to establish the shared value of healthy aging. It is never too late to address the importance of exercise, nutrition and social engagement.
Also, it is important to have a good understanding of what parts of the aging process are normal and what are some common myths. There are two myths specifically to look at-changes in memory and mental health.
When are memory problems part of normal aging and when should others start to worry? A little bit of forgetfulness comes with age related changes to the brain. Alzheimer’s or dementia is not normal aging. If you see confusion, personality changes and disorientation over a period of time, you can ask for a memory workup. There are specific things to rule out that can mimic dementia that are reversible. It is important to try to get a specific diagnosis for dementia because it may help to know the course of the illness and it can allow time to plan for the future.
People experience grief and sadness as normal reactions to losses associated with aging. When do you know if an older adult is in need of extra psychological or psychiatric help? If you see a person isolating themselves and expressing feelings of helplessness and hopelessness more than a year following a loss, you can pursue a psychiatric evaluation. There are treatments for depression and also a medical doctor can rule out other causes.
I picked these two areas in particular because in my experience, they are the most often misunderstood aspects of aging. Society in general, including some in the medical field tend to not address changes in memory or changes in emotional wellbeing, often attributing these changes falsely to the aging process.
While I am a social worker not a medical professional, I have met many older adults taking 5 or 6 or 7 different medications on a daily basis. There are risks and side effects and interactions that come along with polypharmacy. Doctors may not catch these things without patients stopping to ask.
All older adults deserve to optimize everything they can to live a full life! #ageoutloud #oam17