The meeting was with an elderly Vermonter, one of those grizzled, wiry older guys with flowing white hair, a full beard and muscles that are built over a lifetime of hard work in the woods and on the farm. He was in his late 80s and was suffering from the effects of heart, breathing and cancer problems. We were talking about his ability to continue living in such a remote location where he needed to chop his wood and plow his driveway.
When he started, "If I get to where I can’t keep up --," I corrected him saying, "It is not if you can’t but when you can’t." He drew back and gave me a hard look before breaking into a smile and replying, "Yeah, ‘when.’ Probably right, but you aren’t very subtle."
I don’t mean to be negative, but in a business working with older clients I’ve learned a lot from them. One of the most important lessons is, "It only gets worse and then you die." So, make the most of it, prepare for the worst of it and try to stay ahead of the curve.
So, what do I mean? Let’s break it down. "Make the most of it." Life is temporary and our health and abilities are transitory. All is in motion like a river flowing toward a waterfall. It doesn’t matter how fit, rich, or smart any of us is, the current is pulling us all in the same direction. So, enjoy the ride and appreciate the scenery. Take time with fellow passengers and experience as much as possible, while it’s possible.
"Prepare for the worst of it." Be prepared and plan ahead. One of the toughest things I deal with is clients who refuse to acknowledge the reality of their circumstances. Having just enough to get by today means you are probably not going to have enough to get by in the future. If your situation isn’t sustainable over the long haul, dealing with it early gives you more options, greater control of choices and a better likelihood of achieving positive results. That’s why I often bring the hard news, "If you are going to have to move someday, the sooner you do it the better off you will be."
"Try and stay ahead of the curve." This really is the toughest one. Think back to when you were child-proofing your house. If you were like me, you constantly adjusted to the kid’s abilities as of yesterday. "She crawled into this, so I’ve got to change it," but tomorrow she will stand up and climb over your barricade, so the contest continues. I was always making the house safer for yesterday’s baby.
It is the same thing as we age. Each new change is so surprising, we don’t look ahead and consider where it is taking us. Like with my knees. It started out with a bit of pain if I carried too much up and down stairs. So, I got Ace braces and would support my knees when they hurt. It took me several years to learn that if I put on the braces before I carried stuff up and down the stairs, my knees never ached. ‘Took me a while to catch up with that one, but I had no experience with old guy’s knees until I got mine. Then I had to learn how to operate them.
Accepting and dealing with the process of our aging lives doesn’t have to be limiting. It is an opportunity to keep our independence and mobility by making the adjustments time is going to require anyway.
So, keep moving, changing and being active because "Aging in Place" doesn’t happen by accident.
Scott Funk is Vermont’s leading Aging in Place advocate, writing and speaking around the state on issues of concern to retirees and their families. Access previous Aging in Place columns and Scott’s blogs at scottfunk.org.