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The gift of aging rich -- and unaware of available services

The gifts of aging are bitter – now there’s a generalization. Rant on. The title and sub-heading in the Times caught my eye. Age and Its Awful Discontents and sub-heading "Is there anything good about getting old? No. Its gifts are bitter.”  The article was Louis Begley’s gloomy reminiscence about his mother and his abhorrence of the 'ravages and suffering inflicted on the body by age and illness.' You wonder, why 'awful,' why 'discontent,' and 'bitter'?  Well, it turns out that his mother was very lonely in her last decade (she died at age 94). "She couldn’t hear well, she had arthritis, too proud for a wheelchair, couldn’t get the hang of a walker, stopped even going to museums, concerts, or sitting on a park bench." Today the 78-year-old Begley feels the "full measure and anguish of his mother’s solitude and that of other old people who end their lives without a companion." It’s too bad Jane Gross and her New Old Age blog wasn’t around (that launched in 2008). Mr. Begley might have read about how other adult children coped (and helped) aging parents. Or he might have hired a geriatric care manager, around since the 1980's. It’s really too bad that despite plenty of money, neither he nor his mother had the inclination to look for ways to maintain the quality of her life.

In this day and age -- many mitigate the awful discontents.  Mr. Begley wonders: is there anything good about getting old?  For his mother and her peers, it didn’t have to be such a bitter and lonely life. Consider the people in the 84-94 age range in Lincoln Center and around New York, in the Arscht Center in Miami, or in the Kennedy Center.  They fill the matinee halls with -- and without help -- at concerts, operas, ballets. If they are hearing-impaired, their hearing aids can connect to hearing loops in concert halls, enabling them to hear the music. They fill the restaurants in Florida and treasure the breeze at the edge of the blue-green ocean -- arriving before dinner with their wheelchairs and oxygen tanks. They climb slowly onto buses everywhere that I travel. Many just want to be outside when weather permits. If someone like Mr. Begley's mother does not have a ‘companion’, as he mourned, a home care aide could have provided assistance daily or taken her to a concert. Even if he and his mother weren’t getting along well towards the end, as he noted, he could have hired someone who had helped one of her friends. 

If anything, navigating the services available would have been and is the hard part.  Even at that time, Mr. Begley could have, should have hired a geriatric care manager, a visiting nurse or occupational therapist to help her use her walker, brought in a home companion aide, or a coordinator of in-home care. Maybe someone could even have enabled her in her last year to have a video call with her out-of-town grandchildren. You get my drift. To read about the 'awful discontents' of a wealthy woman and to learn about her son who at this time was a successful, well-known and a well-to-do lawyer and author – is to be discontented – with him. Not only did he lack the knowledge (and apparent effort) at helping make her last 10 years of higher quality than they apparently were, he has written about the experience in both his novels and the Times as the resonating and gloom-filled characterization of aging. Oh please! One hopes that when Mr. Begley is in his last decade of life, his family members will be willing to search for services that he needs. And that their children will do likewise when their own parents are in their last decades. Rant off.


I suspect the article was more about the negatives in Louis' head about aging than anything else. He's already "pre-doomed" himself.

While I haven't read Mr. Begley's books, from reading the article it seems he is speaking to companionship. This is something that can't be forced, or paid for, or provided by a volunteer. No number of therapists, aides, nurses, care managers, bus trips, or summer breezes can give you companionship.

From seeing my own grandmother suffer through the ravages of aging (now in her 90's), I can tell you my observations are similar. She has children that are on a very regular visit schedule, she has aides visit her, she lives in an assisted living community that takes regular outings, if she still had her vision I'm sure she would love a video call but settles for in person visits from her grandchildren. Yet she is still depressed by the ravages of age, she still longs for companionship. Even if we can find ways for her to enjoy some of the things she used to, it has to be modified for her... thereby, in its very nature, making it no longer the same thing, making it no longer as enjoyable. I don't see this as a lack of effort or good intention on the part of our family, but rather just a cold fact of life.

I don't think its ALL doom and gloom, but when I honestly face the notion of living to my 90's... I'm not looking forward to it. Seeing your previous companions die or go insane, no longer being able to partake in the activities you enjoy, your progeny moving on to create their own lives. Perhaps you can help me view it differently... what is there to look forward to? What is better about being in your 90's than being in you 30's?

Elderly people commonly have depression difficulties. My mother (76) started going back to church last year and met two ladies her own age whose company she enjoys greatly. They can talk about similar things, she helps them with minor computer difficultes, and they have a monthly lunch, so she doesn't feel so left out. She does not worry so much about end of life issues like she did. She also takes a depression medication (a tiny amount) which lightens her mood just a little, just enough to make her feel like trying things (very carefully, but trying). Facebook has helped her a lot, being able to stay in touch with the family's fun times and hard times, too, so she feels part of things. She has quite a list of friends and family who keep her entertained and occupied.

She also had cataract surgery 2 years ago and I am so glad she did! She could not even read a book before then. Now she goes to the local senior gathering center once a month to exchange and talk about books and enjoys reading a LOT. We all buy her bigger type books there. Further, now she can see the flowers blooming (colors and general shapes anyway).

Consider also, as one ages, one has time to adjust mentally. Each decade, I have been ready to slow down mentally because things were just getting slower physically. While I am not able to take part of family hiking and biking like I used to, I am actualy very relieved NOT to have to because it just hurts to try to keep up.

I am sure she enjoys the activities planned for her when she can. Ask her doctor about a tiny amount of anti depression medication.

Most of all, don't make assumptions about what she may be feeling or not. It's actually easier to be able to slow down and not have as much stress, to be able to rest when one's body wears out and when it aches. She may not enjoy TV as much because the voices are drowned out by the music, but if she enjoyed gardening, fresh flowers occasionally would help lighten her mood, I am sure.

I agree with Laurie O's observations that more could have been done for this well-off woman to increase her happiness. Sometimes, it's simply a matter of changing our thoughts and deciding to be happy, or at least accept whatever comes. I am reading a new 2012 book by Sociologist Eric Klinenberg called "Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone" which has some interesting statistics. For example: "...more than 50% of American adults are single, and 31M--roughly one out of every seven adults--lives alone. People who live alone make up 28% of all U.S. households, which makes them more common than any other domestic unit, including the nuclear family." He states that many, if not most, "singletons" prefer living alone versus living with a roommate or other family members and are "more likely to eat out and exercise, go to art and music classes, attend public events and lecture, and volunteer. Granted, a 94-year-old lady can't do all of those things, but she could do some of them. There are plenty of 94-year-olds who still enjoy exercising (even from a chair, if necessary) and still enjoy a piece of pie, and fresh roses on the table. I am 66 years old, and both of my parents died in their 80's(my mother died of Alzheimer's in 2006 and could not speak for the last 5 years of her life) so I know that "loss" is part of aging, but I try to follow Buddhist teachings about sorrow, accepting the fact that NOTHING is ever exactly the same from one hour to the next...change is inevitable, life is a river. I try to replace fear of the unknown with curiosity. I'm not glossing over the suffering that many of my co-elders must deal with, but I hope that when my health and mobility are impaired that I can dwell on what I CAN still do, and I hope that by then Laurie and people like her (Dr. Bill Thomas) will have gotten these tech companies on the stick to make things better and easier. In the meantime, I am doing my part to keep myself healthy and thanks to good genetics, so far, so good. I wish the same for all of my aging compadres.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity of aging in today's world is that our culture is gradually adopting a new attitude toward old age. It's getting cool to be old! Changing our perceptions of age is probably the key to enjoying what we can and putting up with the rest. Of course, living with constant pain is debilitating, but even palliative care is improving. I hope we increasingly see the glass half full and take advantage of new resources as Laurie suggests.

From my reading it seems that daily vigorous physical exercise of AT LEAST 30 minutes prepares us well for being 80+. Exercise is prescibed for many ailments and conditions including depression. Weight lifting is also a proven strategy that allows us to maintain vigor and stamina very late into life. In addition, keeping our body weight at recomended levels reduces muscle/skeletal issues. This is especially true for men. Hey by going to the gym we'll expand our social networks too!

First let me say that I think AIP tech watch is great service and that in time the tech industry will solve some of the aging problems. I am 85. I work full time selling insurance  (it is a new career for me). I ride my bike weekends and some evenings.I am blessed with good genes. My mother is a great influence on me, even today. She died at 102. She taught me to always think positive. She told me what you can do with your mouth you don't have to do with your hands. In other words get an education. She was very health conscious and took supplements. I think it is very difficult to eat good, even if you work at it. I remember some of the things my mom made me take as a kid. But like all kids you forget about most things your parents told you until you are telling your kids what they should do. As I was telling my kids what was good, I started to follow my own and Mom's advice. The brain is the mother board of the human body. Apparently the brain shrinks as you age. That is unless you do something about it. I do, I read a book some time age that some medical techs wrote. They wrote that the brain and other body parts are nourished and helped by certain supplements. I have been thinking about writing a book about what my mom taught me, we'll see. The mind is a power thing, use it. In the meantime keep smiling,

The eternal optimist


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