According to Census projections, the over 85 age group is expected to more than double by 2035. By that time those of us who are 65+ will be in that category. We’ll be the ones in need of social services that our parents have today. The pressures and challenges associated with elder care are numerous. What will we do? How many of us have prepared adequately? How adequate is adequate? Will we want to move from our homes into managed care facilities or into our children's homes? Will we be willing to give up our independence? Will we even be able to afford to grow old?
Getting older is difficult, and I must admit I fear the unknown. Regardless of the plans we make and the directives we put in place, in the end, it all comes down to loss of choices. If we live long enough and have debilitating physical or mental conditions, we lose the ability to control our lives, and that’s a terrible thing to lose.
When I think about elderly people who, at the end, lose their capacity to enjoy life, I cry. It’s not easy to look into vacant eyes and watch joyless facades going through each day just waiting for it all to be over. Of course, there are many exceptions to this grim scenario, but I’ve seen enough cases to know this is true. When our minds or bodies fail us, is there no other place to go except into mindless oblivion? Can we hold on to joy, peace and love, even in our failed mental and physical states? Does dementia make us more of who we really are?
Issues surrounding aging are complex and I have a lot of questions, but the alternative to growing older is dying younger. There are no easy answers, so I live by the belief that a positive attitude goes a long way toward warding off mental and physical disabilities. My advice to myself, and to others, is to get up, get out and get busy. Learn something new; renew acquaintances; turn off the television; find joy in simplicity. This quote from Henry David Thoreau is appropriate for us all:
“When it's time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.”