You wouldn’t expect your new minivan to run forever, or never get dents in the body or knocks in the engine through the course of its lifespan, right? Of course not. So why do otherwise reasonable people have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the fact that their own bodies will sustain signs of normal wear and tear with age, as well?
Life coach Sue Burke works with some older adults who are in total denial about the physical and mental decline that comes with aging.
“I emphasize that nobody and nothing are immune to it,” Burke says. “Shifting our focus to what we can do, versus the things we cannot do is a big step towards acceptance.”
Most mornings, Elaine Fisher is up by 5:30 a.m., stepping briskly to a walk-at-home video. “By the time my husband wakes up, I’ve put in three miles,” says the active 75-year-old. She volunteers at the local hospital, is active in her church and is the picture of health. She takes no daily medications.
So, when she injured her knee a few months ago, it caught her off guard.
“I wasn’t used to being limited in what I could do,” she says. Although she didn’t need surgery, Fisher couldn’t bear weight on her knee and needed a walker to get around for a while, which put a damper on her normally busy lifestyle.
Learning work-arounds or seeking out alternative low-impact activities before we’re forced to are good ideas.
“The fact is, everyone will develop more and different limitations with age, but we can look at this life phase as an opportunity to discover new outlets and resources,” Burke says.
For example, arthritis may stop you from playing a sport you once loved, like tennis, but why not try hiking? It’s an excellent cardio workout with the added bonus of exploring the great outdoors. Burke recommends seeking the advice of friends, personal trainers and health professionals. And don’t overlook social media channels.
“Special interest groups of active seniors on Facebook are great resources for options in your community that you might not be aware of,” she says.
The gift of age
It’s important to remember that aging is not all about loss — there are a great many benefits, too. The demands on our time are far less than during our younger years, so we can pursue hobbies and interests that were once put aside for more pressing issues.
“Read the classics, learn to paint, volunteer at the animal shelter,” Burke says. “Choose activities that stimulate your mind and also provide a sense of reward.”
And reassess your life’s goals. Hopefully, we’ve learned not to take life as seriously as when we were climbing the corporate ladder, and we laugh more. Equally as important is giving yourself permission to ask for help when you need it.
“Think back to a time when you were the one helping an older adult, and how good it made you feel,” Burke says. “Give someone else that same opportunity.”
In her experience, the most troubling aspect of advancing age for people to accept is incontinence. “I have worked with many who struggle with the need to wear protection as it becomes more of a problem,” she says. “But, I’m emphatic about doing whatever it takes, including keeping a change of clothes handy. Just keep moving!”
With physical therapy behind her, Fisher is back to doing the things she loves. But, her experience left her with a glimpse into what it will be like to live with limitations one day. “I’m realistic,” she says. “I know the time will come when I can’t do everything I can do now, but I’m not about to slow down until I have to.”