Artful Aging

My Ever-Changing New Normal

Age-related changes require constant adaptation

It makes sense that if one can no longer do something, one changes what one tries to do, or at least how it’s done. But both normal age-related changes (ARCs) and our silent adaptations move into our lives so gradually that we tend not to see the pattern.

As I look back on my earlier lifestyle and compare it to the one I have as I approach the century mark, I’m amazed at the simplification that has occurred. Both my life and home environment now are less cluttered. What remains is still complicated and involves incredibly demanding, detailed attention, but it’s doable (for now).

What I wear is dictated by what I can manipulate. For me at 99 it means no buttons, zippers, snaps, Velcro tabs, hooks and eyes, or things requiring tying knots. Difficulties with donning clothing involves even greater detail as ARCs continue to progress. Now, the diameter of neck and armhole openings dictate what my more-rigid arm joints can get into. With multiple layers of tops, at least some need to be slippery. Pulling a rough texture item over an already donned rough texture is really tricky. Sock tops need to be large, but not sloppy, and stretchy enough for weak fingers to pull them over the heel and ankle; forget trying to manage long stretchy pantyhose. Waistlines of any clothing item need to be softly stretchy, with little resistance to weak hands and fingers. Shoes now must be slip-ons (preferably without the use of a shoehorn), but once on must dependably fit and stay in place whatever my feet do. Varying heel heights also are a no-no as they disrupt balance. Other than these demands, there’s free choice with clothing.

Any sense of the environment crowding into daily living became quietly but increasingly discomfiting. Somehow symmetry and openness brought serenity. So, using a one small step-at-a-time approach, small areas were cleared. What emerged was more opportunity to admire the lines of the furniture and other elements that my husband had so artfully created and built. The grains of the wood glowed and the detail re-emerged. When items sitting on surfaces were thinned out, each one could be appreciated more. And, by changing them with the seasons, or just to be introducing change for change itself, they were newly appreciated. (Note: Dreaded, depressing monotony is constantly and knowingly foiled by ongoing little changes.) I’m even growing five tiny ferns of different varieties. They remind me about being “green and growing,” and they’re the right size for me to handle and move about to different spots.

Constant use of the mantras “One thing at a time!” and “Finish what you start” as I’m tackling a project makes me feel not only motivated but proud of what I’m doing—and that’s no small matter these days. The sense of control of small matters and satisfaction with one little job well done feels good. The results from these efforts offer constant visual reminders of mini-successes.

Doris Carnevali, emeritus faculty of the University of Washington School of Nursing, is author of several books on nursing care planning. In 2017 she launched her blog Engaging with Aging, offering tips and insights on adapting to changes as we age. To date her blog has reached viewers in at least 109 countries.

 

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