How time flies when you’re having fun—and even when you’re not. I swear life passed at a slug’s crawl when I was young, but now it leaps by like a deer. Today it’s spring. In the blink of an eye, it’ll be fall again—two years from now, will soon be in the past. Where does time go? And does the pace get faster as we get older?
All to say: life is change. One minute I’m seven, learning to ride a bike, the next I’m 35, expecting company for dinner. Now I’m 70, well beyond middle age, an age I never ever thought I’d be. Surely that’s not me in the mirror with wrinkles and gray hair!
Whoever you are, and whatever you’re doing right this minute, can you imagine who you’ll be and what you’ll be doing five, ten, or twenty years from now?
The funny thing about human beings in this era of longevity is that everyone thinks everybody else is aging—but not themselves. It’s always the other guy! I’ll stay young, while you’ll grow old.
Denial is not just a river in Egypt (as the saying goes). Blinders on, we steadfastly refuse to plan for the day when (not if) our physical or mental health declines. Ironically, those over age 75 are the most closed minded. Then comes the crisis that forces hasty, poorly thought-out decisions, and other people end up making important choices for us.
How will you grow older—accidentally or deliberately? If you want to do it successfully—which I define as having some control over what happens to you—you need to get your ducks in order ahead of time.
Let’s start at the beginning: become aware. Awaken your imagination and senses to all the things that can change as you change with age: your vision, your stamina and flexibility, your adaptability, and lots more. All these will have a huge impact on the many things you do, like getting groceries, climbing stairs, mowing the lawn, driving. How will you prepare?
And, please, don’t assume just the negatives—old age is a stage in all of our lives that we’ve never had before, and it comes with some amazingly positive attributes.
Think about where you’ll live. Most of us want to stay in our own homes, but most homes were built for hearty thirty and forty year olds, not frail 85 and 90 year olds. Are there stairs outside, inside? A bathroom on the main floor? Stairs to your laundry? Is your home easy to clean? Maintain? Is it close to a grocery store and public transit? How will you get around when you can no longer drive?
The more you become aware of the changes you’re likely to experience as you age, the more prepared you can be.
Liz Taylor, an eldercare specialist for 40 years, lives in the San Juan Islands where she is semi-retired. She wrote a popular column on aging for The Seattle Times for 14 years, and has consulted with thousands of older adults and their families. Liz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org