The View From Here—From Can to Cannot to …?

There’s no question that we agers come into post-adulthood with a wide variety of things we can do given the range of capabilities, knowledge and experience we’ve already developed. There’s also no question that each of us will experience normal age-related changes (ARCs) that alter our capacities even as requirements in daily living remain.

Some of us will develop one or more of the pathologies common to aging that not only impinge on our aging organs, and thus our capacities, but also add requirements to daily living as well. And then there are the traumas that can suddenly befall any of us and steal who-knows-what capacities. The result is that gradually, or sometimes suddenly, things we could do almost without thinking become increasingly difficult, even risky. And still the requirements of daily living go on. Besides, there are things we just want to do. We’re still going and going as aging, if slowed-down, energizer bunnies.

It becomes increasingly obvious—even to the most stubborn, obtuse of us—that something has to change. We can:

  • Give up on some things and mourn the loss.

  • Get someone to do them for us if that’s possible.

  • Figure out ways to change the task to make it doable, such as split into smaller bits, adjust the timing to our “best” time of day, or visualize different ways for doing them.

  • Consider a similar substitute, or even acceptably different that is within our current abilities.

At 101, I’ve used each of these approaches, but had the most pleasure and feeling of achievement when I found different ways to do a particular activity. I’ll admit that I’ve been advantaged in remaining healthy, living on the main floor of my own home and having both family and a few friends who are comfortable in helping out. But it’s still left me with more than enough challenges. What is available is time and a great recliner in which to ponder.

There’s time to go to my ponder-chair, consider the current task that’s becoming difficult or risky, and start figuring out what’s still possible. It’s become necessary for me to write the ideas down as they occur because the short-term memory ARC causes them to fly out of my head in a flash with no idea when or even whether they might return. (Actually, this is a personal example of can→cannot→adaptation adventure.)

Each of us will have to figure out what’s possible at any given time. But, just thinking of and trying out an adaptive approach is both harmless and painless. So, what’s to lose? And like any skill, it gets easier with practice. Besides, the ideas sometimes are really funny, and goodness knows we can stand a bit more fun and sheer goofiness in our lives. These adaptive adventures are causing me to become even more widely adventurous. Still green and growing.

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 Agingoffering 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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