I recently spoke to a friend who was watching their 70-plus-year-old neighbor attempt to shovel snow from their driveway. My friend knew this could end poorly and asked to assist. Their neighbor appreciated the offer but stated that they had been shoveling the driveway for more winters than my friend was alive. After a few moments of discussion, my friend's neighbor acquiesced.
My friend's neighbor wasn't alone in not seeing their age as a limitation. Very few people truly perceive themselves as having the age, or actual capabilities, that they truly do. We see ourselves, whether we're 70 or 40, as being able to do more, lift more, accomplish more than sometimes is safe. Even at younger ages, this denial of actual ability exists. The difference is that in younger years, that denial can function perfectly well as a mechanism to push us to accomplish more. But for older people who may have some significant limitations, and also issues with appropriate judgment, it can become dangerous.
It's no secret that Americans are living much longer today than we ever have. But what is less often acknowledged is that we have not come to terms with the fact that this longevity may also mean that we are going to need some assistance to maintain the independent lifestyle we want. Working in the home care field, I've come to see that denial - of circumstances, needs and limits - is one of the most dangerous health issues confronting people today.
Very smart people, of any age, who are very good at taking care of themselves can often have poor judgment when it comes to their own limits. "But this is who I am!" people think. People see themselves as the person who does the home repairs, the one who regularly climbs ladders to dust the ceiling fans. They don't see that their balance may not be as good because they're older, they don't recognize that the reach to dust the ceiling may strain their backs.
So how can we get people to accept the help they need? Perhaps by increasing our awareness of those who are elder and asking if they could use our help may be a good start. Respect is critical, and so is the training and experience to know how to offer help so that it is seen as enhancing and not diminishing a person's abilities.
One of the best techniques to make the idea of help more palatable is to make it not about the care recipient. For example, if you have a father who is Mr. Fixit, don't try to make him stop fixing things. Instead, let him know you want him to keep doing what he does well and loves, but that you'd like him to get help with the heavier, harder aspects of the job and lend his expertise to supervising and teaching. Make it an intergenerational activity, where you offer to do the more difficult task/chores with them. You can turn a dangerous task/chore into a moment you'll be able to always treasure, and still respect their independence in a safe way.
As a nation, we're living longer. But if we want to keep quality and independence part of that longer life, we are going to have to come to terms with our limitations. Limits need not define us, but we need to acknowledge them, and get the help we need to manage them, in order to make the most of all of our time.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. His contact information is, www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.