Caring for our aging loved ones can be exhausting, frustrating, demanding and time consuming. Since November marks National Alzheimer's Awareness Month, we’re honoring Alzheimer’s caregivers, but November is also National Caregiver’s Month. Thanksgiving, as another November holiday, reminds me to think of ways that caregiving, tough as it can be, also offers caregivers a time to note the special blessings we’ve received when we are open to recognizing the gifts. After all, caring for one another is, in my view, one of the answers to “why are we here.
Alzheimer’s is a global issue that is on track to bankrupt worldwide health systems if a cure is not found. Therefore, funding for research is paramount, not just for those who have the disease but for all generations. However, large numbers of the people who have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia at this time are trying to make the point that it is equally important to put imagination, research and funding into how to care for those who already have this incurable disease.
By treating aging as a disease are we just prolonging the inevitable or can we change the course of our lives? This question will be discussed at length on "Breakthrough: The Age of Aging" premiering Sunday, November 29, at 9 pm ET on National Geographic Channel.
My opinion? Aging is a process and it’s not all bad. We gain hindsight and wisdom. We gain experience from our successes as well as our mistakes. The wisest among us gain perspective about what really matters as we each navigate our personal path through life.
For me, the question is more about how we live and how we die than it is whether or not aging should be treated as a disease that needs to be cured.
If we take care of our body, our mind, and our spirit, we have a better chance of enjoying good health as we age. Will we have annoying issues that accompany aging? Most likely we will. However, many of us can mitigate some of the negative symptoms of aging if we consume a fairly healthy diet, exercise moderately and challenge our brains.
I believe that by maintaining a positive outlook on life, which is often enhanced by making some type of spiritual connection habitual, we can limit stress. Stress has proven to be destructive to our body and our mind, so by limiting stress we stand a better chance of staying reasonably healthy. Maintaining relationships that we enjoy and eliminating those that are toxic to our wellbeing may also improve our chances of living well as we age.
Rather than thinking of aging as a disease, or just accepting that there’s nothing we can do to improve negative symptoms of aging, I'd rather think of aging as something that we can do with grace. Therefore, in this way, yes I think we can change the course of our lives to some degree.
I believe that by accepting aging as part of the circle of life and respecting the process, we can age graciously. Then, if we're fortunate, when our time comes we can also experience a dignified death. To me, this means knowing when to quit treating any disease - including aging if, indeed aging is a disease - and moving on to whatever exists beyond the physical.
For breakthrough information, as well as opinions from people who’ve intensely studied this issue, tune in to "Breakthrough: The Age of Aging" premiering Sunday, November 29, at 9 pm ET on National Geographic Channel.
Dear Carol: My wife has had a stroke that’s left her mostly paralyzed on one side. She can’t speak well and she cries a lot. We’re in our 70s and have spent our lives as active church people. In fact, we’ve done our share of visiting hospitals and nursing homes representing the church. We’ve told people that what they are facing is their reality and that we will pray for them.
It’s easy to feel grateful when life is going well, and certainly it’s desirable to acknowledge life at its best with appropriate gratitude. What’s not easy is finding gratitude when life hard. Is it even realistic to try? Yes. Discovering gratitude during difficult times can be a giant step toward peace.
Agingcare.com and I have a long history together. I've been writing for them since they began around a decade ago and have enjoyed watching them climb to the top as one of the most trusted sites for our elders and those who care for them. I've also been the face of their support forum for nearly as many years as the site has been active. This is my personal stamp on their credibility. Agingcare has now put together a valuable booklet to help our veterans and their families navigate what can be a frustrating journey to determine what benefits they are eligible for. Take a look.
As people age, even the healthiest among us tend to need more maintenance. While young people can skip sleep and still function well, older people may need more rest to regain their energy. While young people may seem to thrive on junk food and sporadic exercise, older people may find that their bodies are more demanding about receiving their required nutrients and exercise if they are to stay vital. Increasingly, oral health is making news in this area.
The only experience I’ve had with the speech and language problem called aphasia was after my uncle had a series of strokes. This was a man who had lived for reading and word games. The worst part of watching him struggle to find words was that he knew the words he found were wrong. He was not only frustrated, but humiliated too. Aphasia is not uncommon, and, as caregivers, we must learn to assist our loved ones with the disorder however we can.
Our culture is steeped in language makes accepting the terminal diagnosis of ourselves or a loved one more difficult to accept than it needs to be. Doctors say, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do. You might as well go on hospice care.” Patients say that they want “aggressive treatment,” until there is nothing else that can be done, then they will go on hospice care. The focus of these conversations is that medicine will do everything possible and then when you give up you will go on hospice care. Hospice is not about giving up. It’s about allowing people who are dying a chance to live their final weeks or months with dignity and quality of life.
Dear Carol: I’ve spent the last seven years caring for my mother who was a cancer survivor with many other health issues, as well as my father who had dementia. Both are now gone and I truly miss them. Not only am I sad, but I’m surprised at how lost I feel. I guess I’ve identified as a caregiver for so long I don’t know how to do anything else. I’m divorced and retired. My friends and I didn’t have much in common during my caregiving so we drifted apart. Now, I’m sitting empty handed and almost empty hearted. How do I start rebuilding my life? Amanda