We’re all ageing. At some point, we’re not going to be able to look after ourselves. It may be a difficult discussion to have, but we need to speak to our families about what’s best for us – before we can’t.
You can suck out your fat, dye your hair, botox your lines and laser your eyeballs, but you cannot actually stop the harsh realities of ageing. And the harshest reality of them all? Your ageing may be worst for those who love you.
Yes I know, none of us think that ageing will happen to us. When I was little I distinctly recall thinking that old people are born like that. But as it turns out they were once like me, they didn’t think they’d ever age and, furthermore, they didn’t think about how they would cope with those who are ageing around them.
No, I’m not experiencing early onset geriatism (though I am occasionally making up words…like “geriatism” and merrily still deluding myself that I’m looking younger than ever before…by simply not wearing my glasses when I look in a mirror). But no this is not about me…it’s about me and you, and all of our peers who’ve suddenly been hurled into the world of the aged via an ageing relative, pal or loved one.
For some ageing is fast for some it’s slow, for some it’s depressing for some it’s debilitating. For a rare few it’s the time of their lives.
Sure there are signs: rising from a seat several seconds before one’s saggy bum, having the font size so large on one’s mobile phone that only one letter fits on the screen at the time…or perhaps taking one’s vitamin pills with a gin and tonic. But the real punch to the head and the guts and the heart is a surprise diagnosis, or a sudden fall, or a catastrophe caused by a forgetful moment. The blow comes when you realise that your loved one, mum, dad or pal is now unable to take responsibility for themselves.
In a perfect world we live life as a marathon, pace it, win it, and die in our sleep in the arms of our beloved, after spending the happiest day of our lives dressed in floral print, expressing our love, joy and gratitude to our nearest and dearest friends and extended family, who have all remarkably managed to sync calendars and be present on the same day at the same time.
Statistically however this rarely ever happens. What does happen statistically is a need to transition at some point from independent care to full time care.
And, no matter how much we like to think that we can provide this full time care for our aged loved ones/family/pals in the safety and comfort of our own homes, this is rarely possible; for no other reason than the majority of us have jobs that take us out of the home for the majority of every day for the majority of the week.
Talk about where your elderly one would like to go… If possible put their name on the waiting list in the hope that they can go to a place of choice rather than one that just has availability.
But finding an alternative can be hugely confronting. The options can be limited and care facilities can appear brutal. As I discuss this with friends I hear story after story about the depression, anxiety and trauma that is experienced by those seeking a wonderful final chapter for their elderly. Our society needs more loving and respectful facilities for the aged. Bring on the Royal Commission Into Aged Care Quality and Safety. But in the meantime let’s…talk.
Talk together about the really tough stuff before you’re all in a panic and your ageing loved ones are perhaps too confused or ill to express themselves. Talk about where your elderly one would like to go, look at finances, determine options together. If possible put their name on the waiting list in the hope that they can go to a place of choice rather than one that just has availability.
And, while you’re having these talks, also try to talk about what will happen to the home if there is one, to savings if there are any, what items at home must be kept, what will go where and to whom? Of course, the best laid plans can still go awry…and in a perfect world you may not even need them, but then again…
It sounds morbid. But it’s really just pre-problem planning. Think of it as PPP. Or, if you don’t want it to sound like some odd urinary tract infection, maybe just recall the simple Girl Guide motto: Geriatism, Be Prepared. (n.b.; you may not be surprised to hear that I added the word geriatism to this motto.)
Gretel Killeen is a writer and performer and the host of the Handsome and Gretel podcast.