Getting Old Doesn't Have to Suck (if You Plan it Right)

Every one of us desire to live, long, healthy lives.

To be happy knowing that we lived life on our terms, chased our passions, and made the most of every opportunity. At least that's what I want but as I've learned not everything goes to plan, but there's hope that with a little foresight and planning, we can prepare ourselves for life's transitions when they present themselves.

What is harmless in life, yet ultimately will kill you?

Recently, I lost my father to pancreatic cancer. Cancer wasn't something any of us expected or planned for, and when the 'terminal' diagnosis came down from his doctors, it rocked all who knew him. At 72 years young, he was just getting started. My stepmother was there to be the rock and help navigate the maze of end of life planning. Both a rock to which we found ourselves tethered, as well, she's a living champion helping us remember the greatness that my father bestowed on us with his life. I'll always be grateful for everything she provided my dad in his life. It was going through this process - this life transition - that really opened my eyes to some stark realities that none of us can escape.

Time.

That little pesky reality that seems to go by unnoticed for much of our lives until one day we find ourselves waking up and realizing that life isn't the same anymore. Age has become our new reality. Acceptance that our physicality has started to decline and things we used to do in our 20's, 30's, and 40's aren't as easy in our 50's, 60's, 70's and beyond. Our ability to do the things we come to take for granted like carrying groceries in from the car - or driving the car! - lifting ourselves from our chairs, preparing our meals, navigating stairs, or simply 'taking care of business'. All seemingly normal everyday tasks, but for many are daily activities that become increasingly difficult with age. This begs the question, what do we do about it?

What's autonomy got to do with it?

Everything.

Age is nothing new, we deal with it on our terms, but as the aging population grows (5,000,000+ Canadians over the age of 65 alone), we see an increasing need for in-home support. As a result of this growing demographic of seniors, the Assisted Living Home industry is booming.  I am the first to acknowledge that this conversation is difficult to have both to one's self as well as with those that matter most to us in our lives. Admitting that one's life is not as independent as it once was, is like conversations surrounding life insurance, painfully and fearfully honest. After all, getting older, death and taxes are 3 very distinct certainties in life and none of which and fun to admit to.

My mother has dedicated her life to the care of others. After spending her entire adult life working within Ontario's Healthcare sector, she's readying herself to retire as an associate director of care for an assisted living facility. This topic of interest couldn't have come at a better time as I've been fortunate to witness some of the steps she and my step-father are personally taking for the life transitions she foresees in the coming 20 years of their lives. From reinforcing the stair railings to simplifying her ability to continue gardening comfortably and confidently as she ages, but not everyone share's her foresight.

"One in four of us will die while residing in a nursing home"...

...Along with other findings, caught my attention in a study published in JAGS by Kelly and Colleagues. They looked at the length of stay in nursing homes at the end of life and here are a few of the findings:

  • the median length of stay in a nursing home before death was 5 months
  • the average length of stay was longer at 14 months due to a small number of study participants who had very long lengths of stay
  • 65% died within 1 year of nursing home admission
  • 53% died within 6 months of nursing home admission
  • men died sooner after admission than women (men had a median length of stay of around 3 months versus 8 for women)
  • married nursing home residents died sooner after admission than unmarried participants (an average of 4 months sooner)
  • nursing home residents in the highest quartile of net worth died six months sooner than those in the lowest quartile.

How can we remain independent and living our lives on our terms as we age?

One thing is for sure, if given the opportunity to remain independent and continue living in our own homes as we age, there would be no debate.

We all desire the highest quality of life along with all the comforts we've come to love and expect. To better understand how and what is needed to make this a reality for the aging population, I interviewed head RN, Dana Huggett of Live Your Life Home Care. With over 15 years experience both in and out of hospital settings, Dana has seen first-hand the deteriorating effects our tapped healthcare system can have on a mounting aging population. With a shortage of hospital beds and big wait lists for long-term care facilities, for the 16 per cent of Canadians currently over the age of 65, home-care is becoming a necessary option.

Ontario Retirement Communities Association forecasts that by 2036, nearly one quarter of Canada's population will be 65+ (and I'm one of them!)... so if you aren't planning to grow old, then I guess this interview won't matter, but for the rest of us, take note, you want to watch this.

In the 'Living Through Life's Transitions' interview, Dana shares:

  • Why aging shouldn't stop us from getting the most out of life
  • Quantification vs. qualification of age (and life) - we're more than just a number, right?
  • Surprising statistics to be aware of regarding the aging populations in North America
  • Warning signs that someone may be avoiding admitting their need for help
  • Physical Activity: the minimums!
  • Improving quality of life: What can be done now by those who are aging? What should the younger generations know?

Click below to watch the full interview.

Creating a Life Plan while Living the Best Life Possible

I realized in speaking with Dana of Live Your Life Homecare, that there are some fairly clear indicators of the different phases of our lives. We can try to navigate these changes on our own when we find ourselves or our loved ones knee-deep in a stark reality that things have changed - or we can create a plan to deal with these milestones when they eventually happen. Transitional support means we can navigate these lifestyle changes with confidence, knowing as we plan, and lead a lifestyle that supports aging well, there comes a time when we transition into ‘new phases’ of life.

But with this in mind, how do we best prepare ourselves for transitioning and living well through these lifestyle changes?

For starters, there's no specific age that determines what a 'phase' is in our life. No two people are the same and no two lives are lived the same way. That's why there's no cookie cutter answer to give you. Whether the need is for a 'helping hand', 'nurturing care', or 'vital care', there are options available, no matter our age. There's a peace of mind and comfort knowing that when the day comes and some support is needed, there's someone there to help. Allowing us to remain in our homes as long as we can, feeling confident that we got this thing called 'age' in the bag!

I know that being proactive in our life planning is fantastic in theory, but following through on a plan is not as simple as black or white. That's life, isn't it? It's unpredictable and 'things' happen which throw our plans out the proverbial window at times. I know my father didn't plan to get sick at the age of 72, but because of the customized support, he was able to spend much of his time with my stepmom, our family and close friends while in the comfort of his own home.

Aging shouldn’t stop you from getting the most out of your life.

Age is a reality we all have to face at some point in our lives. We may not be able to expect everything to be as it is tomorrow as it is today, but that shouldn't limit us from living our life like it will be. There's certainly value in taking actionable steps each day that will improve our odds of living the best life possible as we age. These seemingly small, daily choices and actions compounded over time will not necessarily improve our quantity of life, but for damn sure it will positively influence our quality of life today, tomorrow and potentially for years to come.

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