Monday, May 15, 2017

May 2017: What Our Minds Let Us Be - by Pat Stoltey

Old age is a relative thing. Some might consider me old at 75 (that’s three-quarters of a century, you know), but my mother made it to 97, almost to 98.

At any age, we are what our minds let us be and we do what our bodies allow. My mom still played golf in her 70s. Her art projects were a favorite hobby until she was almost 90, when  her hands would no longer hold a paintbrush. She worked hard to stay engaged and socialize with her neighbors in assisted living and later with her roommate and the caregivers in the skilled nursing facility. 

Determination and perseverance played a huge role in her life. Coming from a broken home with very little money, my mom graduated from high school at 16 and after waiting a year to meet the requirements, moved to Chicago on her own and entered nursing school.

During World War II, while my dad was in the Army, Mom worked as a civilian nurse in an Army hospital.

For most of the years my brother and I were kids, Mom and Dad farmed. My mother could handle a tractor just as easily as she could whip together the huge noon-time meal for my dad and the field hands.


She endured hip and knee replacements. At the end of 2012, when she was 94, Mom had a tiny stroke and was put on hospice. She didn’t like it when the nurses stopped her blood pressure medicine and the caregivers wouldn’t let her get up and walk, so she willed herself to get better.

In April 2013, I moved my mom from her apartment into assisted living. She became a social butterfly until February 2015 when she fell in the bathroom and fractured her good hip.

We used to consider a hip fracture the end of the road for the elderly. But even with the limitations put on her by the orthopedic surgeon Mom got better and returned to assisted living. A motorized wheelchair kept her independent.

Mom paid attention to every bit of those never-boring 2016 election shenanigans, made her choice in November, and voted. Even though she didn’t watch each game of the Cubs’ march to win the World Series, she kept with the team. Current events and the latest world crisis were always on her mind and made for energetic conversations.

All that contributes to the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my mom--we can find joy every moment of our lives, even during the hard times. I hope to follow Mom’s example as I grow older, taking pleasure in the things I can still do and letting those other things go.

I often said, “Mom’s a trooper.” I’d like that legacy for myself as well.

Pat Stoltey is a local writer of crime fiction. Her fourth novel, a historical mystery titled Wishing Caswell Dead, will be released from Five Star/Cengage in November 2017. She lives in Fort Collins with her husband, Bill, Katie Cat, and Sassy Dog. 


Thoughtful Aging - by Janice Whitaker

     In 1992, after raising children, teaching in public schools, and moving fifteen times because of my husband Bill’s 30 years of military service, we settled in a large Texas city and began second careers thinking we would never move again.  We spent most vacations visiting our parents and our children and grandchildren in other states.  We saw the difficulties our parents had as they aged and thought about how their last years might have been better in other circumstances.

     When I retired in 2005, I thought about how I wanted to spend my remaining years.  Gardening was my main interest; I spent many hours pursuing that interest until the Texas heat and my body told me that it was time to quit.  

     About that same time, our daughter’s family moved to Fort Collins.  After we visited them, I talked my reluctant husband into giving up his Texas activities and friends to move close to our daughter, convinced her that her family wouldn’t be our main source of entertainment, and convinced my outdoorsman husband that Colorado had many opportunities for adventure. We became permanent Fort Collins residents in 2010.

     We were welcomed at our new church and encouraged to join Fort Collins Newcomers Club.  We volunteered at The Food Bank for Larimer County and joined book groups.  Bill hiked, led hikes, and volunteered with The Nature Conservancy and Poudre Wilderness Volunteers.  I volunteered with Poudre River Friends of the Library.  

     Still thinking long-term, I searched for activities I could enjoy throughout my elder years.  I joined a group of women who meet twice monthly to share knitting projects.  Now one of my favorite hobbies is knitting baby beanies for newborns.  

     I learned to play Scrabble, joining Northern Colorado Scrabble Club where I met many interesting people and learned the protocols for tournament Scrabble.  No longer confident driving after dark but wanting to play several times each week, I formed daytime Scrabble groups.  We now play on the first and fourth Fridays of each month for fun, and a dozen of us play in a Scrabble marathon tournament where records are kept and prizes are awarded every six months.

     Perhaps the biggest challenge in the move we made was finding a home where Bill and I could age in place.  We had some definite ideas about what we wanted, and our realtor pointed us to a patio home community where we could have a home built to our specifications.  Because our parents found stairs and narrow doorways an obstacle to their decreased mobility, we wanted all the activities of daily living to be on one floor with wide hallways and doors.  We also wanted an open floorplan with space to entertain along with yard maintenance and snow removal available and good walking trails.  

     We feel blessed that this challenge is now a reality and hope that we have many years ahead to enjoy our home, family, friends of all ages and the greater community.

  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

More, Not Less - by Norma Glad

When I swim, I often counted how many of each of my four strokes I accomplish, so I could do the same number of each.  Ice skating was another opportunity to count and even up the number of glides in each direction. I began balance therapy exercises, and counting each repetition seemed to come naturally.

One day I said to myself:  “No one besides you is keeping track of your exertions. Think of something else to say as you perform…” Almost immediately, these words came into my mind:  Love in My Life!  Love in My Life!  Love in My Life! No, I’m not lacking love in my life.  I’m very sure there are family and friends who love me.  My new phrase brings to mind the many people and passions in my life who comprise my love life.

I have been using the phrase delightedly since then while constantly asking myself what it means to me. I love the warmth it implies, gatherings of friends and family, including the warmth that comes over telephone wires and into my computer.  I’m so glad I have been able to develop inner capacities to take in and give out love of several kinds. It implies to me recognition of the important place that love has had in my life, an assertion that I’ve carried on the values I was taught, and an acceptance of the love from others which has enriched my life.

These four words encourage me to keep on wanting to give tangibles and intangibles to those around me who are needful. The phrase seems to crowd out many habitual  negatives which have haunted me most of my life: I’ll never make it, I should have done something else, I’m sure to get it wrong……LOVE IN MY LIFE is a great substitute for all of these. 

“Love in my life!” is a great accompaniment as I walk to the mailbox, or anywhere else. The phrase has sometimes taken new forms in my daily rounds.  When I’m out in nature I find myself repeating “Beauty in my life!  So much beauty in my life!”  It’s especially meaningful when the sun is shining.

One day a friend used the word ‘joy.’  It was a natural: “Love in my life – and joy!” Now the phrase accompanies me as I swim, skate,  exercise and live with love in my heart. It helps me be in this very moment rather than wonder what I’m going to wear, whom I should call first when I get home, what will they say.

Here’s the latest version:  This morning my mood is down but I’m not, because there is Love in My Life! Deep breaths are a great accompaniment to Love in my Life. I encourage everyone, young and old, to find a phrase that works to enrich daily life.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

When to Stop Driving -by Renate G. Justin

“Arthur, we think it is time for you to stop driving.”
“Why? I am a fine driver.”
“We observed you driving in the wrong lane yesterday, putting yourself and others in danger.”
“Poppy cock.”
So it went until we finally took my husband’s car keys from his night table while he was asleep.  Promptly he used a spare set and took out his Oldsmobile.  His family had to drive the car away and not tell him where it was to stop his driving.  He was furious--a scenario often repeated, as I knew from my family medical practice where I was consulted about the driving ability of older patients. 
In order to save my son and daughter from a similar scene, I gave my car away when I started to forget names and at times familiar words.  I decided to use the Fort Collins Transfort system to get around, a challenge at times.       
Surrendering car keys is a life-changing moment. In Fort Collins, giving up driving means no more evening entertainment, no plays, concerts or late night movies, no quick run to the grocery store. No Sunday outings except on foot or with friends.  
Bus service is, on most lines, hourly, with long waits if you have to take more than one bus to reach your destination.  In winter sidewalks are covered with snow, and there is no service evenings or Sundays.  From my personal experience, as long as you can walk to the bus, it is possible to plan daytime outings. Errands take longer but can be accomplished.  A real plus is that the bus drivers in Fort Collins are uniformly helpful, cheerful and always ready with a friendly greeting.
How can we tell when the time has come to make the drastic change from private to public transportation?  There are no easy tests to evaluate mental or physical ability.  Most people become more forgetful as they get older, and their reaction times are prolonged.  At what point those factors represent a danger to driving ability is difficult to determine.  Many older adults limit their driving, -- not at night, not in bad weather, not in Denver traffic -- but does that make them safer on the road in Fort Collins?
Drivers over 75 have more non-fatal crashes than younger drivers, most frequently because of failure to yield right of way or obey traffic signals.  Men have more accidents than woman.  Older drivers have more fatalities than younger drivers because they are frail and therefore sustain serious injuries more frequently.  Predictors of accidents are:
  1. Falls in the past two years
  2. Visual and cognitive deficits
  3. A history of previous car crashes
  4. Effects of medication 
Getting lost and near misses, often only witnessed by the driver and not reported, also are predictors of future problems.
Family members, family physicians, even license bureau personnel are reluctant to mandate the difficult change in lifestyle ‘no driving’ represents in spite of the fact that 14% of 75-84 year-old drivers and 20% over 85 have some cognitive impairment, not taking into account visual, hearing and mobility impairment.  The complexity of evaluating an elderly person for adequate functioning becomes clear if you consider that the act of braking a moving car involves:
  1. Motor skills, muscle strength
  2. Balance and normal reaction time
  3. Adequate cognition
Both AAA and AARP have classes for older drivers; most driver-education agencies give road tests to evaluate driving skills.
In all honesty, just as we know when it is time to retire, we also know when it is time to stop driving.  Each individual knows how often he or she forgets words, can’t remember names, makes errors in typing or falls asleep in front of the television.  It does not take superior intelligence to translate those failings to the steering wheel of a car.  Which one of us elders has not made excuses when we ran a red light or ignored a stop sign: “It happens to everyone sometimes,” or “I was thinking of something else.”  We don’t really need our family members, our physician or the police to tell us that our skills have deteriorated and that we might hurt someone by insisting that we are safe drivers.  In the long run, it is up to each individual driver, as he or she ages, to hand over the car keys to the young grandchild and say: “The time has come for you to take over.”

Perhaps, once we have driver-less cars, the transportation problems of the elderly will be solved.  We will be relieved of having to make the difficult decision at what age to give up our mobility and independence, to surrender our car keys.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

New Beginnings -by Dale Hein

  New beginnings can be merely restarting again on a familiar path.  A truer new beginning offers an unfamiliar route.  When I retired from Colorado State University 15 years ago, I had future options. 

 I observed many faculty colleagues retire.  Some continued part-time or as a consultant in their profession.   Many retired colleagues indulged in travel or hobbies.  Volunteerism satisfied others. 
   
Teaching and learning were my passions.  Why not continue in a new venue?  Also, I wanted to explore new intellectual areas outside of my professional life in applied sciences for wildlife conservation. 

 During graduate school, I read C.P. Snow's classic 1959 lecture The Two Cultures, in which he lamented the gulf between scientists and "literary intellectuals.”  When I was immersed in sciences, 
there was never enough time for literature, history, philosophy, or fine arts.  Retirement allowed me to catch up in non-sciences – a new beginning for scholarship.  I wanted to understand my own life beyond my knowledge from sciences and my own experiences.  Humanities could help.  

 Fortunately, I live in a college city with opportunities for adult learning.  CSU offers choices for continuing education in many subjects.  The Osher program at CSU offers courses especially for older non-CSU students.  Front Range Community College is another option. 

 I joined Front Range Forum, an adult education program at Fort Collins Senior Center.  Courses are as diverse as the interests of several hundred FRF members.  In FRF I take or lead many courses in literature, history, philosophy, and even a few in sciences.  What, for example, have I learned in a few of my courses?     

 For 8 weeks I explored the West with Lewis and Clark and then investigated the roles of women in the westward expansion of America.  In Great Ideas of Philosophy, I learned that Plato emanated and explained Socrates' didactic learning.  In classic literature courses, I discovered that Poe innovated the short story format, but that Chekhov and then Munro perfected the genre.  One course, Literature Meets Art, taught me that art reflects and reveals history.  In a course on Walden, Thoreau was not a hermit but a transcendental philosopher and a naturalist.  I learned that science and humanities interact and have common features.  Both build upon earlier scholarship.           

I learned that humanities expand the possible explanations for human behaviors and experiences.    Sciences describe living systems and processes of life.  However, knowledge from the humanities helps me understand my own life.  I learned that themes of human experience reoccur in time and place, e.g., coming-of-age, love, family strife, injustice, cultural conflicts, virtue, etc.

 In retirement, I am thrilled to have found fascinating new beginnings for learning.  Once again, as in childhood, the first day of school is the best day of all, a fresh start into joyful learning. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

On Aging Gracefully -by Barbara Fleming

A recent issue of AARP Magazine features all kinds of ways for people over 50 to avoid aging, to get, as one article puts it, “younger every year.”  Perhaps staving off aging works for some people, at least until it catches up with them (which it will), but in my experience, embracing aging, reaping its benefits, is infinitely more rewarding. I choose to age as gracefully as I can. 
I cannot claim that I have consistently aged gracefully. I have learned through considerable experience, though, that for me resisting the course of nature is not worth the effort it takes. So graceful aging means learning to accept the inevitable and to live around it, being grateful for life’s blessings, and finding productive ways to use my skills to enrich my own life and perhaps to benefit others.
Graceful aging means being able to step away when the time comes. One day a person is in the thick of things, making decisions, carrying responsibilities, doing tasks that seem important, interacting with other busy people. Life has structure and purpose. But then we pass the torch, leaving the decisions and the tasks to others, even knowing they will be done differently. Grace needs to rise to the fore then, allowing that different is not wrong, just different, and that a life stage has passed.
Graceful aging means accepting the exigencies of aging—which can, admittedly, be frustrating to say the least—with courage and adaptability. For me, it means selecting only commitments which I am sure I can fulfill without undue stress or fatigue. It means adjusting my schedule to leave space in my days to rest and relax.
Graceful aging means living day by day but planning and hoping for more days to come. Grace does not have space for fretting about what lies ahead. Practicality is important, of course; I have done the legal paperwork. And then, as aging makes possible, I have let it go and kept going. I still have living to do.
Graceful aging means knowing what brings pleasure and how to find it. It can be, for me, as simple as an afternoon of friendly bridge with compatible people who know it’s just a game. We all have different ways of seeking pleasure, even though they might not be the same when we age as they were in youth. Pleasure could be physical activity, travel, social gatherings and more.  Whatever brings pleasure in the aging years, however, requires adaptation to attendant limitations. Paul Newman was still racing cars well into his seventies, but I’m pretty sure he adjusted for age-related changes in his reactions and vision. Graceful aging takes the body’s changing needs into account, deals with them, and “leans in,” if you will, to enjoy the moment.

No one can suppose that it is simple or easy to age gracefully, or that it happens without an investment of emotional energy, but I believe it is worth the reward—a degree of serenity, opportunities to learn and grow, a lifetime of good memories, the flexibility to choose what to do and how to do it, and the satisfaction of living each day as richly as possible. For me, that is enough. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Holy Smoke! -by Libby James

 I feel lucky. My four children are now AARP eligible, ranging in age from 52 to 57, and all of them have arrived at incredibly interesting intersections in their lives and careers. I feel so fortunate to be able to watch as the action unfolds. 

All are married.  Each family has produced three offspring, now between the ages of 27 and 11. Their parents currently have satisfying, exciting jobs that are keeping them challenged and engaged.

But, as the song says, “The times, they are a changing.” And before very long, it’s a reasonable gamble to say that all or most of my children will be doing something different. It will happen because of outside forces, such as company buyouts and changes or it will happen because they decide to make a change.

My kids worked hard and have been successful enough that they are now in a position to make some life decisions based on factors beyond simply generating income. All but the very youngest of their children will be out of high school by this time next year. Five are already college graduates and another will be in 2017. Three are in or contemplating college, numbers 10 and 11 will graduate from high school in 2017 and the “caboose” will be a middle-schooler next fall.

I believe these parents of my grandchildren are in enviable positions. Yet they are at a time in their lives that while invigorating, are complicated and possibly terrifying. They have spent decades in their careers but are at least another decade away from retirement. Three of them have years of experience in the business world. In varying degrees, because it is impossible to generalize about any of them, they are ready to broaden their horizons, to do something different, to put to use their hard-earned skills and expertise in new ways.

They have the luxury of making their own choices. But before they do, they will have some nitty-gritty decisions to make about how and where they want to live and work. Big house? Small house? One house? Two houses? Big city? Small town? Travel frequently? Stay close to home?  Based in the U.S? Based overseas? Work for someone else? Start a business? Become a consultant? Get involved with volunteer work? That’s only the beginning of a list I think they are going to need to make.

When I turned 50, I remember thinking, “Oh. I guess I’m getting old.” But now 50 seems young to me and I chuckle as I hear my kids talk about aging. It seemed strange to me when Jamie Lee Curtis, age 57, was congratulated by a radio interviewer who praised her for the way she was handling “the aging thing.”

My children all have a zest for life and—to a greater or lesser degree--a gambler gene that will influence what they decide to do with the rest of their lives. The rocking chair isn’t even close for this crew.


I’m staying tuned.