In the past several years I have come to understand that being vulnerable is a strength, not a weakness.
Synonyms for the word vulnerable, found in the Merriam Webster dictionary are: endangered, exposed, liable, open, sensitive, susceptible.
l believe that vulnerability is a worthwhile and honorable trait in which to indulge, especially as my life experience involves the last three synonyms: open, sensitive, susceptible. Recently, however, I felt vulnerable and I didn’t like the feeling at all as it gave me a feeling of being endangered and exposed.
Several days ago I had skin cancer surgery on my nose, and although vanity is not a prominent characteristic in my modus operandi, the fact that my visage was going to be messed with sent me into a tailspin of unease, bordering on depression. It’s not the surgery itself that was of a concern to me; I had hip replacement surgery four years ago that was far more invasive and brutal and I don’t recall feeling as emotionally affected as I did for my nose surgery.
Perhaps what was at issue was the fact that the affected body part is face forward – so to speak – and therefore more noticeable than a joint replacement could ever be. The very good news is that the surgery was minimally invasive, not even needing stitches, so the same face I’ve had for sixty-eight years remains intact.
I’ve had this same face – more or less – for sixty-eight years! Fortunately the alteration leaves it just slightly different from how it used to be.
I know, my sixty-eight year old body isn’t the same as it used to be either, because aging is a privilege and with that privilege comes pain, body sags, and wrinkles rivaling an intricate interstate highway. But the face? It’s somehow a different entity all together. Fortunately, my concerns turned out to be much ado about nothing.
Let me clarify, however, that the unease/depression I felt wasn’t a function of how I’ll look once everything is healed. No. It’s related to the vulnerability I felt leading up to the surgery, and the time during the surgery when I was fully awake, that really messed with my mind and my emotions. A surgeon who knows absolutely nothing about who I am, whom I only met once prior to the procedure, was in charge of ridding my nose of cancer. Once patient number 1234 was out the door, the surgeon would move onto patient number 5678, and so on and so forth, committed to her surgical training but not necessarily committed to Irene Frances Olson, born in Southern California, the youngest of three siblings, who couldn’t have asked for better parents, who eventually wrote two novels to first document her family’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and then to document society’s struggles with tolerance, acceptance, and human kindness.
Was it my outward appearance or my inward identity that was at issue?
The latter, to be sure, and since beauty is only skin deep, I will fall back on the inner beauty that I’ve worked on throughout my life. With age comes wisdom, and for me at least, without the aging, wisdom would still be on the sidelines waiting to make an appearance. So maybe this whole surgical experience has taught me something new that without the unease and depression I experienced, this new nugget of wisdom would not have been birthed:
My inner beauty will always outlast my outer trappings, and those who truly know me see that first and love me for it.
WHAT A BLESSED WOMAN I AM!!!
Planning for a wedding? FUN!!!!!
Putting together an extended vacation to a tropical paradise? EXHILARATING!
Figuring out how to help mom and dad with their increasing care needs? UNEXPECTED!
A recent National Public Radio (NPR) Story: Preparing for a Future that includes Aging Parents addresses the unexpected, and the unplanned for. Whether because we’re kidding ourselves or we really believe it, we oftentimes can’t imagine our parents as anything but the energetic, robust, independent mom and dad with whom we grew up. And if we don’t live near them, we’re falsely sheltered in our assumption that mom and dad are doing just fine; at least they were the last time we saw them during the Holidays! If we’re honest with ourselves, however, we’ll admit that our infrequent visits with the parents shock us greatly as we notice a bit of feebleness in their manner, because as the above story states, “time does what it does.”
Surprisingly, only 13% of some 4,000 U.S. workers surveyed for the 2011 Aflac WorkForces Report considered that the need for long-term care would affect their household. We love to live blissfully ignorant, don’t we? We have so many of our own stresses and pressures associated with running our family household, we’re just not going to entertain having to be on-point with our parents’ needs as well. Guilty!
I became a long-distance caregiver in the Seattle, Washington area for my father who lived in an all-inclusive facility called a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) in Southern Oregon. The first eight years he lived there were worry free because my father was one of those robust parents who was on the path towards living to a ripe old age. He did live to a ripe old age, dying at the age of 89, but from the age of 84 until his death, Alzheimer’s invaded our family’s peaceful existence, and I found that even as a long-distance caregiver, I was on-point 24/7.
Caveat: my parents had purchased long-term care (LTC) insurance so none of us three offspring were financially responsible for my father’s care. But anyone who has been a caregiver for a loved one knows that care isn’t always equated to monetary expenditure. In my case, the constant need to travel to Southern Oregon to monitor his care and be the designated (self-designated) sibling best equipped to coordinate his care with the facility’s staff, lead to my decision to temporarily leave my career, which was, coincidentally, one in the long-term care housing industry. By the way – the answer was not to move him up to the Seattle area. His financial investment in this CCRC up to that point rendered that an untenable option.
Even though I absolutely relished this opportunity to give back to my father – and I truly did – it was very difficult on my household and me. My health temporarily suffered. Everything I did revolved around being available for my father and hopping on a plane at a moment’s notice. I lived in a five year period of dreading the ringing of my home phone or mobile phone because it most likely meant that something needed tending. And getting home and finding NO voicemails in our phone system was cause for celebration.
But enough about me.
Are you prepared for the eventuality of attending to your parents’ care or are you already on that journey?
Or maybe you are already caring for a spouse with medical or cognitive needs. How are you managing that difficult task?
Let us hear from you. Not talking about it won’t make it go away. It’s time to face the piper and be as prepared as we can for the inevitable.
The most comfortable decisions you can make in life are well-informed ones. Whether you are choosing a vehicle, the vacation of a lifetime, or a potential residence, doing so is made easier when you’re armed with essential information. Oftentimes when inundated with too many choices, we exclaim that we would rather have fewer options from which to choose. “Give me two choices and I’ll be able to decide – six or more? Forgetaboutit!” There is one time, however, when you will welcome a diversity of options: selecting appropriate care in your Senior years.
Identifying the person in need of care.
This quest upon which you are embarking may be your own personal quest. You know staying in your current home might prove dangerous to you – and therefore inadvisable – in the years to come. Or perhaps you just want to retire from doing house repairs and weekend yard work –and who doesn’t? Whatever the reason, you’re considering your options for when you might be less able to take care of your daily needs.
Another scenario is that your spouse, parent or sibling is in need of some sort of long-term care resultant from a debilitating condition such as cognitive decline, mobility restrictions and/or advancing age, so you’re trying to discern how best to address the care needs associated with their condition.
There are two primary care options from which to choose:
- Aging in Place – This blog posting addresses the option of staying put and making adjustments that modify a residence to suit your needs or that of your loved one. Also included in this option is the potential for hiring in-home care. Both of these options allow a person to remain in their home for as long as possible.
- Long-term care (LTC) housing options. In a future posting I will address the available categories of long-term care (LTC) housing and will provide resources that should be helpful towards choosing a replacement for your current residential situation.
Both options have Pros and Cons involved with them. But only you know what best fits your personal situation.
Aging in Place: I don’t even want to think about moving!
Aging in Place refers to living where you have lived for many years using products, services and conveniences to enable you to remain where you are. To successfully age in place without moving you will most likely need to accommodate the physical and cognitive changes that may accompany aging.
Structural changes. Both the inside and outside of the home could eventually require some structural adjustments to accommodate a person’s current – and future – needs.
- If you live in a two-story house and your primary bedroom and bathroom are upstairs, does your bottom floor afford a bedroom/bathroom alternative?
- Are you financially prepared for the costs of making the inside of your home more accessible, e.g. wider doors for wheelchairs or walkers; lowered counters to accommodate same; showers that can accommodate someone confined to a mobility aid?
- Does the outside of your home allow for the addition of ramps and railings for easier access to the residence?
- If one of you has cognitive decline and is prone to wandering outside of the house – what measures, if any, will assure this resident’s safety?
- If you need care assistance during the day, are you comfortable having a health care provider in the home? The costs and logistics of hiring and scheduling staff to come into your home can prove to be overwhelming and oftentimes more expensive than if a person moved into a residential community that readily offers the needed care.
How expensive is in-home care these days? Caveat: I will not be addressing financing sources such as long-term care insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and the like. My intent in these articles is simply to provide an overview of care options and potential costs.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gives a 2009 run-down on costs for care options both in the home and in a long-term care residential setting. I know that in Washington State, where I reside, the average Home Health Aide hourly rate is $22; the average monthly cost of an Assisted Living (AL) facility is $2870; and the average daily cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $225 which is approximately $6700/month.
Focusing on Home Health Aide/In-home care: based on the average hourly rate of $22, one could expect to pay close to $528 per day if based on an hourly rate. Keep in mind, however, that most staffing agencies offer a monthly rate which will be less than the hourly rate. But even with that “discounted” rate, in-home care can be very cost prohibitive. A great many of us may not have access to that amount of cash and if the need extends out to several years – now it’s really adding up.
So why even think of remaining in one’s own home if it’s so %#^%($ expensive?
All of the above is not to suggest that Aging in Place is not doable. Many people around the nation are successfully aging in place so why shouldn’t you have a crack at it? Consider this alternative: some people start out Aging in Place and then transition into a long-term care housing situation when finances, or circumstances, warrant such a move.
The articles, Avoiding the pitfalls of selecting senior housing, and Selecting a senior housing community – easy for some, not for the rest of us, provide some tips for your selection process.
I’m a Baby Boomer – are you one too?
No doubt you have already faced some challenges in your 21st Century age grouping called: Baby Boomers. I think you’ll agree, however, that along with those challenges we’ve also experienced delightful times that can only be experienced by us Boomers fortunate to have grown up in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
My hope in starting this blog is that you and I will be able to provide some sort of content that benefits our age group, but not our age group only. Let’s face it, our children and/or our grandchildren need some sort of resource that adds to their understanding of what we’re going through. They too will enter a Baby Boomer-Like age grouping when they reach our age so perhaps we’re doing them a favor by getting their feet wet in this wacky aging world in which we live.
Some of this blog’s content will be humorous; some of it will be inordinately sad. My hope is that one way or another, we’ll all be better off because we’ve entered this “Baby Boomers and More” blog site.