How do you know when you need help to stay in your home?
To me, the most challenging aspect of aging is how insidious it is. It’s like the fog that comes in on little cat feet, as the poem reads. Someone once asked me how I knew when I was a grown-up. I decided that I knew that I was an adult when I ceased turning cartwheels. What was it about cartwheels that made me change my perception of myself? And why did my status change, in my own eyes, when I ceased to do something I had previously done, almost without thinking about it? That’s what aging does: one withdraws from engaging in the activities one had previously enjoyed. I ran, biked, shoveled dirt in the summer and snow in the winter, played softball or volleyball,weeded, mowed the lawn, walked the dogs, pruned trees. In my early forties, I began having back spasms, and repetitive motion tingling in my hands. So I stopped doing cartwheels. Twenty years later, I’ve begun to yield on other activities.
There are neighborhood teenagers who will shovel snow in the winter and mow and edge the lawn the rest of the year. I’ve not found anyone who will weed, so I spend a lot of time bent over and pulling weeds. I also go to the gym and practice strength-building movement and flexability movements that mimic bending over and pulling weeds, and I pace myself. Soon, I will invest in more mulch and less weeding altogether. What else will I cease doing for myself that will require me to find another person to engage in that activity so that I can stay in my home? When my beloved auntie was still in her apartment in New York, where she’d lived for close to forty years, we began to notice that the apartment wasn’t as tidy as it once had been. It became very obvious when her bedroom floor space was taken up with boxes and books that left her with only a narrow pathway to get from the doorway to her bed: she could no longer reach the higher shelves of her bookcases, and she could no longer reach the back depths of her filing cabinet, or her clothes closet. She wouldn’t let the landlord in to paint or perform other maintenance. She only used the items in the front of the refrigerator because she could no longer reach what was down low or in the back sections of each shelf. To her credit, she recognized these as signs that something needed to change. I’m beginning to feel that way about certain aspects of home ownership. I still get up on ladders to clean the gutters, or change exterior lighting, but I now make sure there’s someone who’s spotting me on the ladder. And I know that in another decade or so, I won’t want to even climb up the ladders anymore, and then I’ll need someone else to do those chores. I’ve watched some of my long-term older friends from church gradually withdraw from their active roles, and it bothers me. While I agree that they should not bear the responsibilities for maintaining the kitchen, or the altar, I do not want them to stop coming to church and the church events that have been such a large part of their lives. I want them to consider two alternatives: one, get one of the younger members to provide transportation so they can continue to participate if they wish; or two, that we bring church to them: home visits, streaming services for them and/or hear to see on their computers or televisions. I’ve seen the loneliness and isolation that can set in under these circumstances, and I do not want to see it happen to others, or to me. We will know we need help so that we can stay in our homes when we stop doing the things we used to do without a second thought: inviting friends in to our homes, or when we, like my auntie, have our most frequently used possessions within reach instead of stored in available closets, or bureaus, or files.We stop driving. It may take us and our closest friends and relatives a few months to recognize what is happening. The larger challenge is learning how to balance the change in needs with home safety and our concept of independence. I believe that asking for assistance in these many and varied small tasks is a small price to pay for the freedom that is my being able to continue my life in my home. I”ve begun to purchase and use e-books so I won’t have so many hard copies collecting dust on my bookshelves. At each seasonal change of clothing, I look for clothing and books I can dispense with, and donate them to others. The trick to it is substituting one activity for another: I may no longer shovel snow, but I can go for a walk instead. I know I need to have my clothes where I can more easily access them, so I’ve taken my one higher closet rod and changed it out for two rods, one higher and one lower. I have a pull-out pantry in the kitchen rather than a lot of shelves I may not be able to reach in a few years. One of the characteristics of being human is our ability to adapt to new situations and environments. As long as I’m able to remember that, I plan to continue to embrace that. –Helen