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Professional Columns -
Letter from the Chairman by John May





AGING IN GRACE — A PROCESS



    Aging: our thoughts give us the first clues.  During our adult life, we have different ideas of what number of years defines elderly. Fifty seems young, at sixty time speeds up, seventy all of a sudden does not seem that old.  Eighty is ... okay, too. Ninety, not that surprising. One hundred is still old!


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    Real awareness arrives around 60. We note the bounds of youth and the passing of years.  Youth simply blended into adulthood but, at 60, we seem to transition. There is a certainty of advancing age in our thoughts that was not present in earlier phases of our lives.

    When I look in the mirror, I do not recognize myself. Sometimes I smooth out the wrinkles and see some semblance of the former teenager inside.  When I step away, the 16-year-old takes over. Of course, modern medicine and our health care providers help in the process, but the rest is attitude and our desire to “keep going.”

 
Be proactive

    Many of us breathe deeply and consider our options but, for some, tough decisions need to be faced, too. Aging is not a state, it is a process, and processes must be managed if we want the best for ourselves and our family.

    Eating right is just the beginning of accepting aging and paying attention to basics. A good diet is a condition of success and the key to feeling better, having energy, and maintaining a positive attitude.  A bad diet is a formula for failure. The mind is in control of one’s fate. If Big Mac equivalents are routinely chosen over healthy foods, the body will succumb to a dreaded dependency.


Plan where you wish to be

    Aging in place - at home - if you value independence and want to remain king or queen of your castle.

    Smooth aging today is aided by technology, so learn the basics of what is available. You probably remember the old ad where an elderly woman wails, “I fell and can’t get up.” She “should have been wearing a necklace device that would alert medical help!”  Now, smartphones fit in a pocket, ready for you to chat with family and friends and to summon an emergency contact. Or Siri, Amazon Echo and the like sit on a table in your home to get help with your voice alone.  They are simple to set up – grandchildren can do it – and using them is easy. These devices can be an important addition to any household, especially if you live alone, because they offer peace of mind.

    Assisted living, if that is your choice. However, you must opt in before you really need this option. Investigate future options now. When only one of a couple needs assistance, the choices range from finding live-in medical help at home (expensive) to moving to an assisted living facility that you choose together. This ensures the alternative of transition to the nursing area of the facility for one and residence in the assisted living area for the other.

    Move in with offspring – but you will have to adjust to being under their roof, and living with their lifestyle. If choosing to move a distance to live near offspring, consider that benefit might be offset by the disadvantage of the loss of one’s known peer support system.

    These options come with additional questions. If one is thinking of assisted living or moving in with family: are they good company? Are they interested in others? Do they have a talent that they can share – knitting, singing, playing piano, cooking? Do they even want company? If maintaining one’s own home: how much would  the isolation of home be appreciated when activities are curtailed by health? How would maintaining your home be accomplished? Be honest.


Community as resource

My wife and I now live in a rural community. Our primary care doctor once told me that rural people connected through generational relationships or with limited means get it right; they create a support system. They have to because they have fewer choices available. Family members, churches and neighbors cooperate to bolster one another, creating an infrastructure support system that can help with transportation to physicians offices, meals,  post-hospital care, preventative care, handyman tasks, and oversight like making sure medication is taken and checking back to determine if everything is okay.


Stress

Stress increases everyday wear and tear. Now is the time to focus on oneself and not take on the emotional burdens of everyone else.  Let go of others’ lives; they manage on their own by their own standards. Be a haven of pleasant and interesting company so they have a happy outlet - and companionship is gained for all.

    Simplify life: downsize so things do not become crowded; organize  to easily find what is needed. That alone is stress relief!


Digital Relationships

    Unfathomable to previous older generations are digital relationships. The internet is not perfect but it can be a lifeline in so many ways. Loneliness can be eased by Skype contact, email keeps friends current on news, and sharing photos of grandchildren electronically all contribute to knowing one is still part of life. Any interest in a hobby, sport or intellectual pursuit  provides the opportunity to communicate with like-minded souls. Staying informed keeps one interesting and good company, which promotes well-being. The internet also has the means to confirm that you are safe and relieve some medical visits by home health monitoring. All of this is easy. Yes, once the nearest 10-year-old sets it all up, one is just  clicks away from everything and everyone.


Take Away

    What is going on is that time changes everything.  We must not dismiss the new and unfamiliar. We did not do it when we were young. We may not be early adopters in our elder years, but we can be open to what new ideas and technology might do for us. Grousing and believing that one can’t do this drains life. Vitality is life affirming, and the choice is completely in one’s own hands.
    It is possible your new lifestyle will last 20 or 30 years, which should be exciting. But we must be proactive to get the best results.  Think ahead. Aging need not be just a bunch of bad news.  After all, with the internet, we have all the world has to offer at our fingertips.

    Stay connected, eat well, exercise our brains, minimize stress, and most importantly, engage in activities we enjoy. Positive thinking only; reality does not vanish, but when we can elect to dwell on anything, choose the upbeat.

    Attitude - when we feel healthy, strong, and able, it shows and the teenager inside will take over.



















Along with a career in innovative technology, John was a Trustee in the Johns Hopkins Health System for 15 years and earned a master’s degree in Computer Science from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. This combination of experience and education allows a broad perspective on healthcare, software and how the transfer of software platforms between industries have had a transformational impact. He believes the healthcare industry can, and should, be next.


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