The Life Transition Blog

Accepting Aging

Advancing age is often frustrating as you face the new limitations age imposes on your body and mind, and turning over control of even little things to others might make you feel insecure.  A loss of control is always frightening, but acknowledging that your situation is changing is not a loss of control … it is actually taking control of how things will go from now on.  You can fight for your independence, but if such independence endangers you, what are you winning when you win that fight?

According to a study completed in 2009 by Home Instead Senior Care, more than half of older adults resist asking for help, even from their adult children, fearing it signals a neediness that could land them in a nursing home.   Similarly, 51% of adult children caregivers surveyed across North America say their aging relatives can be so reluctant to accept help, they fear for their safety.  Don’t let this be you; accept when you need help and learn to as for it.

In her classic book, “On Death and Dying”, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross put forth her now widely applied model for the grieving process.  Since its publication, this model has been adapted to explain the feelings associated with many types of transition or personal loss.  The stages include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.  In my work, I have noticed that the individuals who seem to “age well” and capture the attention and admiration of others are those who reach the stage of acceptance long before the ravages of advancing age take over in a profound way.

Another way to look at aging is as a culmination of your unique self.  Your life experiences, belief systems, and interpersonal style all combine to create your present self.  Your hopes, desires, and goals all combine to define your future self.  As you age, there is less and less time to define your future self and this can be experienced as a series of “mini deaths” along the journey.  At each of these points there is the potential to get stuck at one of Kubler-Ross’ stages that come before “acceptance.”

If you can move past the earlier stages and reach acceptance things just seem to go more smoothly.  Once you are able to accept that you are indeed getting older, admit the reality, be willing to ask for help, and evaluate and prioritize what you most need help with.

Admit that your body can’t – and never will again – perform like it did when you were younger.  There are some things others can now do better than you but that doesn’t mean you are useless.  You’ve got your brain, your wit and your experience (and it is age’s prerogative to give advice to the younger generations.) You need the help.  People may notice you need the help but may be too fearful of injuring your pride to ask if they can help you.  You need to ask them to do so.  Be willing to ask for and accept help. Evaluate what type of help you need.  Start with the basics.  Do you need help paying your bills?  Managing your medications?  Could you use a hand with driving, shopping, fixing your meals, dressing, bathing?  Are you spending too much time alone and could use a little companionship?  Make a list and then prioritize it.  Start with one thing at a time and ask for help.

You didn’t reach the age of silver hair without having been through some tough times and coming out the other side still standing.  You have bucked up, knuckled down, pitched in, shut up, spoken your piece and maybe even said your prayers.  What you probably haven’t done much of is ask for help.
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