My sister Vyvyan says that “old age is not for sissies.” We debate whether or not she stole that from Bette Davis (she of old Hollywood stardom) but there is no disagreement at all about the principle. At age 77, I certainly have recognized the changes in me over the decades, but watching my Dad move from his 80s to his mid-90s has been particularly illuminating.
When we are young, I don’t believe we have much of a concept about old age. I know I did not until I began to care for Dad. Of course humans are different, one from another, and we age at varying speeds, but there are some common perils for most people north of 75. At the risk of seeming morose, I thought I would share some of these risks:
- Over time, bodies will lose strength, agility, balance. Movement will become hazardous. Elders often resist canes, walkers, wheel chairs, the installation of grab bars, safer showers – yet a fall can be dangerous.
- Eventually mental competence will diminish, including the ability to remember routines, prescription schedules, even people or places. As the mind loses its edge, the elderly are also at high risk from scammers.
- Major illnesses are more common and can include cancer, diabetes, or organ malfunction (heart, lungs, liver, etc.). These illnesses require more attention at a time the elder has diminished capacity to respond.
- Even small tasks are problematic (cooking, cleaning, dressing), as well as managing doctor visits, medical protocols, insurance claims, balancing the check book. When they stop driving, they are often home bound.
- Risks multiply – whether from malnutrition, infections, lack of oxygen, errors in medicine dosage, accidents or falls. Seniors who lack sufficient financial and human support may face an untimely, even painful death.
— Jonnie Martin