Since doing my TEDx talk, I’ve had many conversations about aging, especially after people have listened to the talk. I’ve also been asked back to help out in long term care environments in my capacity as a speech and language pathologist which prompted me to give even more thought to the topic.
The word FEAR came to mind. Looking at the word I pondered what the letters of the word FEAR would represent as an acronym as it relates to aging. This is what came to mind:
F. E. A. R.
F. Loss of Freedom
E. Loss of Employment, Enjoyment, Energy
A. Loss of Autonomy
R. Loss of Respect
These are my thoughts in each of these areas.
Loss of Freedom: For many older adults who arrive at the point where they can no longer drive, there is a tremendous loss of freedom. They feel the decision to go and come as they please has been taken away from them. This may have happened to some people reading this blog; others may have had this difficult conversation with their parents, or even grandparents. Several months ago I wrote a blog in which I referenced an episode of Blue Bloods that aired many years ago in which this situation occurred. It was as relevant then as it is now.
Loss of Freedom also occurs when transitioning into a living environments where movements and ability to make decisions are restricted, many times without a person's consent. There is a real fear that with aging comes the loss of ability which causes this to occur.
Loss of Employment, Enjoyment, Energy:
Loss of Employment: The decision to leave the work force is often taken out of the hands for many older adults. Many people look forward to this time, for others it is a dreaded fear. Their identity has been wrapped up in their work/professional life. What does life hold for them now? How will they spend their time? Who will they be to their family? Who will they be to themselves?
Loss of Enjoyment: There is a sadness when older adults find themselves having to leave their communities to transition to alternative living environments or have lost friends and loved ones. This represents a loss of the enjoyable times, situations, and people that have been a major part of their life which in turn can become a fear associated with what it means to age.
Loss of Energy: Loss of energy is not only physical; it can also be mental or emotional. I’ve experienced this is the past few weeks when I’ve been sick. The lack of physical energy it extended to a total lack of mental or emotional energy. It was only that I couldn’t move, I couldn’t muster the emotional or mental energy to think or even care about much other than how I was feeling at any given moment. It made me think how it would feel if this was pervasive, if I arrived at the point in my life when I was without the energy to care about much, to be without hope, desires, creativity. I shuttered at the thought. For many people, if that’s a fear associated with aging, I certainly understand it.
Loss of Autonomy: With a loss of physical or cognitive ability, older adults are often in positions where others are making decisions for them. The adult child who is in the role of caring for an older parent, or recognizing needs based on diminished capacity, often assumes a role as if they are the parent. This translates into the way in which the adult child communicates with their parent, talks about them in their presence as if they are not there, or makes decisions on their behalf. Autonomy, the need for a person perceive that they have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions, is a basic human need. How would you feel if your autonomy was stripped away without your consent?
Loss of Respect: Outside of our families where many older adults are loved, adored and revered, in our society older adults in society are generally not treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. This is especially evident in the traditional long term care environments in which I’ve spent most of my professional life. As a speech/language pathologist working in these environments, I have always advocated for people to understand that, no matter a person’s physical or cognitive ability, he/she has feelings, needs, thoughts, and desires. A person who is to be respected and treated in a dignified manner. As well said by Maya Angelou, “people may not remember the words you say, but they remember how you make them feel.”
Respect can be bestowed in the simplest of ways and can make a vast difference in a person’s response and ultimately in their interaction with others.
Having the important conversation ahead of the time you or your loved one has a change in care needs, is one way of addressing the FEAR that many older adults have about aging; a fear that is often unexpressed.
It’s an important step to Being in the Driver’s Seat. Being Informed is Being Forearmed.
Please feel free to email: firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation and to weigh in on your ideas about aging.
Click on the link below to view my TEDx talk: Are you an Evolving Elder? I hope you’ll share it and encourage others to do the same: https://youtu.be/rEQjDE1O2NE?si=JYAG929jeD8kcpQ3