Being eighty years old crept up on me,almost without warning, even though odd misgivings about being so old have plagued me for a few months.
Someone should write A Seniors’ Guide to Health Care! It should be compulsory reading for everyone. Especially for those of us who are actually seniors. And for people who care about us. And for those who will one day be past the first flush of youth. No such document exists, as far as I can tell. I might have to write it myself.
Zostavax vaccine is now available in Australia. This vaccine helps to prevent the viral illness known as shingles. From November 2016 it will be offered free to people between the ages of 70 and 79. Others can be vaccinated by their general practitioner at their own expense.
I will be be the first in the queue. I’ve had shingles. I don’t want to experience the illness again.
Fear of ageing struck unexpectedly.
The effect paralysed me. It began the day I stepped backwards off a curb and tore my gastrocnemesis (calf) muscle. Continue reading
An article in the West Australian’s financial pages a few days ago left me almost choking over my muesli. A financial adviser wrote on ways middle-aged children could protect ‘their’ inheritance. My elder-abuse-antenna shot up. Such an ageist, abusive idea!
The article suggested that the children should set in place enduring powers of attorney for their elderly parents. When – not if, but when! – the younger people had to make plans to care for the seniors, they would have access to control over the parents’ finances.
There are a few problems with this advice.
The first is that everyone should arrange to give their enduring powers of attorney to someone they trust, in the same way everyone, not just old people, should make a will. Blank powers of attorney documents can be bought at most newsagents and Australia Post shops. Solicitors can also assist. The documents require the signature of the person donating the powers and those of two witnesses.
Enduring powers of attorney provide some legal protection against the possibility of financial abuse or exploitation following an accident, the onset of dementia or some other unfortunate event which might impair a person’s decision-making process. Who gets to look after your finances is not something that should be left to chance.
The second problem with the advice in the newspaper is that older people should not allow anyone decide who will have these powers: it is their decision about their own future. Sons and daughters can suggest that mother or father puts powers of attorney in place, but the idea of the children attempting to put them in place suggests coercion, even potential abuse.
Statistics show the prevalence of financial abuse of older women and men that is actually reported in Australia. The statistics are probably the tip of a very large iceberg. And it seems that relatively few older people recognise that they, too, can be victims at the hands of those they should be able to trust.
Most older people understand that strangers can harm them financially and in other ways. But it is too shocking to think that our own sons and daughters, step-children, grandchildren, other relatives or friends would harm us, intentionally or unintentionally. No one likes to think something like that could happen to them!
Everyone, including old people, should obtain and maintain control of their own financial affairs. This applies even when a person is part of a couple. When one partner deals exclusively with shared financial matters and makes the decisions, the survivor can be left unable to manage for themselves should their partner become incapacitated or die. Decision-making can then be taken out of the hands of the survivor, sometimes with ill-effect.
I worry when I read articles such as the one in the newspaper. Misleading information such as that makes it easy to assume that adult children have some rights over their parent’s money or property; easy, too, for children to expect to be given access to their parents’ funds.
Since our peaceful, joyful, family Christmas day, I’ve spent some uncomfortable hours with the dull ache of disappointment and embarrassment, wondering how to make amends to my sister and brother-in-law for forgetting their invitation for my husband and me to share a special meal with them and our brother on the Friday between Christmas and New Year.
I’d looked forward for weeks to spending time with my siblings, but without checking my diary I’d invited another person to our house that evening. There’s no excuse. Not only did I hurt people I love, but John and I also missed one of the highlights of our festive Christmas season.
When my sister rang to ask where we were, I confessed that I’d forgotten. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when I eventually looked in my diary I saw that it was the birthday of one of my granddaughters. I’d bought and wrapped her present before Christmas, but I’d forgotten the day completely.
On one level, not checking my diary was a simple mistake, but not to use it or the calendar by the phone for a week? There’s something about this forgetful behaviour that disturbs me. My decision to make some changes takes effect from today.
It’s mere coincidence that it is almost the end of the year. New Year’s resolutions have never been part of my life. In the past couple of decades, each year on my birthday I have reviewed the previous year. A long time ago, a friend gave me an illustrated notebook with beautiful paper, and I’ve used that to record any past achievements and write to plans for the next twelve months.
One year, I worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. I began to write three pages in longhand every single morning, followed by a long walk. That process changed my life as I allowed myself to become more creative across all dimensions.
The next year, I read Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. In 365 little essays, one for each day of the year, Breathnach writes about ‘six practical, creative, and spiritual principles – gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy’. It took some work to transpose meditations about seasons and celebrations applicable in the northern hemisphere to Australia, but the effort was worth every moment.
But over the past few years, some of the foundation elements that made up my well-ordered life have slipped. This is partly the result a dramatic change in life-style brought about by remarrying when I was almost seventy, after living alone for almost thirty-five years; and partly because I’ve become less physically robust as I’ve aged.
Since I sent the completed manuscript of a book to an agent three months ago, my life has been in the limbo of ongoing waiting for her verdict on my work. A writer of any age who isn’t writing can be very grumpy indeed, as well as disorganised and forgetful.
THREE TOOLS FOR AN ORGANISED LIFE
Now it is time to change, to return to the simple principles and practices that I love and that help to keep my life ordered, abundant and creative. I am a writer and I write! And I promise to use my diary regularly.
There’s a happy ending to the story of the meal with my siblings. Yesterday, our brother invited us to his place for dinner tonight. And my sister sent me a reminder message on Facebook, complete with exclamation marks. I’m loved and forgiven.
In recent years, I’ve enjoyed my first ride in a helicopter, learned to sail a yacht and spent a weekend helping in the sheep yards on a farm during shearing. At sixty-five, I went back to university as a full-time student; another year, I published my first book, a memoir, Other People’s Country. At seventy, my best friend and I escaped from our respective families. We married in secret in a very lovely ceremony, and then honeymooned in Paris – my first trip to Europe.
This year, after a shaky start, I’m blogging.
A search for blogs about ‘ageing’, ‘old age’ and ‘growing older’ turned up sites devoted to residential aged care, dementia, incontinence and depression. It also found sites devoted to research into some of the more dismal aspects of old age. I know a bit about all of those through my work as a nurse in aged care facilities. As well as that, before my retirement from full-time work, I was the chief executive officer in a non-government agency that advocates for people who live in residential aged care, as well as those in danger from elder abuse.
There is another, better narrative about growing older. People in their late sixties and seventies are often still in the workforce. We travel; contribute generously to our families and communities; attend the theatre, concerts and festivals; vote; exercise our bodies and minds; learn and grow. We are indignant about the poor treatment sometimes meted out to older people, and not afraid to speak our minds.
Stories about ageing gracefully (and disgracefully) are the ones I hope to celebrate in my blog.
Thank you for visiting!