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Learning to prepare for changes
“Nobody ever told me I would have to change my attitude when I got older,” a client said to me the other day. “Becoming more dependent, moving and feeling more isolated has been a large adjustment for me.” My client was surprised at how hard it was to adjust to the changes in his life that happened but were not planned.
This is all about how we learn to adjust to changes in our lives as we age, no matter our age. When we are young, we don’t need to think about all the possible adjustments we might face as an older person. We may see our grandparents, then our parents, needing to adjust to a new place to live, or needing more help in the home, but it does not directly affect us in the same way. And even when people are older, they are caught off guard and have never thought about the “what if’s” of aging.
But there are some things we do plan for: life insurance, mandatory car insurance and, of course, carrying fire insurance for our house. We do this because it is law, or we can’t get a mortgage, or it has always been done. Then we go about our lives knowing we are covered and only worry about it when it happens.
People ask me why there is such surprise for some older people about their situation. Shouldn’t this just be expected? Well, not really. Most of our lives, we live with much hope for the future and truly expect things to remain pretty much the same, if just a little slower. Or they have planned well for any contingency, but the reality is still difficult.
Developing coping skills to address both the intellectual and emotional understanding of what life throws at you is a learned skill. It is usually easier to talk about what might happen without concerning yourself on how you might “feel” about it. But when you are moving from your house of over 50 years to a 200-square-foot senior apartment, you can’t avoid the emotions that will come up. Even though it is necessary to move, dealing with how you feel is very important and very helpful. Adjusting may take longer than if you were a 20-something.
But people do adjust. For each person, the adjustment is also quite individual. Acknowledgment and empathy for someone’s adjustment can really help. In some ways, it is like grief work. There is a loss, and the person needs time to come to terms with it. Even when it is expected, it can still be a challenge.
Betsy Zuber, geriatric specialist, has been working in the field of aging for 20 years. She provides social services to people ages 55 and over and their families who live on Mercer Island. Please contact her at (206) 275-7752, firstname.lastname@example.org or MIYFS 2040 84th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island, 98040. Youth & Family Services is a department of the City of Mercer Island.