“Never use your blinker, that just tips them off,” experienced L.A. drivers exhort. Sad but very true as it is, this cultural dysfunction also suggests an explanatory metaphor for another age-old dynamic: the challenge to maintain our independence as we grow older.
Like so. The desire to remain independent is close to the top of everyone’s concerns as we age. It is the reason many of us want to live forever in our own home and avoid older adult communities at all costs. We want desperately to be self-reliant and not dependent on others. The problem is, this determination (arguably, stubbornness) is counterintuitive. Just as with not using your turn indicator, your over-confidence and disregard puts you and others in jeopardy.
Self-reliance for many older adults is fallacious thinking. In reality, living alone at home requires the support of others – as in caregiving — to check-in regularly; to fix faucets and mow lawns; to bring over nutritious meals and check dates on everything in the fridge; and to worry, a lot, when you don’t answer the phone or get behind the wheel.
On the other hand, life in an older adult community can redefine independence. Given the right circumstances, there is assistance with healthcare and activities of daily living, personal safety, nutritious meals, convenient transportation, socialization and reassurances for family members.
Back to the metaphor. Not using a turn signal or blinker, similar to a dependent older adult trying to remain independent:
- Causes potential problems for those around you
- Forces others to accommodate you and pay extra attention to your desires
- Irritates others (who may be willing/trying to help)
In contrast, because driving, like life, is inherently unpredictable, using a blinker:
- Considers the safety of those around you
- Makes changes easier and less stressful; places trust in others
- Alerts others of your intentions; saves lives
Moving forward, particularly as we grow older, we must rethink “dependence” and learn to appreciate the mutual benefits of accepting help when needed (including when navigating L.A.’s freeways, which are treacherous at any age).
It is a tough call to make when the time is right.
Comparing driving on an LA freeway to staying stuck in stubborn self reliance is perfect. The stress, anxiety and frustration, all in the name of trying to prove that we can do it alone, is just painful. Been there. Done that.
In contrast, surrendering to asking for help can bring so much peace. For this topic of moving into assisted living, the family gets to live healthier and happier, with less worry and knowing their loved one is in good hands in the assisted living community. Good, reliable, trained hands. The person living there actually has many more choices, because of the staff, higher care levels, variety of life enriching activities and social opportunities available. It’s a very good thing and its a shame that being “placed” in assisted living has a negative stigma to it.
It is a very positive thing to ask for help. It’s a gift for everyone involved.
Thanks Tiffany. Well said. It’s time to STOP referring to community living as “institutionalizing” and “warehousing.” These places serve a much-appreciated need. Ask any exasperated family caregiver or lonely, completely isolated older adult.
If affordable independent living is great, assisted living is essential but can the average 80+ senior afford it? Many of that age today do not have the luxury of the 401K or other retirement plans. The annual cost in some of these places exceed the annual income the senior received when he was gainfully employed. Many seniors now are faced with questions associated with what’s hospice and what’s long term care. Medicare is not the answer to everything. Quite often it is too late for any type of planning, even applying for Medi-cal takes timing, attorney/consultant fees and jumping over the regulatory hoops. We have not done a good job educating seniors and planning for the inevitable.
Completely agree, Sylvia. Beyond the fact “we have not done a good educating seniors,” we must start by educating young people about the challenges and the opportunities that come with longevity.