Anyone who has ever met me understands that while I am anatomically 24, I am physically and emotionally an 85-year-old woman. After years of working in jobs where carrying a purse full of hard candy and taking naps every afternoon was slightly frowned upon, I finally found my niche in the wonderful world of retirement homes.
I started out in 2009 working as a server in a retirement home kitchen, where I spent the better part of 2 years studying the fine art of the geriatric appetite; ranch dressing goes on jello, pepper goes in the buttermilk, and the most important of all: eat all of the food, then complain. While gleefully employed by members of my own kindred spirit, I began to learn more than just the fascinating rituals of feeding the masses in a retirement home (or as I always called it, a geriatric feedlot); I began bonding with the members, learning how to see them as individuals and human beings, rather than an old person who wears a wig like my grandmother’s.
As I gained the superpower to view the aged as real people, I began forming strong friendships with them. It was then that I began learning their stories, forming a history and perspective of the world I had never had before (party lines are NOT as fun as they sound). As I began learning about them, they also learned about me and my goal of becoming a future health care professional. I was soon offered a second job in the field as a caregiver (I used to call it caretaker, but apparently we’re supposed to GIVE the care, rather than take it–pfft). It has been during my time as a caregiver for 2 lovely ladies that I have been confronted head on with the demons of aging: the loss of independence and memory, the inability to pee and shower alone, only ever wanting cookies (not that that is a bad thing…), hearing aids and the constant changing of their batteries, and most importantly, facing death.
From talking with friends of my actual age, I know that many of us are terrified of aging. Not just because the wrinkles and that weird skin that hangs from our necks, but because of the looming threat of losing our well-earned independence and then kicking it. Luckily for all of you, I have found the golden secret to aging gracefully, and it doesn’t involve any surgical procedures!
I have observed two paths to go down after retirement. The first is the path that we all fear: having to use walkers, failing eyesight, giving up our cars, disease, dementia, etc. etc…all of which usually lead to isolation, depression, increased pain levels, inability to function independently, and finally, becoming that crotchety old lady that sits alone in the atrium shouting “GO TO HELL” at everyone who passes by. This path is usually chosen by the inactive and sedentary individual, with no motivation to stay involved in any sort of way. They are usually left to waste away into an angry ball of old.
Given the first choice, I’m sure some of you intellectual folk can guess what the second secret path to elderly success is going to entail. The key to making your golden years truly golden is extremely simple: stay active. Participate in activities. Options ranging from social movie nights or book clubs, to lectures or classes, to museums, to bus trips with your friends give you more sustenance, creating a richer and more worthwhile life. The most important trick to aging, as far as I have seen, is to maintain physical exercise. Simply going for a walk every day, or taking a water aerobics class can make the difference between a long gratifying life, or accidentally sneezing one day and exploding into a pile of dust. I feel that it is important to start these habits early in life. Growing old appears to be much easier, and more….um… “successful” while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
If you follow that simple rule you will have a better chance of enjoying the process of aging, rather than fearing it. Trust me, there are thousands of great things to do when you are old. Did you know you can eat dessert any time you want!? And just think of all the practical jokes you get to play on the damn kids! You don’t have to wear pants EVER. And I, for one, am really looking forward to finally fitting into an age group where owning 900 cats isn’t considered “weird.”
Claire will begin nursing school next month, so be sure to look out for her on Grey’s Anatomy. Refer to this blog and your first catheter is free!