A "Musing" that is far from "amusing".

Asked by

I've posted before about my mother. Just turned 87, looks and acts 100. She's been difficult in the past, and now suddenly, freshly dxed with dementia, is now becoming a fairly nice person. I have mixed feelings about that. Always self centered--that hasn't changed, but she's suddenly kind of sweet to me, which she has NEVER been. I am a but flummoxed, but grateful.
She lives in an apt attached to younger brother's home, Has for 20 years. She needs a walker to get anywhere and she is slowly slipping into total la-la land--again, A new dynamic since none of our grandparents did this.


I took her to her 70th High School class reunion on Sat. I didn't "stay". but sat on a chair near the park pavilion and observed. Here were about 40-50 other 87-90 yo people and the contrast amongst them was astounding. Mother had to sit on a chair at the end of a bench, as there was no way she could have gotten on the bench. The woman sitting next to mother was a former cheerleader and when the time came to sing the school song, jumped up onto the bench (I kid you not, didn't even use her hands to touch the table, just hopped up like a little grasshopper) and led the rest in the school fight song. The contrast between mother, who is slumped over, can barely raise her head, and this woman who seemingly had more energy than I've EVER seen my mother show...I wish I had videod it. Most of the people there were somewhere between mother's capabilities ( very limited) and this perky lady. Sadly, mother actually looked without question, to be the oldest and most life-worn person there. The women definitely looked better than the few men who remain. And some of these ladies were actually so beautiful and amazingly fit--I couldn't help but realize my own mother has been "old" for a very long time.


Mother tired out pretty quickly as one by one, she was finding that either few people remembered her, and most of her friends from HS are long gone...she stayed as long as she could (2 hours) and was kind of quiet on the way home. It meant a LOT to her that she went to this, and she did ask if I could take her to the 75th...


I guess what hit me so profoundly was the question in my mind: Why do some people age so quickly and so badly? Is it genetic? Is it lack of exercise? Lack of "caring". Mother has had more than 50 surgeries in her life, she's a recovering hypochondriac who was never well a day in my life. She didn't exercise, eat particularly well and was an angry, bitter "victim"--so is it attitude? I don't expect answers and I'm not asking for any, really. It was just such a wake up call to me. I'm 60 and by 60 my mother was nearly bed-bound, by her own choice. Sick all the time, in and out of the hospital for whatever--then daddy got dxed with Parkinson's and she HAD to step up and let HIM be the patient for the only time in their lives. And she resented him for that.


Now she's barely mobile, she doesn't make sense if you talk to her very long, she reeks of urine (has a supra pubic catheter but still leaks, and won't change her depends often enough)...her apt is cluttered and messy, but she seems OK with that.


Am I destined to be just like this? Terrifying. I have been thinking about this all weekend. So--just musing, like I said. And it's NOT amusing.

Answers 1 to 10 of 10
Top Answer
Those thoughts are never far from my mind either. I work in a rehab facility and witness the ravages of time and unhealthy habits every day. I believe that we are faced with choices every day for which we will be responsible for the rest of our lives. We have to live on purpose so that we are aware of those choices and know what consequences we are signing up for. The patients I see who do better at an advanced age are those (1) who have been active. They are involved in some regular activity. It may be golf, walking in the neighborhood, dancing, swimming, whatever; but they do it every day. They also are (2) intentional in their nutrition. They get their fruits and veggies and watch their cholesterol. They want to be healthy. Another characteristic they seem to share is their (3) flexibility, and I don't mean joints. When something comes up unexpectedly, they don't freak out. They have learned to go with the flow. I am not naturally like this so I started exercising my flexibility to try to loosen up. I wear my watch on a different wrist every day. At first it drove me crazy not to find my watch at first glance. But after a while, I learned that it was no big deal; I will eventually find it, right? Sometimes things don't need to go our way to be okay. We can live even if we aren't always in control of everything. My little young old people taught me that.
Another thing these folks have is (4) incredible resilience. They bounce back. Life has dealt them blows, but they haven't quit. I am sure they feel like it when they have lost their spouse of many years, when they have buried a child, lost their sight, etc....They grieve but they have gotten back up. They don't do it by themselves. They have friends and family, church support, even meds (antidepressants, etc..) But they have made the decision not to give in to the lie that their lives were worthless and over. They have hope for the future.
I am a strong believer that no matter where or who you come from that you make your own life. You are not destined to become your mother. You can make different choices.
My experience has been that you get old when you least expect it.
Suddenly things begin to happen. You have one little complaint and the Dr says I think you should see Dr so and so and the cycle begins as they find more and more things wrong No imaginary things real illnesses that have to be treated.
I am not old i tell myself, it is just my body that has been overused.
I never expected to make 70 as none of mothers  family did but I worked till 68 and now ten years later I am struggling to recover from two broken hips but i will. My goal was 80 but that is only 18 months away so I have raised it to 85. I have Betty White as my inspiration. 92 and still working plus dear Queen Elizabeth. She can still walk down a flight of stairs unaided and ride a horse
Midkid, your description of the reunion is hilarious. This is horrible but I want to just choke the 87 year old cheerleader. Why can't my mom be like that?! My mom has had a rough life, much more so than most, but she's never, ever done anything healthy. She took a walk in 1965 I think. She now has every ailment you can have at 86 years old. I lost count years ago of the hospitalizations.

I shouldn't be so hard on her. She was a good loving mom. But for 20 years it's been like she's waiting for God, as someone remarked earlier.
I guess I should add that many of the active older women I've known have died fairly quickly late in life. It is like they lived life fully and then poof! it was over. That is what I'd like to do. I don't want to die just an bit each day and wait for God too long.
sunnygirl1, I believe the Carl Reiner interview was on HBO. It was called something like, "If I'm not in the obits when I read my paper in the morning, I eat my breakfast". Having a good sense of humor as you age certainly helps. Maybe you can find it on google.
My parents lived to be in their mid-to-late 90's, and both came from long age stock.... but after helping my parents for the last 7 years prior to them passing, I will never reach that age. The caregiving jump started so many different health issues :(

After climbing through my Dad's family tree, I found people born back in the mid 1800's living into their 90's, and even one lady who was 103 [she never married, maybe that was her secret]. Most were farmers, thus a lot of outdoor exercise. I remember my parents in their 80's still walking 2 miles a day for exercise, and doing volunteer work at a local hospital.

Now, here's the biggee... back when my parents were growing up, food was organic. No crazy preservatives. The air was fresher [once you stepped out of the barn] and my Dad rode horse back for all 12 years of school. My Mom also grew up on a farm. So they had a good start, with fresh food, etc.

Now my generation, early baby boomer, food had preservatives. Lot of sugar, like Kool Aid, and sugary cereals to which we added even more table sugar. There was lead in the gasoline which got into the air and soil. Powder dust to kill off insects that later was found to be hazardous to one's health. Anyone remember Love Canal in New York?

I really don't think we will see people live to 100 as a norm for many more generations. Our population rather drive then walk. Exercise is now using a tiny keypad. Harmful drugs are taking over the rural areas and people are dying in their 40's and 50's. The digital age is taking away human contact.

I know I always feel better after having a salad from Whole Foods :) I know I got to get up out of my chair and move about... my therapist said that time will come as it has been too soon after being so overwhelmed by my parents. And I need to open more windows, and go out and sit in the sun for at least 10 minutes a day.
Jessie--
I also do not watch TV. If I lived alone, I wouldn't even have one in the house. Mother had a TV in every room of her home. They are on 24/7. I mean, how much "Matlock" can one person watch?? Use to drive me crazy that my folks put a TV on the kitchen table when I was a teen and we had the stupid thing blaring through meal time.

I read, voraciously, watch a limited amount of shows on my Kindle, rarely go to the movies--spend no time on my phone texting my "peeps"...if TV becomes my reason for living, I do want my kids to hit me with a shovel.

I only let the g-kids watch ONE movie at sleepovers, The rest of the time is spent having fun, outdoors, if possible, just interacting. Mother doesn't turn her TVs off all day long, even if she has visitors.

Anyway---to update (in case anyone was holding their breath!) I did get the OK from all 5 sibs to move ahead with getting mother set up with 3 day a week in home care. I just cannot the day to day. Nobody else can, or will. Mother just cannot understand that she is not our primary focus--but I explained this to her in gentle, kind way, and when I said she'd be her aide's "boss" and she could do pretty much whatever she wanted--she looked at me and said "I'd have some FREEDOM??" I said, "Absolutely. You want to go shopping, you go. Your aide will be your right hand woman". I did not know until then that my brother had forbade mother from leaving the house. She wasn't even allowed to step outside, unless he was with her. She's practically a prisoner.
So--hopefully in the next couple of weeks, I can facilitate this. It is pricey, she has a LTC policy that may or may not pay for this, but 2 of my sibs are millionaires and will throw money at any problem--so hopefully we'll get a good match. Fingers crossed.
We've all seen the gym rat who dropped over dead or got cancer or dementia, or the people who battle one illness after another all their lives or smoked a pack a day or had other bad habits who continue on til they're in their 90's or beyond. Everyone always remarks about the people like the cheerleader at your mother's reunion but the reality, as you noticed, is that most people are not that well preserved. I personally feel it's like Forrest Gump said, you never know what you're going to get.
Thanks for the answers and comments. I didn't really expect any!

I am actually in no way like my mother. I'm MUCH healthier and more active than she ever was. Even when I was a child, she'd spend long periods in bed and my grandmother would just come scoop us all up and we'd live with her and granddad for a while. While I was in college, mother took to her bed for 6 months....dad asked me to drop a couple of classes and quit my job to essentially stay home and be "the mom" to my 3 younger sibs. I resented this terribly, but family did for family. She kind of came out of that, slowly and over the rest of my life she's been mostly in bed or on the verge of some terrible illness or recovering from surgery. Without doubt she had mental issues, depression, anxiety, whatever. She's never handled life well. She's so old now that most stuff is just forgotten and she has mentally re-written the past. When I asked my older sister for some help for the next 6 weeks as brother heals from back surgery, sis actually said "No, I will not help. I will PAY for anything, but I'm done being involved. Call me when she dies." Ok. Younger sister and brother both want to only be involved maybe one night a week (this is not when she requires care) and never on the weekends.

I spent a while this am checking out Home Care agencies and have one (one I actually worked for) and found that she is covered 100% for as many aides/in home care as she could use. I have to convince at least 2 other sibs to OK this. I am realistic that my own time should be spent enjoying my 13 grandkids and my hubby and looking forward to retirement. She's used me up down and sideways for 45 years.

Genetics say I will live a long life. I plan to. As long as I am healthy and active and happy. Mother is my one "trigger" into spiraling depression---no long backstory needed, she just is. I cannot take 3-4 days a week care of her. I also won't. One day, OK. No more. I hope none of my kids feel that way about me (I just got back from Houston and a 10 day babysitting gig for my daughter--something my mother wouldn't ever have considered, at ANY age).

BTW, the cheerleader was the mother of a girl I went to HS with. She legitimately is that active and spry. Still, it was a shock to see her hop up like that!!

I am not sorry I spent that long day with mother (oh we went shopping before the reunion and that was a whole other dreadful deal--2 hours to buy $22 worth of groceries that she didn't need. It DID light a spark in me that I am going to do more, exercise more and stay more upbeat. Mother really is my only "sliver in the foot".
My MIL is 93, in a MC with ALZ. Not really happy and deaf as a stone. She ate right, rarely drank, walked every day,never smoked.. we joke that she will out live us all. But it;s not a joke, really. I sure don;t want to end up like that! I have always said I don;t want to live forever... Today in the paper I read that someone living now will be the first person to live to 150... Oh dear God! And FIL is 94, on O2, failing kidneys and CHF, a walker and no life ( he lives with BIL in a deal they made that only benefited BIL who now also hates his life) Nope, not me I hope. My own mother lives with us, still travels and goes to casino and on trips as she can,, she is pretty frail. So who knows... I think it's a combination of things!

Share your answer

Please enter your Answer

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support