Here’s a scenario most of us have experienced in some form. It’s the middle of the night and the phone rings. It’s your son in Seattle calling to tell you his 70- year old father-in-law took a fall and he’s with him in a hospital emergency room. He has a fracture—or did he say “fractures”—plural. Or maybe it’s an early morning call; your 80-something sister in Florida is calling; she just received a diagnosis that will keep her homebound–maybe even bedbound–for months.
Those calls are “911 look-alikes.” You’re not the one in crisis, but the family member at the other end of the line is dealing with an emergency and wants/needs your assistance. Even if you have been fortunate enough to avoid any kind of personal health crisis or life-changing accident, someone else’s 911 situation is about to impact you. Be ready—use that moment well.
You are a good and caring person, of course, and you will provide gentle counsel and offer information and resources appropriate to their emergent situation. Maybe you’ll do follow-up calls or make a cross-country visit to the individuals(s) in distress. You’ll probably send a get-well card or flowers. Maybe you’ll use the internet to assemble ideas that address “their” issues. And then, quite probably, time will pass and you will move on to the other things in your life. Opportunity lost.
“Opportunity,” you say? “Yes,” I reply.
Here’s how I see it. As older adults, we are in active denial–about “being old” of course, but also about the likelihood we’ll have a debilitating fall or be diagnosed with a medical condition that displaces us from our circle of comfort. According to aging expert, Dr. Mary Doheny, we are unwilling to talk about aging “until something really traumatic happens to us like the death of a spouse, the illness of a partner or the need for hip or knee replacement.” And at that point, “denial often turns to despair” and any ability to make informed choices is reduced—dramatically.
Denial does not work. Aging keeps happening. And many people do not have a strategy for dealing with that reality. When a “911 look-alike” occurs—maybe we should use that moment as a reminder to develop that strategy. Here’s why. The Federal Commission on Long-Term Care indicates “70% of us who live beyond the age of 75 will need some sort of caregiving, on average for three years.” Do you have a plan for that?
Perhaps, as are many, you’re “counting on family members to provide any needed caregiving” But are you talking to them about your care preferences?” This is not a conversation about death and dying—this is a conversation about “defining how you want to ‘live,’ despite changing health needs and the daily physical struggles that emerge as you age.“
Maybe you won’t need a middle of the night call to ignite your interest in developing a personal long-term care strategy. Maybe this information will do it. I like to think it will, at minimum, prompt more conversation. Prove me right?
Excerpted from 2014 Mail Tribune column.
About This BlogSharon and Howard Johnson are Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS) with the National Association of Home Builders who have launched a nonprofit organization, Age Friendly Innovators Inc. (www.agefriendlyinnovators.org)
They are passionate about the importance of older adults aging in place in a home of your own and have practical and provocative ideas about how to make that happen. Sharon is a retired Oregon State University educator who has developed dozens of award-winning programs about health and aging. She has written a weekly column for the Mail Tribune for over ten years.
Howard is semi-retired from his international work in marine conservation. In 2010 he was named a Purpose Prize Fellow by Encore.org as a "social innovator."