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FRED FIRST: To Age Well, Start Young

“There is no cure for the common birthday . . . ”   – John Glenn

I remember it clearly. I was 12 when I first imagined myself as an old man. It was New Year’s Eve, 1959. Much was being made of it in the “funny papers”. Beetle Bailey wanted to call it the SEXY SIXTIES. I asked what that meant and was offered a connect-the-dots puzzle and a pencil instead of an answer.

The even-numbered decade that would begin the next day got my attention as we prepared to watch the Times Square ball drop. The round numbers made the math much easier.

It was at this moment I had the AHA realization that at the turn of the century, forty years ahead in 2000, I would be 52. Me. An old man. Nah!

I hurried to the vanity mirror in my grandmother’s apartment and distorted my face in the way I imagined the Alabama sun and time would distort my smooth freckled skin with lines and creases, spots and blotches. My crewcut hair–if it lasted at all–would go from thick and blond to thin and gray. It would.

For the first time, thinking into adulthood, I realized I was aging and that I would keep on doing so until I stepped off the Moving Walkway on the far side of some hopefully-distant round-numbered year.

Already, friends of my parents had crossed that divide. They were here, and then they weren’t. And someday I would reach the same end. I clearly remember this as a revelation at age twelve.

Turns out that in my own mind, I am always 19. And so I forgot mostly about the moving walkway until I recently heard the cosmic PA system make the alarming announcement that shocked me from my youthful delusions:

“Please watch your step. You are coming to the end of the moving walkway.”

What does that entail, exactly–this seeing the terminus ahead, certain on the end-game but fuzzy on the timing? How and when does one make plans with these unknowns and unknowables? The issue is perplexing and it it will NOT go away.

Caring for Elders Aging in Place

IN the Round Numbered Year of 1990 I was a newly-minted physical therapist. In 2000– that year I had imagined at age 12 — I was providing outpatient therapy for Assisted Living residents in their apartments at Warm Hearth Village in Blacksburg.

I am happy to report that I was not as wizened and grotesque at 52 as I had imagined in the mirror on New Year’s Eve, 1959.

I discovered I really liked this population of folks who were some distance ahead of me on the Moving Walkway.

On the same 200 acre college-town “campus” I also treated patients (retired faculty, faculty parents and retired professionals) living independently in the town houses; and I saw folks I had known from Assisted Living after their disabilities moved them on campus into the “Skilled Nursing” facility following a stroke or a fall.

I came to think of these Interesting Elders as my favorite population of patients. I continue to gravitate towards seniors, and now, THESE HAVE BECOME MY PEOPLE.

2020 Hindsight 🥽

My long-lived mother, Betty Jean, resided in our home town of Birmingham until we had to move her quickly out of her apartment because of black mold. For two years, she lived alone in a wonderful house in North Carolina owned by our daughter and son-in-law. She found that she was isolated there. She was lonely and not eating very well.

She moved into Warm Hearth–on my strong recommendation– in 2016. She chose to live in Assisted Living only because she could not stand up long enough to prepare a meal. Otherwise, she enjoyed a very active life until she had a failed “simple surgery” in early June, 2022.

From that brief hospital stay, she moved to skilled nursing at Warm Hearth. From there, she returned to her apartment a week later with Hospice care and died in July, 2022. Once she became a resident in 2016 at age 91, all of those possible moves were built into the Plan and were effortless transfers among the Warm Hearth spectrum of services.

And so Warm Hearth has been my standard–as a therapist and as a consumer–for seniors living in community. The model makes sense for these two 75-year-olds in relative good health, but not getting any younger.

We have made our decision on What Comes Next. I has not been easy. It is not a slam-dunk. I have learned some things. I still have many empty spaces where answers should and might be.

Next post, we’ll explore one option for elder living to see where Ann and I might be–if we are anywhere–on New Year’s Day, 2030.

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