#66 Who is in Charge of Your Life?

three green and one blue glass vases with flowers inside
Photo by James Cousins on Unsplash

People have heavily influenced my decisions since I was young. As a child, my parents told me what to do, what to wear, and what I shouldn’t do – arguments or discussions were not allowed. That continued into adulthood when they tried to tell me what my career should be - Mom wanted me to be an airline hostess - and how to raise my children.

Having friends was always a top priority for me. Pleasing people was my goal. I regularly gave up my opinions and dreams – deferring to their choices to be liked.

People hold power, and I followed their rules - doctors, insurance companies, and politicians who supposedly made decisions in my best interest.

The last five years taught me that I could have and should have taken charge of my life decisions sooner. I would have been stronger for what was to come.

My husband had some memory loss, but he held a full-time job, managed the finances, fixed my computer, and took care of household issues, six years ago. After a 9-day hospital stay that included surgery and a long list of medications, he returned home. His body healed, but his memory never did. He was no longer capable of being in charge of his life. He got lost while driving, made poor decisions, and was easily confused.

We never talked about what would happen if one of us were incapacitated or died. Our plan was to age well together. I didn’t understand the finances or how to fix my computer when it crashed, or the toilet when it plugged. Those were my husband’s areas of expertise. His main goal was to take care of me, and he did so very well for 60 years.

Suddenly, I was making choices and taking responsibility for both of us - completely ill-prepared to do so.

That situation led me to rethink everything. Now, I intend to take charge of my life – to figure things out for myself and make my own decisions as much as possible. The most challenging, painful ones I ever made were about his life. I don’t want to put that burden on anyone.

So, my question is this: how can older adults take better charge of their lives if they want to age well?

There is hope. As, psychologist Manfred Diehl, Ph.D., director of the Adult Development and Aging Project at Colorado State University, says

middle-aged and older adults have more control over the way they age than they believe.

(Diehl) hopes that shifting the narrative can help adults embrace the power they have over their aging. He says this will improve individual lives, but it can also benefit society through lower healthcare costs and increased productivity if adults stay healthier for longer.

Many people think the way we age is genetically determined. That misconception is dangerous because it prevents many adults from taking action that could help them age in a more positive way.

Studies show that lifestyle factors—including alcohol and tobacco use, physical activity, and mental engagement—can account for as much as 70% of the variance in age-related memory and thinking changes (Tucker-Drob, E.M., & Briley, D.A., Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 140, No. 4, 2014).

“Habits started before 50, not heredity, are more important for growing old gracefully, well into our 90s and beyond,” according to the  Grant Study – the 75-year longitudinal study that followed 268 Harvard-educated men to identify predictors of healthy aging.

Research shows that biological and psycho-social aging is not as predetermined as previously thought. Yet, despite a large and growing evidence base, most individuals still hold negative opinions about aging. Beliefs that keep them from optimizing their chances for healthy and productive aging.

Advice to My Self

Be aware - know the answer to questions such as:

  • Who and what controls your choices?

  • Must you do as others say or can you make your own decisions?

  • Do you believe everything they say about aging?

  • Does everything your parents taught you years ago still matter?

  • Why does everyone need to like you?

  • How have you given up control of my life?

Know what you want - we never discussed these issues. It would have been a good idea.

  • How do you want to spend the rest of my life?

  • What is on your “bucket list?”

  • Would you live with your children, in a retirement community, or at home, if necessary?

  • Do you want to be cremated? What life-saving measures do you want in place? Who do you want to make those decisions, if you can’t?

Prepare – these tough topics are easy to ignore, but they are necessary if you want to be in control of your life.

  • Figure out your financial situation and insurance coverage. Know what bills to pay automatically and what to pay monthly. Document passwords for specific accounts.

  • Learn what you don’t know - like how to fix minor computer problems.

  • Have relationships with reliable professionals such as a financial planner, a CPA, a lawyer, and a computer expert.

  • Visit retirement communities, assisted living, and memory care facilities, and talk with in- home care providers. Only then could you make the best choices.

Plan – Now that you know what you want and are prepared, make choices that allow you to take charge. Put systems in place, document important information, and let others now your preferences rather than leaving it up to chance and whim.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

An article in a recent the YouTopian Journey newsletter resonated with me. The writer said

But when it comes to the faith in ourselves, in our abilities, we are sorely lacking. Our faith in everything else, which may seem unshakeable, is nowhere to be found when it comes to our potentialities and powers.

Is it possible that I didn’t have enough faith in myself to take charge of my life - and that’s why I give the responsibility for my choices to others?

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