Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Growing Old

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 7, 2010

     Henry, 56, takes care of his adult disabled sister, age 58, and his parents, ages 85 and 88. His father, Bernard, just had a stroke and he is now in the hospital. His mother, Anna, has Alzheimer’s disease. She lives at home. His sister, Elizabeth, manages herself, but she misses her father terribly.

    Peter, and is convinced that his wife had a small heart attack which has caused her to suddenly have “no energy.” Peter is scared that this is the beginning of “old age.”

   Paul, 62, planned a trip with his wife to go to China, but his wife’s knee hurt so much, they had to cancel their trip. Paul is disappointed, but he is coping. He hopes he can go to China at another time, but since the trip was planned with his brother and his wife, Paul is sad that he does not have this opportunity to travel with his brother.

    The uncertainty and the unfairness of aging is striking. Some folks do well, physically and mentally. Others, suffer from terrible orthopedic issues. Many suffer from cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease. A minority struggle with cancer, going through chemotherapy, surgery and/or radiation. Cognitive difficulties are common. Memory problems and personality change plague so many people over 85, the fastest growing segment of our population.

    I am struck by how much we need our village as we age. We need people to share our fears; to run to the supermarket, to take us to the doctor. Most of the people in my world have a few people they can rely on, but not very many. The support people are also going through significant struggles of aging, so although they might want to help,  they are often not able to. Money helps to deal with some of the practical issues, but one needs a loving environment to cope with the fear. Psychotherapy helps too. Henry, Peter and Paul would all tell you how much they appreciate not being “so alone” with their respective responsibilities. It is a simple truth. We need each other.

2 Responses to “Growing Old”

  1. Shelly said

    Great blog. Everything you mentioned is true. We all fear growing older, growing infirm and being dependent on others. What would you say to us all, other than, “Yes, it’s awful growing older?” I suspect you’d tell us to build up our support networks now, get plenty of exercise and eat right, and get our medical conditions under control. But how can we deal with the fear? By being proactive?

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