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6 Lessons My Mother Taught Me About (Not) Aging Well

Sometimes we learn what to do from someone who did it all wrong. I found myself realizing that I learned a lot about aging well from my mother. Sadly, the lessons are not ones I want to repeat.

My mother was the same age as I am now when her health began to change drastically. Yes, she had some pre-existing health conditions, but they could have been managed.

Her decline began after my dad died. The downward spiral from socially active and mobile to disabled occurred over a very short period of time and was caused by a number of factors:

Lack of physical activity and exercise – a loss of strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility.

  • Social isolation
  • Poor mental health
  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Lack of interests and hobbies
  • Complications from a fall

Soon it was a cycle of poor health that became cumulative, with one problem compounding another and another.

Lack of Physical Activity and Exercise

The simple fact is that my mother’s muscles atrophied. She became reclusive, going out less and less. I lived four hours away and tried to monitor things by phone and visits.

Over time, she became a fall risk. She lost strength in her legs, had no stamina to go up a few stairs, lost her balance easily and did not have the flexibility to catch herself if she started to fall. She began using a walker.

Eventually, she did agree to move to a beautiful assisted living facility and for a short time things improved. But the improvements were short lived.

Her inactivity increased to the point that she was no longer able to transfer safely from her bed to a chair. She could not walk – even with the walker. She eventually required a wheelchair.

Social Isolation

Ultimately – even though there was a lot of activity around her – she became socially isolated. She refused to participate in even the simplest of activities and preferred to be alone in her room. She began to sleep more than she was awake.

Poor Mental Health

Mental health can be a chicken and egg dilemma. The more inactive you are and the more socially isolated, the greater the impact on your mental health. A predisposition to depression took hold.

Inadequate Nutrition

Depression certainly impacts appetite. But even before the depression was diagnosed, food became secondary – even with someone else doing all the work.

Lack of Interests and Hobbies

My mom used to like to garden – she had over 200 rose bushes at one point. She liked to play cards, visit with friends, cook and do things for others. She liked volunteering at a local not for profit agency. But slowly she lost interest in everything.

Complications from a Fall

Predictably, she became more and more of a fall risk. One night she tried to get out of bed alone, fell and broke her hip. She died of complications within six weeks.

Aging Well Is a Choice

As we turn 60, we have choices.

In their book Younger Next Year – Live Strong, Fit and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry Lodge make a very compelling argument for taking charge of our health and our future.

Some 70 percent of premature death and aging is lifestyle related. Heart attacks, strokes, the common cancers, diabetes, most falls, fractures and serious injuries, and many more illnesses are primarily caused by the way we live.

Yes, dealing with mental health challenges and depression does not make it easy to make the right choices, but we have to try. Commit to making your own action plan, guaranteeing you can stay young at heart, and mentally and physically healthy. Here are a few tips…

Get moving and stay moving! You may not want to go for walk or to an exercise class – get over it! Do it because it’s a matter of life and death.

Get involved with something or someone. Keep your social connections. Care about someone other than yourself and this way you will both age well.

If you get the flu, covid, or other virus go the doctor. If you feel anxious or depressed, go to the doctor. Mental health is as critical as your physical health.

Follow a nutritious meal plan. There are lots of great resources to help you eat well, manage your weight, and maintain your energy.

Keep your brain active and engaged. Learn a new language, take music lessons, or read a good book.

Focus on your balance and flexibility. Look around your home and do a quick safety audit to be sure there is nothing that could contribute to your falling.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Premature aging and death is lifestyle related. What do you think are the keys to aging well? What one healthy lifestyle change have you made recently? Please join the conversation.

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Susan Goodman

I think your grief may have made you unhappy with your mother. The pre-existing conditions such as disease when you turn 78 can really affect what you’re able to do. I have COPD, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. The lung disease is the most disabling (except for the pain of the RA). The medicines I have to take have all sorts of side effects; they make it very difficult for me to do some things. After an active day or two I need a day or two of rest. I like to cook and I’ve always like to bake . I still tend to eat more carbs than I should according to dietitians. But I’m also 80 years old, in pain, have trouble walking/exercising, and happy to be with family and friends. Don’t expect me to live like I’m 55 or 65. Pain, lack of oxygen, and lots of steroids are not going to let that happen .

Alainnah Robertson

Great article! When I look at most older people, what I see is people who are overweight, out of shape, and often drinking too much wine. As you say, they are bringing their problems on themselves by their lifestyles.

Kerry

Easy for you to say… maybe if every child and grandchild took some time each week to engage with their widowed parent in meaningful ways, it would make a drastic difference. As a recent widow, the grief can absolutely change a person from funk loving and strong, to weak and afraid. Interaction and unconditional love is needed to heal. Most are not getting what they need, and given that, decline. Just saying😊

Kookie

When I look at most younger people I see people who are overweight, out of shape, and often drinking too much beer. Think you’re being a little presumptive and judgmental?

Sherry

Sadly, too often, the younger generations in the family often do little to help this situation. Include your elders as often as possible. Visit them and take them out. Join a social or volunteer group with them. We as a people need to get back to the old ways of intergenerational living in my opinion.

Faye

I agree with everything you so beautifully wrote. But some people cannot bear the loss of their spouse & so life loses it’s meaning.

Cathy Goodwin

Very good post. A lot of what we attribute to “aging” is really due to the cohort effect. Re seeing your doctor…in many places you wait 6-8 weeks to see your primary care doctor. You get 8-20 minutes for a visit. If you need mental health support, many therapists do not accept any insurance and definitely not Medicare. Look into other options to stay healthy!

Cathy Goodwin

Very good p

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The Author

Suzanne Mulligan-Born is the Founder of Healthy Active Seniors – a site for seniors who want to get better with age! As a writer for over 25 years, Suzanne uses her personal experience and research skills to reveal the 3 keys to long-term health and independence.

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