By Kay Bransford, Special for US Daily Review.
While I have great love, admiration and respect for my parents, there are some aspects of their lives I don’t wish to repeat.
With the Alzheimer’s Association reporting that 1 in 8 older Americans have dementia, it’s likely that this disease will impact all of our lives in some way – be it as the caregiver, loved one or the afflicted.
Both of my parents lost their short-term memory and my mom’s been diagnosed with dementia. My parents are determined to live independent lives. The transition as their memory took flight and the dementia crept in has been a struggle to watch. My siblings and I have been working to keep them safe and have been cleaning up their messes (IRS tax filings done incorrectly, missed bill payments, signing two contracts for the same home repairs) but I think we’d agree wrestling with an alligator would be easier.
Together, my parents have created a near impenetrable force over making changes to their lives and as a result, they really aren’t living the life they expected in retirement.
To age better than my parents, I’m going to do five things differently:
1) Cultivate meaningful friendships.
As my parents aged, they lost most of their friends from neglect. Some days, life seems too busy for friends but I am focusing on creating bonds with those around me who will alert me to changes in my behavior and well-being. I want the kind of friends that will look me in the eye and kindly say, “I’ve noticed…”
2) Document the little but important things.
If you were incapacitated, how easy would it be for your family or friends to step in and help pay bills and maintain your household? Beyond having your will, power of attorney and medical directives, you should have one place where you have documented your online accounts and passcodes, personal contacts, financial assets, household warranties, service providers and personal and family medical history. Make it easy for those around you to assist you should you ever need the help.
3) Question and understand my health state.
In addition to understanding each diagnosis, I am getting memory benchmarks and will repeat them every 5 years. While some people don’t want to know when it comes to your brain, there are some drugs that can slow a cognitive decline. While my mom resisted our suggestion to get this done starting a decade ago, the testing could have given her the opportunity to best communicate her wishes before she lost the ability to verbalize them.
4) Find work I enjoy and continue working.
One of the basic life needs is to have meaning and purpose in your life. While I never desired to have my work define me, I do find many types of work rewarding and have worked to find something that aligns with my personal goals. I plan to work as long as I am physically and mentally able to contribute.
5) Exercise and Eat Right.
We all know these are the foundations of aging well. My mom was always “busy” but never really exercised and we watched her get smaller and smaller every year. The benefits of both exercise and nutrition on your brain health have been well documented by all of the major medical research organizations.
How are you doing toward leading the life you desire?
Kay Bransford is the founder of MemoryBanc. While assisting her two parents make the life transition, she developed several books to help organize and capture many of their memories. Enough friends and colleagues asked her for copies that she turned them into books everyone can use. Today, MemoryBanc produces a variety of print and electronic books to help capture and protect individual memories and personal wishes. To learn more, visit www.MemoryBanc.com.