Local writers share experiences and widsom about aging

March 2017: More, Not Less -by Norma Glad

When I swim, I often counted how many of each of my four strokes I accomplish, so I could do the same number of each.  Ice skating was another opportunity to count and even up the number of glides in each direction. I began balance therapy exercises, and counting each repetition seemed to come naturally.

One day I said to myself:  “No one besides you is keeping track of your exertions. Think of something else to say as you perform…” Almost immediately, these words came into my mind:  Love in My Life!  Love in My Life!  Love in My Life! No, I’m not lacking love in my life.  I’m very sure there are family and friends who love me.  My new phrase brings to mind the many people and passions in my life who comprise my love life.

I have been using the phrase delightedly since then while constantly asking myself what it means to me. I love the warmth it implies, gatherings of friends and family, including the warmth that comes over telephone wires and into my computer.  I’m so glad I have been able to develop inner capacities to take in and give out love of several kinds. It implies to me recognition of the important place that love has had in my life, an assertion that I’ve carried on the values I was taught, and an acceptance of the love from others which has enriched my life.

These four words encourage me to keep on wanting to give tangibles and intangibles to those around me who are needful. The phrase seems to crowd out many habitual  negatives which have haunted me most of my life: I’ll never make it, I should have done something else, I’m sure to get it wrong……LOVE IN MY LIFE is a great substitute for all of these. 

“Love in my life!” is a great accompaniment as I walk to the mailbox, or anywhere else. The phrase has sometimes taken new forms in my daily rounds.  When I’m out in nature I find myself repeating “Beauty in my life!  So much beauty in my life!”  It’s especially meaningful when the sun is shining.

One day a friend used the word ‘joy.’  It was a natural: “Love in my life – and joy!” Now the phrase accompanies me as I swim, skate,  exercise and live with love in my heart. It helps me be in this very moment rather than wonder what I’m going to wear, whom I should call first when I get home, what will they say.

Here’s the latest version:  This morning my mood is down but I’m not, because there is Love in My Life! Deep breaths are a great accompaniment to Love in my Life. I encourage everyone, young and old, to find a phrase that works to enrich daily life.

February 2017: When to Stop Driving -by Renate Justin

“Arthur, we think it is time for you to stop driving.”

“Why? I am a fine driver.”

“We observed you driving in the wrong lane yesterday, putting yourself and others in danger.”

“Poppy cock.”

So it went until we finally took my husband’s car keys from his night table while he was asleep.  Promptly he used a spare set and took out his Oldsmobile.  His family had to drive the car away and not tell him where it was to stop his driving.  He was furious--a scenario often repeated, as I knew from my family medical practice where I was consulted about the driving ability of older patients. 

In order to save my son and daughter from a similar scene, I gave my car away when I started to forget names and at times familiar words.  I decided to use the Fort Collins Transfort system to get around, a challenge at times.       

Surrendering car keys is a life-changing moment. In Fort Collins, giving up driving means no more evening entertainment, no plays, concerts or late night movies, no quick run to the grocery store. No Sunday outings except on foot or with friends.  

Bus service is, on most lines, hourly, with long waits if you have to take more than one bus to reach your destination.  In winter sidewalks are covered with snow, and there is no service evenings or Sundays.  From my personal experience, as long as you can walk to the bus, it is possible to plan daytime outings. Errands take longer but can be accomplished.  A real plus is that the bus drivers in Fort Collins are uniformly helpful, cheerful and always ready with a friendly greeting.

How can we tell when the time has come to make the drastic change from private to public transportation?  There are no easy tests to evaluate mental or physical ability.  Most people become more forgetful as they get older, and their reaction times are prolonged.  At what point those factors represent a danger to driving ability is difficult to determine.  Many older adults limit their driving, -- not at night, not in bad weather, not in Denver traffic -- but does that make them safer on the road in Fort Collins?

Drivers over 75 have more non-fatal crashes than younger drivers, most frequently because of failure to yield right of way or obey traffic signals.  Men have more accidents than woman.  Older drivers have more fatalities than younger drivers because they are frail and therefore sustain serious injuries more frequently.  Predictors of accidents are:

  1. Falls in the past two years
  2. Visual and cognitive deficits
  3. A history of previous car crashes
  4. Effects of medication 

Getting lost and near misses, often only witnessed by the driver and not reported, also are predictors of future problems.

Family members, family physicians, even license bureau personnel are reluctant to mandate the difficult change in lifestyle ‘no driving’ represents in spite of the fact that 14% of 75-84 year-old drivers and 20% over 85 have some cognitive impairment, not taking into account visual, hearing and mobility impairment.  The complexity of evaluating an elderly person for adequate functioning becomes clear if you consider that the act of braking a moving car involves:

  1. Motor skills, muscle strength
  2. Balance and normal reaction time
  3. Adequate cognition

Both AAA and AARP have classes for older drivers; most driver-education agencies give road tests to evaluate driving skills.

In all honesty, just as we know when it is time to retire, we also know when it is time to stop driving.  Each individual knows how often he or she forgets words, can’t remember names, makes errors in typing or falls asleep in front of the television.  It does not take superior intelligence to translate those failings to the steering wheel of a car.  Which one of us elders has not made excuses when we ran a red light or ignored a stop sign: “It happens to everyone sometimes,” or “I was thinking of something else.”  We don’t really need our family members, our physician or the police to tell us that our skills have deteriorated and that we might hurt someone by insisting that we are safe drivers.  In the long run, it is up to each individual driver, as he or she ages, to hand over the car keys to the young grandchild and say: “The time has come for you to take over.”

Perhaps, once we have driver-less cars, the transportation problems of the elderly will be solved.  We will be relieved of having to make the difficult decision at what age to give up our mobility and independence, to surrender our car keys.

January 2017: New Beginnings -by Dale Hein

New beginnings can be merely restarting again on a familiar path.  A truer new beginning offers an unfamiliar route.  When I retired from Colorado State University 15 years ago, I had future options. 

 I observed many faculty colleagues retire.  Some continued part-time or as a consultant in their profession.   Many retired colleagues indulged in travel or hobbies.  Volunteerism satisfied others.   

Teaching and learning were my passions.  Why not continue in a new venue?  Also, I wanted to explore new intellectual areas outside of my professional life in applied sciences for wildlife conservation. 

 During graduate school, I read C.P. Snow's classic 1959 lecture The Two Cultures, in which he lamented the gulf between scientists and "literary intellectuals.”  When I was immersed in sciences, 

there was never enough time for literature, history, philosophy, or fine arts.  Retirement allowed me to catch up in non-sciences – a new beginning for scholarship.  I wanted to understand my own life beyond my knowledge from sciences and my own experiences.  Humanities could help.  

 Fortunately, I live in a college city with opportunities for adult learning.  CSU offers choices for continuing education in many subjects.  The Osher program at CSU offers courses especially for older non-CSU students.  Front Range Community College is another option. 

 I joined Front Range Forum, an adult education program at Fort Collins Senior Center.  Courses are as diverse as the interests of several hundred FRF members.  In FRF I take or lead many courses in literature, history, philosophy, and even a few in sciences.  What, for example, have I learned in a few of my courses?     

 For 8 weeks I explored the West with Lewis and Clark and then investigated the roles of women in the westward expansion of America.  In Great Ideas of Philosophy, I learned that Plato emanated and explained Socrates' didactic learning.  In classic literature courses, I discovered that Poe innovated the short story format, but that Chekhov and then Munro perfected the genre.  One course, Literature Meets Art, taught me that art reflects and reveals history.  In a course on Walden, Thoreau was not a hermit but a transcendental philosopher and a naturalist.  I learned that science and humanities interact and have common features.  Both build upon earlier scholarship.           

I learned that humanities expand the possible explanations for human behaviors and experiences.    Sciences describe living systems and processes of life.  However, knowledge from the humanities helps me understand my own life.  I learned that themes of human experience reoccur in time and place, e.g., coming-of-age, love, family strife, injustice, cultural conflicts, virtue, etc.

 In retirement, I am thrilled to have found fascinating new beginnings for learning.  Once again, as in childhood, the first day of school is the best day of all, a fresh start into joyful learning.