Democratic Convention: Social Security and Medicare

Elders and Time-Consuming Life Maintenance – Part 2

category_bug_journal2.gif Last week, we held a terrific conversation about how damned long the ordinary maintenance of living takes as we get older - the chores, errands, daily upkeep and other stuff that we hardly noticed in the past except, maybe, as a nuisance to be gotten through as quickly as possible.

I'm returning to this subject today because even though many readers had a lot to say about it, I cannot recall ever having seen it addressed in the serious literature of aging.

As far as I can tell, professional commentary goes straight from the total capability of midlife (zillions of magazine articles and books on efficiency) to frail elders (when incapacity requires the intervention of family and/or care agencies). No one talks about those in-between years.

In particular, there are two kinds of time eaters I'd like to expand on today. Celia mentioned one of them last week:

”Then there's the ruinous recovery time if you get sick or injured. The couple of days it used to take to snap back is now a couple of weeks or even months.”

Celia is right. It has been my experience for the at least the past decade (I'm 71 now) that a simple cold can last two or three weeks and feel as bad a flu virus. And then, cold or flu, when the main symptoms are finally gone, it can be weeks more before full energy returns.

And that's really irritating.

But beyond extra rest, there is little to do about the length of time involved to get over what were once minor illnesses. However, we (me!) and those around us need to be aware that we aren't the kids we used to be and to help out one another during those prolonged periods of recovery when, sometimes, it is just listlessness - not debilitating but tiring nevertheless.

Of course, more serious conditions and injuries take an even longer, more difficult recovery time and I'm sure some of you can speak to that.

Another old age problem I forgot last week is the time involved when routine is interrupted, and I'm guessing this is what young people mean when they say elders are “stuck in their ways.” There is a reason and it's about energy levels, not social or technology issues.

For many of us, sleep is a tenuous proposition. Can't fall asleep. Can't stay asleep. Too many bathroom runs at night. And even with enough sleep, sometimes we just need additional rest during the day.

One of the ways old people husband their energy is via a daily routine giving us the capability to predict what will happen and when it will happen. Certainly, we each plan our days and weeks differently but I'm pretty sure we have a lot of common ground.

When I have a two-hour meeting scheduled in the evening, I know I must nap in the afternoon. If I have a lot of driving to do in a day, I don't also plan to grocery shop.

During the week leading up to house guests, I do the extra cleaning so no one should think I'm entirely a slob, but I also plan ahead for the blog, for extra groceries in the house and make sure I rearrange meetings and other obligations that fall during the guests' stay so we can have as much time together as possible.

Even so, after they leave, I need some recuperative time – some quiet time to regroup and work myself back to my routine. Any activity too much out of the ordinary is more tiring than when was younger.

Example: Last week, I received an invitation to participate in a one-day, roundtable event on an elder health issue in New York City at the end of this month. I would like to attend but I am hesitating because these days it is so exhausting to fly – exhausting because airlines have made it deeply irritating, uncomfortable and awful - all the moreso because I'm old.

Then, of course, there is extra work up front to get the blogs in shape for my absence and catchup when I return. So I still haven't decided.

It is interesting that this elder need for recuperation from interruptions in routine seems to have been neglected in the aging literature. Perhaps the “experts” think it falls into the well-known category of tiring more easily as we age, but I think it is a separate condition or need.

There is no one more expert at the demands and constraints of aging than elders themselves. So let us know what you think.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Metamorphosis


You are on to something valid here, Ronni. Since a stroke last year, I have become acutely conscious of the vast amount of energy i use when i work on movements that are contrary to the automatic though unnatural patterns my injured brain now dictates (that curling up that is evidence of negative tone].

Same with simple activities such as entering a big box store crowded with shoppers and excessive holiday decorations. A visit to a Walmart the day before Valentines Day was overwhelming sensory overload and once home, I had to rest prone in bed for a period of recuperation to regain energy.

Now I recognize my late mother's routines as effective stewards of energy. Routines allow us to move through activitiess of daily living while simultaneously using mental energy for a daily chat with a friend or catching the morning weather update.

When they are interrupted for something, whether it is pleasurable or otherwise, we must process myriads of additional details, then make decisions and constantly review to check that we have dealt with all the "nonroutine" details. Those additional mental gymnastics, at least for me, require additional energy.

And a sudden change in plans by expected, welcomed, and beloved guests or opportunities can be monumental. As my mother weakened physically, she lamented her increasing inability to care physically for others and romp with her great grandchildren.

I assured her that her just "being" was a great gift. I had watched how often even the infant among my grandkids would lock gazes with her to check that they had her attention. That tangible, uninterrupted flow of unconditional love made her an important part of their lives.

Now, post-stroke i am having to heed my own words to her. There is value and significance in "just being."


I love the last sentence in the post above. "There is value and significance in "just being"." My goal for today is to extend that to the people in my life. Thanks for a beautiful thought to start my day.

I'm one of those folks who cannot nap during the my eyes, yes, but a nap, no. So around 8 or 8:30 pm I start to fade....& I begin my wind down. If I can't avoid an evening event like a family thing, I just don't do much of anything all day. No errands or appts. so that I can enjoy the evening as planned. This infuriates me, but I know that I have no choice so I do the best I can. Grin & bear it. I envy those in their 50s & 60s. Enjoy all the time you can. Dee

Ten months after neck surgery I returned to work; two years ago, reality made me quit.

ALL daily tasks take planning, even walking downstairs to the car.

Breaks in routine throw me off for the day.

As Bette Davis said, "Old Age ain't for sissies."

Middle age doesn't always leave you laughing either. Weight Watchers is on our list starting tomorrow, for example. How do I explain to the lecturer my inability to eat fruits in a veggie fruit based diet? The reports have comeback from my yearly physical which don't answer a question about my left leg...while making my right leg sound worse. In all situations, my sense of humor get's tweaked when I get confused while everyone is talking about B and I am thinking A.

The truth is, ya gotta laugh at it all.

How true - that interruption of routine knocks me for six and I don't know if I'm coming or going.

Just this morning, my energy was directed at getting ready and going out to a funeral, having to abandon all other chores. I didn't really feel with it until I got back home and had a nice cuppa tea.

The anxiety about a trip to N. Spain for a week to see a sick friend is kicking in already, knowing that preparation and journey will take every ounce of energy. But go I must.

I used to be able to drop everything and drive for hours to see someone - not any more.

I don't know about others, but my routine is dictated by my energy level. I tire very easily and the simplest chore requires rest periods. There are days when I am just not up to par and I do only the necessary. They are interspersed with days when I have had a good sleep and wake up feeling human. On those rare days I accomplish quite a bit. Sadly, they are becoming further apart.

I do find that a bruise takes a very long time to disappear. Yes, it does take much longer to recover from an illness. Our immune system is no longer very effective. Our body is slowing down and I think it goes with the territory.

I am not yet fully recovered from breaking my hip as it still pains me if I move wrong. And that will have happened 4 years ago in November.

Bear one thing in mind. Everyone starts the slow decline the minute we are born. Think how rapidly a baby recovers from even serious illnesses. They seem fine the day after the illness is over. A recover period grows progressively longer as we age, but accelerates as we become elders.

Great topic -- it's hard work getting/being old! And your remark about 'stuck in our ways' is especially astute. Also, I finally understand why my grandmother's home was arranged the way it was: I can look around my own home here and recognize it!
Thanks, Ronni, you are the best.

" would like to attend but I am hesitating because these days it is so exhausting to fly "

Any travel over a few miles is becoming undesirable for me. I enjoy visits with my brother and his wife in Dallas but the 35 mile one-way trip is something I truly hate. Conversely, when I was traveling this distance 3 times a week while going to school in Denton years ago, it never really bothered me.

This post must have been written for me. I think my energy level stayed higher then usual in my 60's and now in late 70's it seems to have taken a nose dive. I can come up with all the reasons but I am having difficulty accepting that when I am up at 5:00 AM that after lunch I am finished.
I do have Sjogrens and my children keep repeating this is part of the reason. I think being closer to 80 then 70 also has something to do with it. Now have the gift of returning home, building a cottage, gardening and now wonder how long can I continue to do what I am doing. Wisdom to accept where I am on this path of life, pacing myself and living in the moment are some of the answers.

Today's column could have been written by me. All I've done for the past week is complain about how my cold - - just a plain old cold - - won't go away, and how, after almost two weeks since it started, I still feel like I've been hit by a truck.

Thank you for letting me know I'm just "oldish."

Like Earnestine, I am dealing with an autoimmune disease, and it's difficult parsing out what's contributing to what. I was an extremely active 60-year-old, and now I'm a sedentary 62-year-old by necessity, not choice. I have to prioritize each day. What am I worth when I can't go stay with a terribly ill brother and help him recovery or at least let him know that I care about him, when I optimistically begin cooking a meal and my husband has to take over because the effort has tired me so that I'm dropping ingredients rather than adding them? When I'm at my whiniest, that's the way I think, but when I'm at my strongest, I know that I have more time to talk to those who need to talk to someone, to know that they're being heard.

I read your words, Ronni, and I'm shaking my head, "yes, yes,
so true". Thank you for such a good article.

Getting going in the morning has changed. Used to be 6 minutes in the shower, 5 to dress, 10 for breakfast and out the door. Now with the add-ons, checking the bathmat as that is what I slipped on recently, special lotions for cranky, dry skin, do my meds; careful mouth cleaning, because of oral steroids; careful attention to my feet cuz of diabetes, yada, yada, it's turned into a production. However it is still so pleasant just standing in the warm shower, relaxing and soothing if un-ecological. I still dress in 5 minutes. Breakfast is longer as now I have time to cook something tasty and healthy.


Bette Davis actually said, "Old age ain't A PLACE for sissies."

ML regrets the error.

Total agreement about how the airlines have made flying so unpleasant! A propos your trip to NY and reluctance to fly:
I have decided for this year I'll get to NY for Thanksgiving by train. It is long, but not much longer than the security, luggage charges, plane waiting on tarmac (also knees jammed into back of person in front) and the flying time if one leaves on time and then claiming luggage. I don't know where you live but you might check out train possibilities. And, business class on train,for not much more, is very comfortable from reports I've had.

As the various small disabilities, and lack of energy, threaten to drive you nuts, try doing less and making some of your down time as much fun as possible: good things to read, good music. It is a good idea to change your demands on yourself to go with your physical and mental changes. Trying too hard to make yourself stay young can, I think, be counter-productive.

O.K., Ronni, this time you hit a home run as far as personal applicability goes. I've got to admit it. At 75 a total bust in daily routines--like what happened when we had a major water leak in our townhouse on August 4th--definitely was more stressful and took longer to come back from than it would have 15 years ago.

When I looked at the initial destruction, I thought, "Well, this isn't good, but we should be O.K. in 7-10 days." Not exactly. It took that long just to dry out! Over a month later we're still waiting for one more replacement item, and I'm still sorting through once-waterlogged, now crispy and illegible, paperwork. Then I caught a cold, which lingers a week later. I did a lot of the repainting myself to speed things along. Although I didn't feel it at the time, it was work that I'm no longer used to doing, shall we say.

Would a domestic "mini"-flood have thrown me for this much of a loop at 55-60? Hard as it is to admit, probably not. But I'm still not ready to throw in the towel on this "getting old" thing! I know I'll lose in the end, but not yet.


I am 63. I've noticed many changes in my 60's. The most recent is how long it takes me to get back to my "routine" ater a disruption - usually a few days. The disruption of routine could be family visiting for a few days or my going on a business trip for a few days. Whatever the disruptions I seem to be out of sinc for a few days. I guess my "recovery time" is slowing down!

As others have said, this column could have been written by me. I take so long to recover from minor illnesses that I go to great lengths to avoid getting them. I'm almost a compulsive handwasher, for one thing. That reminds me: it's almost time to get a flu shot!

Airline trips exhaust me, too. The packing and planning for the security line takes time and care, and recovering from a trip takes a week.

Oh thank goodness. I thought it was just me. I've experienced all of the above. Of note is the concern of others for my health. The grandchildren pick up all kinds of bugs at school and spread them through their family. They are very careful to avoid exposing me when any of them are ill. I really appreciate it. A bad cold, the flu, or a stomach bug could flatten me for days.

What you're saying has been an important part of my counseling with my older patients and their loved ones. As I've aged I'm sure they pay more attention than if a much younger person is talking with them about aging effects, such as when I say, "I don't know about you, but I've noticed as I've become older, if I have an illness or an injury I don't bounce back to a healthy state as quickly as I did when I was ... 20/40/younger (choice of words often influenced by patient's age.) Almost always that seems to launch an "Aha" reaction as they identify.

This has been true for adults of all age, but think we're much more aware of it the older we become -- probably 'cause the "bounce back" period is much longer. Unfortunately, sometimes, in some instances the "bounce back" may not be quite complete and decline of that return point gradually continues with each incident.

I became acutely aware of the routine interruption factor with my husband (7 years older than me) quite a few years before he died. Not only was it so for his physical activity schedule i.e. daily personal care, etc., but ultimately his concentration required no distractions or interruptions in many tasks. On one level I understood, but, sometimes, on another level I realize in retrospect I could have been much more understanding.

Relationship reflection after a loved one has departed, through death or for other reasons, often occurs whether desired or not, but can be quite informative with applications for oneself.

Joared, my husband is still here (for which I'm infinitely grateful every day). I've always thought of us as in more or less the same age range--he's 82, I'm 75. He's in great shape physically and mentally, but your comment made me think! Even though he's often enough one step ahead of me, I'm going to keep your observation in mind whenever I'm tempted to lose patience if he seems reluctant to disrupt his routine, especially in the evening. I think I understand better now why interference by me probably isn't a good thing.

I hope you come to NYC. You deserve it....and I feel you will appreciate the effort it takes to get here to see your east coast "home town". I just traveled from NYC to Lake Oswego to see my was put in assisted living (Carmen Oaks) since dad is no longer able to care for her. I drove into Oswego Pointe and had lunch at the new place one the lake. (Stickman) my day 40 years ago it was The Beachcomer. If you come to NYC come and visit....Manhattan Plaza, 43rd & 9th.

Because I've always dealt with a couple of totally unpredictable medical disorders I've never been able to develop any kind of "routine". At 66 I've learned to pace myself according to how much strength I have, but everything takes so long to do at my snail's pace, and there's no energy left to do much beyond the basics anymore. My husband is five years older, legally blind, deaf, has muscular dystrophy and really needs more care than I can give him but that's another story. Despite our challenges we are pretty content. We've lived with the physical problems all our lives and age has just added another layer of slow. We keep our minds engaged and active. I do admit though, when I read "normal" people complaining that their energy levels and "rebound" have dropped significantly in their 70s I worry. I'm not sure how much slower we can get and still remain independent. That's scary. I'm worried about how we will care for ourselves in five years time.

Thank you Ronni for this. I was beating up on myself after a recent trip to Ireland and the extent of time needed to "normalize". Air-tripping there was HELL, with one connecting flight missed and a forced journey by rail and sail to meet commitments. A 10 hour trip converted to 48 hours. This elder was battered and bruised and with no recoup time had to direct and perform on an iffy stage.
I am still, almost 3 weeks later, not myself.
Blame and shame being part of my internal makeup it was gratifying to read your wonderful words.

I meant to add that coming back to Canada my travelling companion demanded assistance for me and I recommend this to all elders, not just the more physically challenged. Mental exhaustion is not recognised enough in the aging.
I received wheelchair and baggage assistance in Heathrow that actually revived me and eliminated the terrifying terminal connections that I've begun to dread.

I agree with Linda so much. I was sick for two years. Spent 22-24 hours a day in bed and/or in a chair. I learned to value alone time, silnce and solitude. I'm much better now altho' I'll never be completely well.
But I still value just 'being'. I do tutor grade school and HS students, for free, but if someone is going to save the world, it ain't gonna be me. I'm done with believing my life is worthwhile only if I'm a 'mover and shaker' and if I'm productive every minute of the day.

I so appreciate this discussion, and learning that I'm not the only one. I'm always saying I don't know how I have less time now than when I was raising children. I'd come to realize everything takes longer now but I didn't think about the issue of recovery.

I have a son who has brain damage and seizures that are usually controlled by medication. On his way to visit me a few days ago he had seizures on the street, and I went running around, talking to him on our cell phones, trying to find him...then helping him home, to rest, eat, taking him back to his house. This was Sunday; it's now Thursday and I am still in poor condition. I canceled a dentist appt yesterday and was told I'd have to pay $40 anyway! I will not.

These crises with my son occur about once every two years, and I just don't know if I can keep it up, but I have no choice.

Anyhow, thanks for the insights and the sense of validation. This is a great blog.

Elizabeth, you've made a key observation about "evening" behaviors. Any time we're tired, due to activity, time of day, other -- common sense tells us we all usually slow down in action, maybe thinking -- but we tend to forget that's happening sometimes, I think, becoming impatient with ourselves, much less others.

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