One fact of aging is that if we live long enough, we will begin experiencing a decrease in physical strength and stamina, develop health conditions, and experience decreased memory and cognitive acuity over time. For some of us, the changes are sudden and dramatic, for others, the changes are gradual, almost imperceptible until we look back 10 or 20 years at what we were able to do then and what we can do now.
Each of us has a different trajectory and different experiences of aging, but there are also commonalities we all experience as we age. Regardless of our personal trajectory of the aging process, it is mentally and emotionally challenging to cope with these changes. Some women do this with remarkable flexibility and acceptance of these changes; others fight the changes tooth and nail every step of the way.
Two mistakes we commonly make during this process are 1) denying and ignoring the fact of our increasing limitations, and/or 2) becoming so fearful that we underestimate our capacities and fail to continue engaging in activities that maintain our cognitive and physical abilities. The risk of denial is pushing ourselves beyond our capabilities to the point of putting ourselves in significant danger of getting injured in ways that could have been avoided. The risk of underestimating our capacities and over-emphasizing our limitations is that our avoidance and retreat from many activities may contribute to the degradation of our abilities and strength. We fail to do things that could help us maintain what we have, and we forego many sources of enjoyment that are still available to us.
The tricky part of this equation is that we don’t entirely know what those actual limitations are for us at any given point in our lives, and even if we are operating within our abilities, there is no guarantee that we will not encounter injury or disappointment. Some limits are worth pushing regardless of risk and other risks are best not taken. Whether we do one or the other is often guided by our personalities, our history, our personal assessment of risk and our risk tolerance. We can consult with doctors, friends, experts, and others, but ultimately the decisions about how to cope with limitation are ours and ours alone. Let’s discuss the issues that have arisen for us as we age and how we think about and cope with increasing limitations that are the inevitable result of our aging.
- What has your experience been in encountering the effects of aging? Have the changes you have gone through been gradual or sudden and dramatic?
- What is your personal level of risk tolerance and how do you go about assessing risk?
- Do you tend to push the limits of your abilities or hang back and play it safe?
- Share an example of how you have coped with an emerging limitation.
- Is there anything you would like to change about your approach to coping with limitations?