Independent Living — You Can’t Beat It!

Frances Kolarek-150 wideBy Frances Kolarek —

“Over-caring for a child is bad for the child, but over-caring for an elderly parent is not bad for the parent. Being overly vigilant may not extend a parent’s life, but it can improve it.”

This quote is from an article in recent issue of The New York Times by Mimi Swartz titled ”How I Became a Helicopter Daughter,” in which she tells how her 88-year-old father was installed in the family living room following his recovery from a fall.

It was intensely gratifying to read shortly thereafter a letter to the editor that began: “No thanks, Mimi Schwartz. At 87, I do not want my high-achieving daughter hovering over me, treating me like a child.” I, like the letter writer, live “in a continuing care retirement community [CCRC] where I have both independence and security. Here I share my life with other older adults who build a vigorous and active community,” she says.

Perhaps Ms. Schwartz is ignorant of the kind of care offered in a CCRC, and equates it with “assisted living” or “nursing home” facilities for those no longer able to live independently. Independence! What a priceless commodity. We protect it vigorously, to the extent of stubbornly refusing help offers of the most trivial kind.

There is another aspect of adult life that our helicopter daughter has overlooked — the companionship of people of one’s own age. And as a person well into her 90s, I cannot tell you how important the companionship of my contemporaries is to me.

For one thing, our cultural references are identical. If I refer to Myrna Loy I meet with nostalgic smiles, not a baffled “Huh?” Not important? It’s a bond, an important one.

If I have to wait a long moment for a name to come to mind, (“Just give me 25 minutes”), there is a patient acquiescence from my companions, who share my inability to instantly retrieve a word.

And then Ms. Schwartz’s Dad may want to flirt with a handsome 85-year-old woman who may yearn for a close embrace from a member of the opposite sex. Where will he find her in the home where he now lives?

Yes, his needs as perceived by a young daughter are more than adequately met. “He never complains, likes to flirt and has a killer smile,” she writes, because he has not experienced a friendly world surrounded by contemporaries, and may be unaware of what he is losing out on.

Guilt at “tucking their parents into long-term care facilities” is common. I would like to tell Mrs. Schwartz how horrified I am at the prospect of being cared for minute by minute by a relay of paid caregivers rather than hopping aboard my mechanical chair and riding over to our snack bar for a cup of coffee and a Danish with people of my own age, free to come and go as we will, supplied with three meals a day, afforded movies to look at, concerts to attend, planned events to entertain us and the companionship of contemporaries. If I want to flirt, give me a guy my own age.

That intimacy, friendship, love and our emotional relationships with our community impact our health and longevity is recognized by the medical profession. See my blog of August 13, “Impacting Survival.”

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