Pets bring joy and love to my life; they are great company and are very much part of the family.
A friend shared a truism. He said, “Pets are the only family members we get to choose.”
As we know, most animals have much shorter life spans than we do, so there is one aspect of pet ownership for which I don’t care: Pets age too quickly. Then we need to say goodbye when we’re not ready.
I have a friend, Susan, who has an aging boxer named Lizzie. This breed of dog is prone to all sorts of health problems. True to the breed, her boxer has gone through several health disasters but has always managed to weather the storm.
The good thing: Lizzie has made it to age 12, a couple years beyond the norm.
The bad thing about Lizzie being 12 (84 in human years): Aging is now happening very quickly. Health changes that would happen over months or years in humans are happening in a matter of weeks.
Due to Lizzie aging so quickly, my friend is having frequent conversations with the veterinarian about medications and is also making daily accommodations to meet her pet’s ever-changing physical/health needs.
The human animal
There’s a funny thing about us humans: Once we become adults, for the most part, we don’t feel like we are aging. In our view, today’s thought processes are the same as those of our “young mind” — the brain and mindset we had when we came of age. We go blissfully on — forever young — staying active and unaware of our aging.
While in “midlife,” the only observable evidence of the clock ticking is our kids and grandkids growing up — that is until our bodies begin to send out repeated messages about aches and pains.
The reason I am referencing the situation with Susan’s boxer: Most of us have experienced the crises that occur with pets. On the other hand, most of us do not experience what happens in human aging until we have a crisis or two with our aging family members.
Here’s a typical scenario: Arthritis kicks in, causing chronic pain that requires medication. Over time, it becomes more and more debilitating, requiring accommodation. Activities are given up, especially ones requiring the use of the hands, like golf, sewing or knitting. Before we know it and want to admit it, a cane or walker is needed to support arthritic backs and hips so as to prevent stumbles and falls.
Other body parts start acting up. The digestive system begins to have trouble with certain foods. Dietary changes are required. Maybe medications are added. The heart and/or blood pressure can become irregular, requiring medications.
Eyesight, hearing, and memory begin to weaken. Any one of these failings creates barriers to living a full life.
Surgeries are not out of the question: a hip replacement, a heart bypass, removal of cataracts and…?
So the question is: When do we, as concerned family members and caregivers, step in to provide a support system that will keep our aging loved-ones safe? My answer: sooner rather than later.
How do we do this? By spending time with our aging loved ones. By being involved and observant. By attending doctors’ appointments (transcribe doctors’ instructions for later reference). By making improvements to their homes that make it safer to maneuver.
A regular caregiver?
The next set of questions may provide the needed clues: Are they unsafe driving? Does the aging person need help getting up and down? Are they in danger of falling? Do they need help administering medications? Do they need help with meal preparation and cleanup? Do they need help dressing and bathing?
Then some follow-up questions: How many hours a day do they need assistance? Will a couple of hours suffice or do they need full-time care? How are you going to provide that care? Can you personally do it? If so, you may need to hire help to cover gaps when you are not available or need a respite. If you can’t provide the needed care, are there other resources such as family members, friends, or an agency?
That is a lot of questions, but my goal is to stimulate proactive thinking. The sooner you become involved, actively monitoring an aging loved one’s situation, the less likely disaster will strike. Keep you loved ones safe by caring for them.
Aging will come — not as fast as it does with our pets, but it will come. Be prepared by being observant and proactive.
MARLA BECK is the founder and president of Andelcare Inc., which provides in-home eldercare.
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