Saturday, December 28, 2013

An Octogenarian Poet.

"...why are we older than people we used to think were old?" -- Ralph Lane, Jr.


Childhood friends.
This morning, as I lay in bed recovering from a bad cold, I remembered the wonderful poetry of the late Ralph Lane, Jr., a retired professor who began publishing prose and poetry in his eighth decade.  As a former community college student, I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to design one of Mr. Lane's poetry chapbooks, Peripeteia. This experience remains as one of my most favorite projects. Despite battling health problems, Mr. Lane had goals and ideas for future poetry books. At our very last meeting, he had asked whether I would be interested in working with him again. I was honored and said yes, but sadly, he passed away before we could collaborate once more.

In his poems, Mr. Lane beautifully describes the experiences of living as an older person in the world - both the challenges and the joys. As someone who is not as old (yet), reading his words helps me to respect the experiential nature of aging. Here is one of Mr. Lane's poems from his chapbook:

What's Your Choice? 
In tandem with Charlie Brown's Grandpa trying
to solve one of life's great mysteries, why are we
older than people we used to think were old?
Simple answers surface readily, exercise and diet
leaving unexamined a more profound puzzle.

Why have we been granted this dozen years or more 
beyond the biblical allotment, beyond our fathers' earlier demise?
What have we done, what are we doing with that time
have we sown in rich soil revealing so much,
have we multiplied the talents given us gratuitously?

Have we squandered the time,
frittered it away, 
because we see
no end in sight, and
to whom or what are we accountable,
to chance, to intelligent design,
to whom/whatever we believe moves it all?

His words give food for thought, and continue to inspire me. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Best wishes for a healthy, happy 2014!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Grateful.

Gratitude is the key to unlocking a more open and rewarding perspective on life. Feelings of appreciation are always accompanied by the elevation of one's state of life and the broadening of one's perspective. And, the more our life expands, the more profound our sense of gratitude becomes, to the point where we can feel appreciation even for the problems we face in life. -- Daisaku Ikeda

Awhile back when I was a caregiver for my father, I noticed that some people would show their support by sympathizing with my plight. “Oh, it must be so hard for you.” “I’m sorry that you have to endure this.” “How horrible that your father is no longer able to walk nor care for himself.” “You look tired, you poor thing!”

Alternatively, others congratulated me for encountering struggles, and encouraged me to win over my obstacles. Initially, I wanted sympathy and felt comforted by those who felt sorry for me. As I overcame my internal challenges, I found that sympathetic remarks, though well meaning, hindered my growth. In my weakness, I sought a “cushion” to protect me from reality, but I came to realize that the idea of security is an illusion. The truly compassionate were those who were strict and urged me to plow through my difficulties. Furthermore, those who criticized me turned out to be my “best friends” because their words aroused my determination to create a happier life for my family. Likewise, Nichiren states, "...it is not one's allies but one's powerful enemies who assist one's progress ('The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,' WND-1, 770)."  

My little ones!
On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for my husband, my mom, my late father, my feline “babies,” my friends, Sensei, my Buddhist practice, health, and an opportunity to further my education. I am especially grateful for the hardships I’ve had as a caregiver: the lonely, sleepless nights; uncertainty of my father’s health; family conflict; financial hardships. I’m most appreciative, however, to those who shunned me and accused me of being an uncaring daughter. Believe it or not, the harshness of some peoples’ attitudes became nourishment for spiritual growth.

"The struggles we face might range from the apparently mundane (summoning the energy to take out the trash or to write a letter to a relative) to the vast (campaigning to ban nuclear weapons), but the essential challenge is the same. It is to overcome our own weakness, fear or inertia in a given moment and take action for the sake of the happiness of ourselves and others (SGI Quarterly, July 2006)." With this sentiment, I am sincerely grateful to you for visiting my blog. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and enjoy every moment!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Robots as Caregivers?

A little while back, I submitted a proposal for my Master's thesis project which I will start early next year. It took me awhile to decide on my subject matter, but after researching various interest areas, I decided on the topic of robots as caregivers. Some professors were intrigued by my decision, while others were disturbed by it and flatly refused to support me. Nonetheless, I became interested in this topic due to current articles written on the shortage of caregivers. There are greater numbers of older people who need caregivers in relation to the numbers of caregivers available. Why not look at alternative ways to meet this need?

This past week, I had a chance to watch Robot & Frank on DVD. This film came out last year, but I only heard about it recently from my gerontology classmates who, upon learning of my thesis subject, urged me to watch this film.

Without giving much of the plot away, this story is about Frank, an older man whose behavior suggests signs of cognitive decline (i.e., unkempt home, rotten food in the refrigerator). His son Hunter, who makes long, weekly treks to check up on his father, is unsuccessful in trying to get him tested for dementia. Frank insists everything is fine, and not knowing what to do, Hunter buys a caregiving robot to help ensure his father's safety and wellbeing. Having the robot look after Frank provides piece of mind for Hunter who struggles to make time for his own children. To make a long story short, Frank eventually develops a friendship with the robot that serves as a caregiver and a non-judgmental confidante. In the end, after a series of risky events (watch the film to find out!), Frank deactivates the robot and eventually moves to an assisted living facility.

I enjoyed watching this movie; the relationship between Frank and the Robot was particularly touching. Although robots cannot replace the human touch, this film made them seem like practical options that might work for some people.

Me and my brother on a boat.
Technology cannot resolve all our issues, but perhaps we can utilize robots to provide respite and lighten the load of caregivers who are overworked, underpaid (or unpaid), and undervalued. If robots can help with various tasks, caregivers may also have some time to do what they need or want to do.

Incidentally, there is a recent article on BBC News online titled, 'A robot is my friend': Can machines care for the elderly? This story examines the idea of robots as caregivers. I am curious about what you think. Do you think robots as caregivers is feasible, or do you think it's a ridiculous idea? What are some alternative ideas to resolve the caregiver shortage? Thank you for reading this post!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Turning Poison into Medicine.

Chanting for wisdom.
When we care for others, our own strength to live increases. When we help people expand their state of life, our lives also expand. Actions to benefit others are not separate from actions to benefit oneself. Our lives and the lives of others are ultimately inseparable.  -– Daisaku Ikeda

Caregiving is hard work, and so much of past articles I’ve read emphasized the negative effects and challenges. As a former caregiver (and somewhat of a hypochondriac), I used to believe that caregiving stress would lead to premature aging via the shortening of my telomeres. On a positive note, recent news suggests that caregivers are healthier and live longer.

When my father became ill, the duties of caregiving were completely new to me and I felt inadequate as I tried my best to assist him.  As I had mentioned in a previous post, I was initially resentful of my situation, and would often daydream about how I would run away. Some criticized the decisions I made regarding my father's care, and I felt very lonely.  In the beginning, I spent “free time” crying and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, my Buddhist mantra, in order to manage the responsibilities.  

I chanted a lot during the caregiving years, and this helped to strengthen my resolve on days when I felt like falling apart.  My Buddhist practice also helped me to bring forth compassion and wisdom to make sure that my father was well cared for.  What was more amazing: caregiving became the springboard for tremendous personal growth.  I began to understand that the happiness of others is not separate from my own - No effort is ever in vain. This realization led to deeper happiness and appreciation, especially for the difficulties.  Eventually, chanting put me “in rhythm” with my environment so days flowed more smoothly, and it helped me to be flexible when situations were unpredictable. 

Through harnessing the power of Buddhist practice, I gained: compassion, patience, confidence, hope, sensitivity, affection, open-mindedness, flexibility, sense of purpose, spiritual growth, inner strength, and gratitude. I used to think caregiving was an obstacle to my happiness, but it became the cause for greater fulfillment.

I would like to express thanks and gratitude to all the noble caregivers who are working tirelessly everyday to make sure that loved ones are well cared for. Nichiren states, "...where there is unseen virtue, there will be visible reward (WND, Vol 1, 1278, p.907)."  This quote applies to all of you.  May your lives continue to shine brilliantly!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Together in Spirit.

Like the ocean that remains calm in its depths even when waves rage over its surface, and like the sun that continues shining on high even during storms, we can at each moment create value and develop our state of life, enjoying our existence to the fullest in times of both suffering and joy. -- Daisaku Ikeda

Me and my father.
Today is my father’s 81st birthday. Tonight we will have cake in his honor, and chant for his enlightenment and eternal happiness.

In my earliest memories, mother and I would bid father goodbye at the train station as he left on his business trips. Fearing that he wouldn’t return, I would cry and beg him not to leave. Seeing me cry would always make mother cry. Thus, it was a happy reunion when father returned home. When he passed away over three years ago, I used to imagine that he would walk through the front door and announce that he was home. I would also visit places we used to frequent, and hoped that he would appear. It took awhile to get used to the reality that he was no longer here.

My father was a kind, sincere man. He came from a family of six boys, and he was very pleased when I was born. A doting father, he encouraged me to pursue all my interests. I was fortunate to have had many opportunities because of my father, and the best way I can show my gratitude is to live the happiest, most contributive life.  

Looking back, I think about the hardships father must have faced as an immigrant in the U.S.  Early years were filled with financial instability. Being a Japanese man, he was not in the habit of expressing worries and frustrations, and I never realized the depths of his struggles. Regardless of difficulties, father made sure we had everything we needed.

As my father aged, he grappled with various health conditions along with vascular dementia.  As an effect of the dementia, father became openly emotional and no longer held back his tears. For example, I remember thanking him for being such a wonderful father. Hearing my words, he was overcome with emotion and started to cry.

Although the latter years were challenging, my father and I had the opportunity to spend lots of time together. This was a rare gift, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. These days, I believe that my father is with me in spirit. Knowing this makes me feel braver as I strive to overcome life's challenges.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

When the Onion Ring Betrays You.

Health food may be good for the conscience but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better. -- Robert Redford

In a recent class assignment, we conducted self-experiments to understand age-related changes to the senses and to mobility. One particular exercise that stood out for me was the eating simulation where I tried to eat unsalted crackers without using my teeth.  I put the cracker in my mouth and tried to figure out how to break it down in order to swallow.  It took awhile for the cracker to become soft enough to swallow without choking, and by the third cracker, I became impatient and tried to “chew” using the roof of my mouth and my tongue.  This was not a fun experience, and it made me realize how frustrating it must be when age-related changes affect activities that were once pleasurable.  In older adults, eating could also pose potential hazards such as choking.  A second exercise was to simulate the changes to our senses of smell and taste. While being blindfolded and having my nose pinched very tightly, I ate different types of foods.  Everything tasted similar and dull, and I couldn't differentiate between an apple and a potato!

These exercises made me empathize more with older persons who profess to not enjoying eating.  When senses are duller and eating is cumbersome due to dentures, tooth loss, and/or reductions of saliva (and a host of other reasons), I would probably feel the same way.  Having a nice meal, however, is important to the soul.  When unable to fully savor food, life can become lackluster.  More importantly, you could miss out on important nutrients.

Mother holding a sleepy infant.
While on the topic of food, eating and cooking are among my mother’s greatest sources of joy.  Now aged 85, she is beginning to experience physical difficulties when she eats foods that her body can no longer process.

For example, mother had a gout flare-up last Friday.  She is normally active, but having gout makes walking a miserable, nearly-impossible ordeal.  Mother is not a big meat eater, but she loves fried foods! The neighborhood burger restaurant makes the best onion rings (crispy fried batter, and the perfect amount of salt!), and it is definitely a favorite.  Unfortunately, eating too many onion rings made her body rebel.  Her physician (often) tells her to give up certain foods, but she giggles and gives him a look of innocence.  I have been monitoring what she eats more than before, but I don't enjoy being the food police.  To hasten the healing, I made sure that mother ate a clean, simple diet of mainly grains and light vegetables.  

By Sunday evening, mother broke down and cried hysterically.  She was frustrated and accused me of not letting her eat anything. Actually, she was eating food…just not the kind she often craves.  Nonetheless, I felt like a mean daughter.  On the one hand, I understand her frustration – I would be upset, too.  On the other hand, eating certain foods can lead to painful consequences. Is there a winning resolution?

I don’t want to pretend to be the “expert” because I have yet to experience significant age-related changes.  Hopefully mother will forgive her daughter, the tyrant.  Now, I am curious about you.  Have you had any noticeable changes to your senses or physical functioning with age?  Has it led to a greater understanding of what elders before you may have gone through?  As always, I appreciate your comments. Thanks so much for reading my blog!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Connection between Disparity and Well-being.


“The community which has neither poverty nor riches will always have the noblest principles.” – Plato

Recently, for an Aging and Social Policy class, we were assigned to view various TED Talks and reflect on the messages contained in these presentations.  One particular presentation by Richard Wilkinson titled, How Economic Inequality Harms Societies, made me reflect deeply on how inequality connects to health and wellness.  As I had mentioned in an earlier post, the usual factors that contribute to wellness in aging include social support, diet and exercise, stress management, and genetics.  But, Wilkinson reveals data suggesting that economic inequality within a country affects a host of issues including literacy, health, mental illness, crime, infant mortality, and life expectancy!  We don’t often discuss the far-reaching effects of inequality in everyday conversations (although I believe more people are discussing this issue today).

Watching Wilkinson's presentation made me think about a cultural anthropology project in school from two years ago.  For the project, I interviewed an American elder and a Japanese elder to understand cultural differences in experiences and attitudes toward life, aging and happiness.

When I asked the Japanese elder, Chika* (75 years old), what she believed was a vital ingredient to happiness and well-being, she answered, “Not having many differences in financial status is the most important aspect to well-being.”  This was not an answer I expected to hear, but it left a lasting impression.

My mother and my brother.
Chika elaborated by stating that financial disparities lead to both real and perceived social disparities, which is one of the greatest sources of unhappiness for people. Chika was an atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima and talked about how everyone was extremely poor after the War, yet there was unity in spirit.  Position and status mattered very little.  In discussing her present circumstances, Chika expressed gratitude for being able to live in Northern California, an area rich with a wide variety of resources.  She stated, “There are so many problems in this world, but we are all very lucky to be here.” Nonetheless, Chika believes that the growing income gap between people in the U.S. is contributing to an unhappier, unhealthier society.  

Her comment makes sense to me today as I study aging and social policies in school, and work with older adults who live well below the poverty level.  Thus, I see the adverse effects of inequality in the lives of many older adults.  So…I would like to know what you think about this topic?  Do you agree that inequality is as damaging as suggested?  Would love to hear your thoughts, and as always, thank you for visiting my blog!

*Chika is a pseudonym

Monday, September 30, 2013

Happier Because of Difficulties.

Just as the pure white lotus flower blooms unsoiled in muddy water, our lives, which are supremely noble, can continue to shine even amid life's harshest realities. -- Daisaku Ikeda 

My cousins, my father, me and my brother.
This week, as I was cleaning up my desktop, I found an old experience I wrote for a Buddhist meeting in 2006, and here is an excerpt:

…Every single day was a struggle and many times I fantasized about running away and not coming back.  At night, I cried myself to sleep, so tired, frustrated and worried about our future.  I was also very angry and resentful and felt like my life was being placed on hold…When I received guidance, my senior in faith told me to chant to get benefit out of my struggles since I could not leave them.  She also stated that my life is not made of separate compartments and that everything, including overcoming family struggles, is all towards the greater goal for building a happier, peaceful society.

Although my father passed away more than 3 years ago, I am still processing the experience of being his caregiver during the last years of his life.  It was a wonderful, life-changing experience, but initially very painful.  Feeling sorry for my father, I used to wonder why he had to suffer so much.  I also felt sorry for myself because this was not the life I had imagined I would be living.  After chanting and receiving guidance from a Buddhist senior, I realized that feeling pity does very little to improve one’s life outcome. Therefore, I decided to utilize my father’s suffering as the impetus for his happiness and for my personal growth.  Through this transformation, I experienced a richer, genuine kind of happiness.  Best of all, my father and I became much closer.

My wise Buddhist friend helped me to see that I can become happier, not in spite of, but BECAUSE of my difficulties.  Just like the lotus flower, my life had blossomed out of the murkiness of daily life.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

My Mother, the Aspiring Centenarian.

“The author Hermann Hesse writes that the more one matures, the younger one grows. There are many people who as they age become increasingly vigorous and energetic, more broad-minded and tolerant, living with a greater sense of freedom and assurance. It is important to remember that aging and growing old are not necessarily the same.” – Daisaku Ikeda

This week in class, we briefly discussed the growing numbers of centenarians in recent history.  We learned that in the U.S., there were over 50,000 centenarians in 2000, and numbers are expected to reach 600,000 by 2050!

This is an exciting, unprecedented time in history where the oldest old (85+) are becoming the fastest growing age group.  Aging experts and non-experts alike worry about potential issues that can arise from the large population of older adults. The costs associated with aging and long-term care are major areas of concern, and recent reports suggest that there are not enough caregivers to accommodate the large numbers of elders. 

Although these concerns must be addressed by society (I often worry about these issues as well), there is something wonderful and hopeful about the notion of reaching the century mark.  While I don’t know if I want to be 100, I am in awe of those who have reached this auspicious age.  I imagine the very many historical moments they’ve been a part of, and the rapid societal changes and personal changes they have witnessed throughout their lifespans.

Some of the characteristics of centenarians include healthy diet, healthy weight, no smoking, exercise, low stress, and social support. Genes also have some influence on longevity, and it seems that this is significant for centenarians.  There are anecdotal stories I’ve heard where some people seem to have terrible habits and live unhealthy lifestyles, yet survive into old age.  It may be that such persons have wonderful social support, which may be the essential factor that aids wellbeing.

By the way, my mother aspires to be a centenarian.  She is a spry 85 year-old lady, and something tells me that she has the determination to reach 100.   

In thinking about my mother’s life history, she was a young teenager growing up in a small village during the Second World War.  Her family lived comfortably before the War, but experienced sudden poverty when her father died of Malaria at the age of 39.  As a young woman she worked to help support her family, married late, gave birth much later, moved to the U.S. in her forties, faced financial instability, struggled to assimilate into an unfamiliar culture while trying to raise her children, challenged various health issues, and lost her husband to vascular dementia.  She has had her fair share of hardships!  While there is suggestion that stress contributes to aging, I believe in some people, such as my mother, stress fortifies their resilience.

Early photos of mom. In the pic w/her friend, she is on the left side.
While mother shares some centenarian characteristics, one factor that makes me chuckle is her diet.  As a young person, my mother and her family subsisted mainly on carbs such as potatoes, Japanese sweet potatoes, and root vegetables.  Once in awhile, they ate some animal protein including wild boar, chicken, and fish.  Otherwise, there wasn’t much variation, and raw brown sugar was an occasional treat.  While her diet has since then diversified to include burgers, pizzas, and ice cream, she still eats plenty of sweet potatoes and root vegetables.  Remarkably, she has remained healthy, albeit a little plump, and there are no signs of osteoporosis and diabetes! (Eating minimal amounts of processed food in her youth must have been a protective factor. Also, she lived near a volcanic area…so perhaps the soil contained rich nutrients?)

When I was a young girl, my mother used to tell me that she decided to have me because she needed someone to take care of her in old age. I used to be offended by her comment, but now in midlife, I am starting to understand and appreciate her practical strategy.  Incidentally, my mother gave birth to me when she was nearly 40.  Perhaps she suspected that she might live a very long life!

What do you think about the growing numbers of centenarians? Would you like to live to 100? Although I am undecided, I would love to hear what other people think. Thank you, and have a wonderful week!

What Makes Life Worth Living?

Father and me as a toddler.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -- Viktor E. Frankel, Man's Search for Meaning

In my first post, I wrote about the decision to move my father to a long-term care facility.  As I mentioned before, it was one of the most difficult decisions of my life.  At the time, some people accused me of being a cold, uncaring daughter.  It was a lonely experience to be shunned by others, but it made me determined that my father would receive the best possible care.  I also decided that I would never judge others, even when their decisions or values differed from mine.

We discussed the meaning of old age in class this week.  There are various theories on aging, and it seems that there is an overarching belief in society that we must age in a certain way (i.e., disease-free, wrinkle-free) to be "successful."  I, too, desire to age with minimal difficulties, and to be active and healthy until the very end.  However, I know that I can have good habits, live mindfully, and still face unforeseen challenges in the course of my life.  

In thinking about my father's physical and cognitive challenges, I reflected on what makes life worth living.  Years ago, a friend had stated that if he should ever develop dementia, or any other debilitating condition, he would choose to kill himself.  Hearing his comment made me uncomfortable because of its violent nature.  Prior to the worsening of his health, my father also hinted that life isn't worth living if he can't have the physical freedom and the ability to do whatever he pleases (my father also had Type II diabetes, was a life-long smoker, and loved lemon pies).  It was devastating for my father to lose his mobility and to develop dementia.  For awhile afterward, he insisted on continuing to do whatever he pleased, such as gorging on sweets.  His actions often led to more suffering, which was difficult for all of us to bear. 

As a young woman, I had a fairly happy-go-lucky existence.  I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  All that changed when I chose to become a caregiver.  Initially, I was resentful, but this experience made me think deeply about what makes life worth living, and what it means to be free.  As I chanted earnestly (I'm Buddhist) about this matter, I realized that even with my freedom, I was always wanting more and feeling dissatisfied.  Thus, I reached the conclusion that I didn't need life to be "perfect," in order to be happy.  I realized that I have the ability to be happy in any circumstance, and knowing this gave me a sense of freedom and comfort I hadn't experienced before.

Getting back to my father, as his dementia progressed, family friends pitied him.  Some openly stated that they hoped they would never become like my father.  It was hurtful, but it's easy to assume we understand someone else's experience from our own perspectives.  My father's physical and mental conditions changed drastically, but he was able to reframe his life to find things to be joyful about in the present.  Every day I spent with him was an opportunity to share this happiness.  We reminisced about his love of baseball and his life in Japan as a youth, listened to his favorite music, and talked about my cat, Twiggy.  These activities sound simple, but we felt completely satisfied.  I didn't feel the need for anything more.

It's easy to think that certain conditions must be met in order to be happy, but being with my father taught me that happiness is found right now.  It's not in some far-away place in the future where everything is "perfect."  Thank you for taking time to read this post.

Independence in the Later Years.

Mother on her daily walk.
My mother is 85 years old.  She has never quite mastered English, but she is pretty feisty and has no problems going out on her own and interacting with individuals in various settings (though most people have no idea what she is trying to say to them).  Growing up in Japan, mother was raised with the expectation to be dependent on others.  However, being an immigrant in the U.S. had forced her to step out of her comfort zone.  She learned to drive a car when she was 43 years old, and she is still driving today (quite nicely, I must admit).  We encourage mother to be as independent as she can, but we also help monitor her health and make sure that she is safe and well.  The challenge for me has always been balancing independence with interdependence in caring for my mother.  For many Japanese immigrants, it is culturally acceptable for older adults to be dependent on their adult children, even when healthy and able-bodied.  My mother, after being in the U.S. for many years, is fairly independent.  Nonetheless, at times I can feel her envy towards her Japanese friends whose daughters do everything for them.  Personally, I think my mother will thrive into old age because she is invested in her health and well-being.    

There are times, on the other hand, when I think independence is overrated.  It's important to do what you can for yourself, yet insisting on being totally independent can be problematic when physical and cognitive changes compromise one's abilities to manage self-care.  I've witnessed this scenario with a few older persons, and my mother's former acupuncturist / massage therapist, Hana*, is a prime example.  Hana, who is 83, has led a remarkable life.  As a young woman, she left Japan to attend college in the U.S. and never went back.  She never married and lived alone throughout her life so she could pursue her interests.  It is uncommon for a Japanese woman of her generation to choose passion over social convention, but Hana had stated that she was too strong-willed and unable to compromise with others.  I don't know her complete history, but Hana was dedicated to her studies on health.  Until January, she continued to take classes to perfect her therapeutic skills.  More than a healer, Hana was a great companion for my mother.  Her prediction was that she and my mother would grow old together and live to be 100.

To make a long story short, Hana was also stubbornly independent.  She became ill recently, and during her hospital stay, it was discovered that her cancer, that had been in remission, had returned.  Worse yet, the cancer had metastasized throughout her body.  It was probable that she would not live longer than 6 months.  Nevertheless, Hana was convinced that she could live independently at least until her 90s.  Friends offered to help, but she didn't want to be a burden.  She had been staying temporarily at a nursing facility, but when my mother went to visit one day, she was no longer there.  Friends do not know her whereabouts, but it seems that she left with a young couple that she had befriended.  Clearly, we don't have the complete story, and do not know where she is. 

Hana's story reveals a person who treasures independence above all.  She was too proud to ask her younger siblings, all residing in Japan, for assistance.  Furthermore, it wasn't clear whether they knew of her condition.  I cannot help but wonder whether her situation may have turned out differently if she were less independent and willing to have others care for her?  But, perhaps she was perfectly fine in her decision despite outcome.  And…maybe this is more of a problem for me because I am struggling to accept it.

Where do you draw the line between independence and dependence?  It's not always easy to know.  I would be interested in your thoughts.  As always, thank you for visiting my blog.

*By the way, Hana is a pseudonym.

Hello and an introduction.



Hello, and welcome to Geroinspired!  I am fascinated with topics related to aging and elders, and hope to share relevant experiences and information in the future.  For my first post, I would like to share my personal history and why I have chosen to become a gerontologist.

Formerly, I was a graphic designer.  In mid-life, I decided to pursue a new career.  I wanted to help people in a more personal way, so I went back to school to study psychology.  I knew it would be a lengthy process towards my degree, but I was ready for a change.  After my first semester, my father had a stroke and my family needed my assistance.  Without hesitation, I decided to put my goals on hold to help care for my father.

My father had many small strokes before, but now he was losing his mobility.  Although I did not know at the time, father was also developing vascular dementia.  He was becoming increasingly angry and making inappropriate comments that were contrary to his usual self.  In time, friends stopped visiting because my father's behavior made them uncomfortable. 

The experience of being a caregiver was difficult, to put it mildly.  I knew nothing about being a caregiver, and I was often overwhelmed and scared.  I did not know where to turn for help, and I didn't know the types of services that were available.  Fortunately, I was not alone.  My husband was a tremendous support.  He helped with daily care needs, such as toileting and bathing.  He also provided emotional support on days when I was ready to give up.  I don't know if I would have made it without him. 

My mother, struggling with her own health issues, did whatever she could to help care for my father as well.  As my father's dementia progressed, however, he constantly yelled at my mother.  This in turn affected her health, and mother was having fainting spells due to rising stress levels.  It was a hard decision, but eventually we decided to find a care facility for my father.  We visited him everyday, and surprisingly, my parents' relationship improved.  Father started to constantly thank mother for her love and support.  (They had been married for over forty years, but he had never thanked her before)!

My father passed away in 2010, and the experience of caring for him changed my life.  Being a caregiver was emotionally and physically demanding, but my love and appreciation for my father deepened.  Looking back, I believe that being a caregiver for my father was an invaluable gift.  I had the opportunity to be with my father everyday in his later years.  I think if he were healthy, I might have taken him for granted and spent very little time with him.  

Being a caregiver made me realize difficulties that people face as they grow older.  Many older adults are challenged with physical and cognitive changes, and seeing such changes in my own father made it a personal matter.  Additionally, I realized that ageism is rampant in our society.  I witnessed others, including medical professionals, treating my father dismissively because of his condition.  Such incidents motivated me to study gerontology.  For me, working with older adults would be the best way to contribute and to grow.  
Currently, my interests include health, wellness and creativity in aging.  Although many equate older age as a period of decline, there are countless older adults discovering untapped potentials and pursuing new goals despite having various age-related changes.  I would like to learn through their examples on how to live fully every day and to not take life for granted.  Thank you for taking the time to read this.