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Resisting Change

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Have you ever wondered why someone you care about deeply doesn’t do what we think is best for them?  It may appear to you that they are stubborn.  They may resist walking, socializing, getting a home companion or moving when it is clear that their home has too many levels to safely navigate.

Before we rush to judge, let’s consider reasons why some older adults may be resistant to change and appear to take the path of least resistance.

  • Possible medical problems. Rule out medical issues by having a thorough exam by a physician.
  • Lack of strength.  We know that part of the normal aging process is losing muscle mass – which is accelerated without exercise.  With less muscle we lose strength and can easily avoid doing things that take too much effort.  Strength building exercise is a remedy.
  • Longer time to recover from an injury. With age, it takes longer to recover from illnesses and injuries.  Unfortunately there are few shortcuts, except to stay as active as possible as long as it is safe and approved by a health-care professional.
  • Fear of falling.  Once older adults fall, they may be fearful of falling again.  The Center for Disease Control reports that 35 per cent of those 65 and older fall each year.  In 2010, the CDC estimates that the adjusted cost of falls was over $28 billion.  Fear of falling can easily lead to less physical activity.  That reduced fitness can bring about the very thing older adults fear – falling.
  • Learned helplessness.  This concept was developed by psychologist Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania.  Older adults who no longer feel they have responsibilities may become conditioned to be more dependent than necessary.  One may ask, “What has been taken away from them while they still have the capacity to perform?”
  • Decreased self-reliance. One of the more feared aspects of aging is becoming dependent on others.  Giving up driving often is one of the first significant indicators that aging may require an increased dependence on services.  There is no question, this requires an individual to adjust while exploring other forms of transportation.
  • Depression.  One of the causes of depression identified by the National Institute on Aging is feeling a loss of control over your life.  Feeling that lack of control can occur with physical limitations and with limited or no responsibilities.  Without help, depression can last for weeks, months or even years.
  • Costs of relocating to a residence. The costs can be high and unaffordable for many.  MetLife’s Mature Market Institute recently published a study indicating that the 2011 national average yearly cost for assisted living was $41,724.  In California, the average yearly cost was almost identical.  Nationally, private nursing home rates were $239 daily or $87,235 annually according to the MetLife study.   In California, the average cost of a private room in a nursing home was $91,250 a year according to a study by Genworth; a semi-private room was $77,745 a year. Home-health aides and homemaker-companion service rates were $21 and $19 per hour respectively.
  • Taking risks seems too difficult.  Holding on to what you have and what you know is reassuring.  Perhaps one reason is that there may be little time to recover from a bad decision – whether related to finances, housing, getting a new housekeeper or even taking a walk.

If you are dealing with the “I’m not going to change” mentality, here are some possible action steps.  Consult with a geriatric case manager for an assessment of the older adult and his or her environment.  With permission, consult with the individual’s physician.  And finally, have a conversation.  Ask, “What’s going on?  I care about you and know something’s not right.”  Your friend or relative may be waiting to have such a chat.

Harness you resources and be bold yet sensitive.  Although one doesn’t want to be intrusive, it is important to care.  You can always apologize later.

Copyright 2011 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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