My experiences with aging, disability and my own mental health

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging and mental health lately, so I looked up the topic. According to an article from our National Institutes of Health:

“The most common mental disorders in older people include depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Mental disorders are associated with increased healthcare costs, mortality and suicide, along with interference with daily living, and a reduction in quality of life.”

From my own experiences, this makes perfect sense. As our health declines, so does our ability to feel good about our lives, and then there are those predictable thoughts about how we’ve lived our lives and what it must feel like to die. One thing I experience is the daily differences in how I feel about my life, but I’m not certain how much of that is caused by my head injuries. Some days I feel almost like I used to, happy and ready to get out and try new things. Other times I can barely get out of bed and face the day. The problem is I cannot predict what will happen each day, so it’s difficult to plan ahead.

Mike has observed this unpredictability and also wondered what causes it. Now I believe part of it is a natural response to losses later in life. Some days I see little future for myself and so I feel depressed. I do not want to drag him down, because there is no need for both of us to suffer. Other days I feel that old optimism and then I can’t believe I was so low yesterday.

What could be more natural than our ability to confront our own aging and disabilities better on some days than others? Also it takes time to adjust to such major changes in health and abilities…

Realistically my ability to travel very far or go anywhere I want to is limited. But also my desire to travel has become less with age and with so many fantastic travel videos to be enjoyed on Youtube. The place Mike and I most want to visit now is Patagonia. There’s a very good chance I won’t ever get there, but I love watching travel videos and dreaming… Now that’s something previous generations did not have! We really are very lucky, even in our old age. I appreciate that everyday!

“Even in seemingly dormant times, we are in transition. Losses and gains are in constant play. We are the change-agent, and we are changed. Even without toil, we transform. So, wisdom advises us to open our hearts to transition; to honor fully what is passing, to learn from all that unfolds, and to welcome what arrives at our door each day with courage and curiosity.”

Bicycle injuries rising among older riders

She was just going out for a short bike ride around her neighborhood. It didn’t seem necessary to carry an ID, or even wear a helmet. Ten minutes later she was found lying in the dirt unconscious near a bike path. The bystander who found her, called 911 and an ambulance arrived soon afterwards. Then a kind Emergency Medical Technician whisked her off to the emergency room with her mind constantly weaving in and out of consciousness. After numerous X-rays and cat scans she ended up in the neuro unit of the hospital for observation.

This is a true story.  It happened to me back in 2008 in Fort Collins. My own tumble over the handle bars and into a nasty bike accident, led to fractured ribs, an injured wrist and thigh, and a traumatic brain injury.

This is my warning to you who think riding a bike is still as easy as climbing back on again. 

Injuries among older riders have jumped dramatically in recent years. Between 1998 and 2013, bike injuries among all adults over the age of 18 increased 28 percent, while hospital admissions jumped 120 percent. Head traumas went from 10 percent to 16 percent of all injuries in the same period.

Older bicyclists fueled much of that increase in injuries, especially ones that required an emergency room visit. Injuries among those 45+ jumped 81 percent and hospital admissions increased 66 percent, from 39 percent to 65 percent of total injuries. While death rates for cyclists younger than 15 fell by 92 percent between 1975 and 2012, death rates for cyclists between the ages of 35 and 74 showed a large increase, according to CDC data.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/bicycle-injuries-rise-especially-for-older-riders/

While I do not want to discourage you from healthy exercise as you age, be careful out there! I feel the effects of my brain injury everyday, especially when I write or speak with others. My memory is definitely not the same and it also completely depends on what area of the brain you injure.  I find I tire quickly in social situations, and the first sign that I am getting overwhelmed is when I cannot think of the proper word for something, a difficult feeling for one who has always been proud of her ability with words.

mandala head chakra photo

On the flip side, my brain injuries (yes I suffered a second concussion after we moved in here!) have taught me to slow down, meditate more, and enjoy each moment as it arrives.

Besides now living in a quiet and contemplative part of Colorado, I have learned some wonderful relaxation techniques that are quite FUN regardless of your brain injury status.

Take care of that old personal computer up there! You only get one.