There is nothing I love more than harvesting wisdom and no better person to farm for advice than someone with many years of life experience. I would like to introduce Bert, who is 91, who told me how he has stayed independent while getting older. Bert is a full time care giver for his wife Mary and they have known each other 70 years, they have a son and three daughters.
I knew it was going to be good when I walked into his study and saw he had tonnes of tech including two monitors with three viewing windows open. When I comment that he is watching three things at once, he says, ‘at least 3, usually more’. Self confessed ‘computer nerd’, learning about computers and technology is something he got into later in life. So, whether you are already a retiree, planning to retire or not even thinking about that yet, there is something for everyone in Bert’s words of wisdom. Luck is not the reason Bert is independently living at home in his 90’s. He lives by a carefully considered framework and he breaks it down for us like this.
What Bert says about how he has adapted to getting older and staying independent:
- The challenges of life have made us adapt. Back in 2000 we moved out of our 3 story, 5 bedroom home to this little place. It appeared to be a bit of a come down at the time, but it’s ideal for our living now and it’s been easy to fix it up so Mary can stay living here after she had her strokes.
- I have a routine. I get up at 6am and then I go for a walk after I attend to Mary. Most days I walk for 20-25 minutes and once a week I do a big walk for an hour. I do have pain but I put deep heat on my back and go. Then we get on with the routine of breakfast and when the shower girls come I have to be ready for them. Then there is shopping to do a couple of days a week. I don’t mow the lawn anymore but I maintain the yard and garden. I take care of the pool and I do the weeding and trimming with my little electric trimmer. There will probably be a time where I’ll have to think and adapt to changes to get more help. But presently I am able to manage ok. (Me: “While you can do it, you will do it?”) Yes. And I try to fit in some hobbies in between times. I have a little hobby shop out in my shed. I get out there occasionally. There are little black and white TV’s and there’s a radio there I am repairing.
- We go out in a wheelchair taxi with Mary that we have to book a week in advance; it’s the only way we can transport Mary. So if we need to take Mary to a medical appointment or shopping it has to be planned in advance. I have a car and I drive so I can hop down the shops and to town but I can’t take Mary in the car.
- I’m also a mad aeroplane buff. Early in retirement I used to go down to HARS at the airport with a buddy of mine. We spent over 4 years going down there a few days a week before Mary’s stroke. I have always had an interest in planes and I have been on several training flights but not since 2010. I have acres of aeroplane documentaries and videos and my own interests in historical aircraft over the years. My friend and I had a routine at the airport and I have a lot of footage from those visits and I had hoped to make a documentary about it but I have been a bit curtailed in getting back to it. Maybe I will get around to it if I live long enough.
- I was a TV technician during my working career but I got into computers in the 90’s as I was retiring from servicing. Now I’ve become a computer nerd and adapted to computers. I still go to a computer class ‘for ancients’ once a month. I’ve recently been thinking about adapting again; I have a lot of discs but they are becoming obsolete. I’ll have to learn the new technology soon.
- I still went shopping through covid19. I had to wear a mask and the girls that come in wear masks now. I depend on not being in contact with someone who has it. If I stopped going shopping it would take away the bit of social activity that I have.
- We are fortunate to have government support which has helped us to maintain our current lifestyle. That’s been good. A lot of people haven’t been able to take that step so it certainly would have been difficult if that hadn’t come about. It was a difficult pathway before we had the help, so we are very thankful for that part. We are living at home, Mary is bed disabled now and wants to be at home and we are able to maintain her ability to be at home with the care that we have.
- It’s no use planning for next week, because something can change, but if you do have to make a plan and it all works out then it happens. I try not to make any plans about what I am going to do for the day because it can go belly up quite easily. It depends on Mary’s condition. We have the routine now, its been 11 years since she had her first stroke and we have teams helping us now. We have help come in 5 days a week. I have to fit around that. I am the chief chef and bottle washer and all that. But I must say we do have support for that from friends. They bring their offerings to us quite often. (Me: “People bring you meals?”) Yes, we do get extra care from friends and loved ones.
- I have faith in a Divine Being and during my life I have seen many times where God has directed our pathways and we are quite amazed at how things happen that maybe you hadn’t planned and it’s worked out better than you could have thought. We have faith and trust in God. Some things you have to say “Lord we just got to trust you” and either you deliver us from it or we adapt a way around.
- There are things I can’t do and things I shouldn’t do. I shouldn’t climb up on the roof and do things up there, which I would have done, going back. I realise that my physical being is pretty vulnerable and if I fall I am going to break something. If I break something, my lifestyle will have to make a dramatic change, and it will affect Mary, and this is one of the thought patterns I have. I better not do that, and also my son will tell me, but I can do things on the ground and that’s what I will do.
Bert’s advice on how we can stay independent as we get older:
- In our earlier retirement, Mary and I travelled and I recommend you travel as much as you can. It broadens your mind and makes the news more interesting “I’ve been there!”. We have made good friends around the country and world. I don’t get to travel much anymore but we still catch up with friends we met while travelling. It also expanded our interests. Mary and I are both into family history and we’ve been to some of the places our ancestors lived and made new family connections along the way.
- Have you heard of the Desiderata? We try to live that way and respect other people. By the same token, you have to have your mind open and not be side-tracked by activists or other people that divert your mind away from the actual truths of life. Many activists share their thoughts in the media and try to divert your mind this way or that way. You have to open your own mind up to what are facts, what is truth and what is myth. The Desiderata helps me to do this, it has a good line of thought, so put your mind that way as well as what you read from the Bible, the good book.
- Some people don’t have the mentality to elevate themselves out of a problem they need not be in, whether it’s diet, or physical reasons or not able to find new ways of thinking and staying in the one line of thought. Have a think about how you can do something a bit different.
- Life doesn’t hand you a gold plate all the time, you have to take some of the hardships and negotiate alternate ways to overcome the problem. There are frequently new challenges coming up in life, but my career as a TV technician has helped me to adapt. Count to 10 and don’t panic if something goes wrong. With a bit of thought, a bit of time, maybe talking to somebody else, you can have an alternate way of overcoming a particular dilemma. It could be a technical problem, or an association problem with a human. But servicing and repairing over the years taught me you have to use knowledge, your experience and then remember what you have done to overcome the problem before. You have had that experience, but occasionally call someone to help. Build up the knowledge base in your head and the pattern of what to do. I can move this advice to other areas of my life. Problems happen, you adapt. That’s been my code.
- About dealing with being a full time care giver, you move on and say to yourself ‘ok, that’s history’ (life before being a carer) and I move on to something else and try to fit in what I can in a day. I don’t resent it because our old life is in the past. I accept where we are now. If you have a love for your partner, your wife, you realise you have a responsibility, it’s all part of the care. What else are you going to do in your life? (Me:”Complain?”) No, you can have a bit of a whinge to yourself sometimes, but it’s the life we accepted - I accepted it - and whatever is ahead we will face and adapt again later, whatever that may be. I want to care for Mary as long as I am able to and she wants to be cared for.