At what age do you stop setting goals? The answer should be, never. Even as we age we are constantly evolving and knowing what we want is so important to not only how we live but how we keep our health, too.
My grandmother loved to garden, her vegetable gardens were massive. She knew when to plant, what to plant together, and how to keep her soil perfectly PH balanced. On many occasions I’d find her on her knees weeding in the backyard, amid the sunshine and greenery. She loved every minute of it.
I think she also enjoyed the routine of preparation and the accomplishment of her harvest. Working in her garden gave her purpose but also an outlet to socialization – she was a proud member of the garden club and had bragging rights for her garden-fresh zucchini bread and rhubarb pie which earned her first place at the church picnic.
I also remember the year her garden started to fall apart. Her knees bothered her too much to kneel for very long. Her back hurt after long hours of weeding, and one of her medications made her dizzy in the sun causing her to trip over the wheel barrow catching her eye on the corner. My mother thought it was time for her to hang up the gardening hat; we could hire someone to do it for her, it’s too much work. Gram was done gardening.
While Gram healed, she slowly slept a little later in the morning, became slower around the house, and even got pneumonia that winter. Her house started to get a little more dusty. Honestly, she fell out of her routine and she had nothing to look forward to anymore (so she told me later). What’s the point? She was giving in to her age, isn’t that what you’re supposed to as you get older? Accept the inevitable? How often do you hear that from your older loved ones?
A year later, I poured her a cup of coffee and said to my Gram, ‘what are you goals for this year’s garden?’ She looked at me funny…no answer. Instead I said, ‘what do you miss most?’ (Trigger.) She missed her zucchini, tomatoes, and her flowers, the smell of the earth, and watering a newly planted garden. (Great, a starting point.) What got in the way of doing what she loved? The aches, pains, the fall, and because people told her she was getting too old – of all things she listened to, that was the one she held onto.
I had to help my Gram see things in a new light and not give up. Together we wrote down a few realistic and achievable goals. She would start small this year, ease back into it, focusing just on tomatoes and zucchinis. My dad would build her two raised beds so she wouldn’t have to kneel and weeding wasn’t as much of an issue. As the season took hold, I was surprised by what happened. She had more free time because the garden was manageable so she used that to share her gardening wisdom at the local library teaching others how to start a garden. I was so proud of her.
Forbes wrote an article on the importance of goal setting that I think is appropriate for everyone at every age. Goals trigger behavior, they motivate you. Physically setting up goals, writing them down on paper, can make a difference in how you achieve them. Your health challenges or chronic illness shouldn’t get in the way of your success. If you have health issues, write those down too, and find a solution that works to address those and your life goals – even if it means reaching out to senior care experts for guidance.
Losing your purpose isn’t an inevitable part of aging, it’s a choice – we need to help seniors see there’s a way to age differently. That made a big difference for my Gram.
Not every senior’s goal is gardening but it might be something else – keeping their home clean, being able to shower on their own, gaining strength so they can mow their lawn, get to bridge club, or even have enough energy to get dressed and meet friends for lunch.
The point is this – you have to have purpose. Defining your goals give you purpose. Without them, we start to avoid, retract, sit back and watch life pass us by, and inevitably that speeds up the aging process.
But we also need to be honest with ourselves or our aging loved ones – sometimes seniors need assistance with activities of daily living and sometimes you need help helping them with those things. That’s okay; it’s all in how we shift the conversation from needing ‘help’ to defining goals. You’ll be amazed at how getting the right support can open up the door to living and aging exactly how you and your loved one want.