With age come decisions made easier through wise planning, older women learn

Samantha MacDonald, a nurse at Providence ElderPlace, made a snap decision the day she fell off her sister’s draft horse and was stomped on by the massive animal. She had four fractured ribs and other serious PHOTO: MERRY MACKINNON - Samantha MacDonald, a nurse at Providence ElderPlace, spoke in September at an AARP-sponsored presentation on Living Longer, Living Smarter held at Providence Hospital in Northeast Portland. MacDonald told the audience about her own health issues after she fell off a horse.

But instead of agreeing to being taken in an ambulance to a nearby hospital, she insisted that her sister drive her to Providence Hospital in Northeast Portland, where her husband is a chaplain.

Looking back, she realizes that was not a wise decision, because by the time she got to Providence she was in shock and could barely breathe. Had she been in an ambulance, paramedics could have helped her immediately.

Making wise decisions was the theme of a recent event for older women titled “Living Longer, Living Smarter.” MacDonald, who had to give up her work as a respiratory nurse because of the accident, spoke at the Sept. 14 all-day event at Providence Hospital, sponsored by AARP, Providence ElderPlace, and aging and disability agencies.

“When I fell off that horse I learned some life-altering things,” MacDonald told the audience of women mostly in their 50s and 60s.

The message conveyed by all seven speakers that day is that smart decision-making prolongs one’s life, especially for boomers, as more and more difficult decisions must be made. So plan ahead, while there’s still time. Plan for emergencies, plan for a healthy and secure future, plan for aging in place and plan for the inevitable, the end of life, by writing wills and advance directives.

For instance, as MacDonald warned, accidents can happen. But some health issues are avoidable. In MacDonald’s case, she acknowledged that she has been overweight all her life. Now, in combination with conditions caused by the accident, her weight is putting more stress on her joints.

“It took four men to put me in the hospital bed,” she said. “I’m 44 years old, but I’m now older than most of you.”

The next speaker — Peggy Brey, Multnomah County Aging and Disability Services division director — recounted how she adopted an exercise regime after becoming exhausted on a hiking trip. “My tipping point was climbing a mountain near Pendleton,” Brey said. “Plan for an exercise regime that fits you.”

But while women are great planners for others, when it comes to planning for themselves, they often fall short, Brey added, citing her own lack of foresight when she purchased her house in Southeast Portland. “Will my home be a good fit as my needs change over time? Have you thought about that?” Brey asked.

Responding to her own question, Brey recalled that initially she didn’t take note of the small bathroom, the narrow halls and the cupboards above the stove, all inaccessible for someone — presumably herself — if, with age, she becomes incapacitated, relying on a walker or a wheelchair.

“Do that long-term planning and look at the unexpected,” she advised, reciting a list of possible unexpected happenings that included a health crisis, a change in finances, a layoff and even a move back home by grown children. “Think about those unforeseen items because they can be a deal breaker.”

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