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Change and Your Next Chapter of Life

Change.  Do you welcome it, generally resist it, or accept that it will happen and “go with the flow?”

Human nature generally prefers a sense of predictability in life, yet this concept is affected by all the factors within our lives which are constantly changing.  As people age, change may become more threatening as they perceive a reduced ability to control the changes which occur. 

Changes can be viewed in many ways such as positive or negative; routine or life-altering; even necessary or perhaps unavoidable.  How we view and adapt to change has a significant impact on the choices we make and the outcomes of our lives.

Logically, positive changes would seem easier to adapt to than negative ones, and routine changes easier than life-altering ones. But the psychology of change is complex.  Sometimes the uncertainty associated with a change, even if the change is perceived as creating a positive result, can cause an individual to resist making a decision. Gustavo Razzetti, in a September 2018 Psychology Today article, noted “we are hardwired to resist uncertainty — our brain prefers a predictable negative outcome over an uncertain one. On the other hand, our mind is flexible and adaptive — it can be trained to thrive in change.”

Mr. Razzetti utilizes the remainder of his article to compare life to a book, emphasizing that an individual writes his/her own story.  We can allow our expectations and circumstances to outline each chapter and feel like a spectator to life, or we can recognize those aspects of life which can be controlled and actively take charge of them to influence the plot.

Applying these concepts to the lives of older adults, it is understandable why some people will fight to remain “independent” in their own homes when they are struggling with some of life’s basic tasks.  Although the benefits of engaging assistance or moving to a more supportive environment may appear obvious to others, the individual’s underlying discomfort with or fear of change may cloud objectivity when considering the present moment and potential future.  The focus of the situation is seen as an immediate pending loss and any gain is perceived as uncertain and thus less desirable.

In such a situation, suggestions to initiate one small change at a time, choosing changes which will be perceived as less threatening, may allow the individual to slowly move toward a more secure living arrangement.  If various options are available for a needed alteration, involve the individual in exploring those options and allow the individual to make the choice about which way to proceed. This method will help the individual maintain a sense of control and promote cooperation and a greater likelihood of a successful outcome. 

It may be difficult to predict how an older adult will react to change.  Some families anticipate a difficult transition to a lifestyle change and are pleasantly surprised when their loved one adjusts to and thrives in a new situation. Delaying a change due to the rest of the family’s fear of the older adult’s potential reaction can create additional stressors for everyone and potentially limit available options.

At any age, learning to tolerate and cope with change allows individuals to achieve a greater sense of satisfaction with life.  We may not always like change, but change is inevitable.  We can choose to recognize and control our feelings about change. Stepping out of our comfort zone will give us the flexibility and energy to close one chapter of our lives and will allow us to anticipate the next one.

Karen Kaslow, RN, BSN