Plan ahead for stressful situations

Dr. Beth Shapiro, Ph.D. [photo: Beth Silver]

Most of us understand the importance of planning ahead and researching options for things such as vacations, major purchases and retirement. However, not many of us plan ahead for the stressful situations that naturally come with aging.

Everyone faces the stress of aging, and most of the stress is caused by loss. As time goes on, spouses, friends and pets pass away. As our abilities decline, we lose mobility, independence and options. These losses often bring with them stressful feelings of grief, loneliness, fear, resentment and isolation that have effects not only on the senior, but on the whole family.

Just as we plan ahead for other major life events, so should we plan ahead for the normal stresses of aging. “The key is purposeful planning and educating ourselves about the options before there is a crisis,” said Beth Shapiro, a clinical social worker with a private practice in Cleveland Heights.

Shapiro counsels seniors and family members who are struggling with the hardships of aging. She encourages people to seek assistance with these stresses as early as possible. “Without a plan,” she said, “families get into a crisis and need to make decisions at a time of intense emotion.” This can, in turn, cause even more stress.

There is a delicate balance that children of senior adults need to achieve between supporting the senior’s desire for autonomy and independence, while also being concerned for their health and safety. Shapiro helps families talk through the needs, desires and expectations of all of the parties involved, and work together to come up with solutions.

Some of these issues can be difficult to talk about—for example, living arrangements, quality of life, and caring for pets. It can also be difficult to admit that aging and change are very hard to go through. We may feel embarrassed to ask for help, feeling that we have somehow failed.

Shapiro advocates looking aging straight in the eye. “We need to acknowledge what happens in the aging process,” she said. “Grief and loss are going to occur. We need to talk about ways to adapt and move forward so we’re ready when they do occur.”

Successful navigation of the aging process involves letting go of what you can’t change, and making a plan to change what you can. A quote on Shapiro’s website, from Jon Kabat-Zinn, sums it up: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

Shapiro, a University Heights native, received her undergraduate degree from Cleveland State University, her master’s degree from Case Western Reserve University, and her Ph.D. in psychology from Saybrook University. You can contact her at 440-665-1340 or

Judith Eugene

Judith Eugene is a native of Cleveland Heights who provides life-enrichment classes and activities for senior adults and those with physical and mental challenges through She can be reached at 216-408-5578 or

Read More on The Senior Section: a resource guide for senior adults
Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 3:36 PM, 10.30.2015