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Adjusting to a Disability in Midlife

Adjusting to a Disability in Midlife
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Just like any part of your life, midlife is unique and filled with new changes and often new challenges too. And for many people out there these new challenges just might include a disability.

Now I know what you’re thinking: the chances of me becoming disabled are ridiculously small, right? Well as it turns out, becoming disabled in midlife is more common than you might think. According to the Center of American Progress, people are twice as likely to become disabled at age 50 than they are at age 40. According to this study from Brandeis University, only seven percent of those in their early forties are disabled; that number more than doubles to sixteen percent for people in their fifties.

The truth is that it’s between the ages of 50 and 60 that most individuals experience a new disability. But the good news is that even in midlife, human beings have the amazing ability of adjusting to new conditions and gaining important knowledge about themselves in the process. If you or someone you know is adapting to a midlife disability, here are seven ways you can make this adjustment period as successful and speedy as possible:

  1. Give yourself time to grieve—Becoming disabled in midlife isn’t easy for anyone. If you’re experiencing feelings of anger, anxiety, confusion, and sadness, realize that these emotions are completely normal and you will need time to go through all five of the emotional stages of grief. Adjusting to a new disability can feel overwhelming, so don’t hesitate to seek out a professional counselor who can help you overcome these emotional challenges. And keep in mind that everyone adjusts to new life circumstances at different rates and in different ways.
  2. Take care of yourself physically—Disabilities often come with physical and mental challenges that require a doctor’s expertise to navigate. As you’re adjusting to your new disability, be sure to visit your doctor or specialist regularly so you’ll know how you’re doing and how to treat your condition. Many disabilities can improve through physical therapy and other treatments, and the more your primary care physician knows about your condition, the more they’ll be able to help you.
  3. Make practical changes to your environment—As you’re going through this major life change, you may need to adjust your environment. If your disability affects your mobility or your ability to drive, do some research on small changes you can make to your home or your vehicle. If you’re having memory lapses from a mental disability, make little notes to help you remember. Everyday tasks like grocery shopping, exercise, or personal hygiene might need small adjustments, but you will learn how to make these daily activities work so you can go about your day normally.
  4. Take stock of your finances—Sometimes a new disability comes with new medical costs or a need for special equipment. Be sure to evaluate your needs and how much they are going to cost. If you need a little extra help to make ends meet, don’t be afraid to take advantage of local and national assistance programs for people with disabilities. And if your condition is severe enough that you can no longer work, you might be a great candidate for Social Security Disability benefits. Visit the SSA’s official website to learn more.
  5. Try to be patient with others—While you’re adjusting to your own disability, your family, friends, and coworkers might go through an adjustment period too. It’s natural to feel frustrated by others trying to help you more than necessary or talking about how brave you are, but especially in the beginning realize that these people are only trying to help. If you communicate openly with others and treat them with dignity, eventually they will learn exactly how much help you do or don’t need. This idea also applies to people who might display prejudice against your disability. Just try to remain calm in these situations and educate yourself on the laws that protect you from discrimination.
  6. Reach out for support in your community—Many people who become disabled in midlife shy away from support groups and local organizations for disabilities. But honestly this social support is just as important for you as support from your doctor. There are people everywhere that know exactly what you’re going through, and connecting with groups right in your area or online who understand your condition will help you realize that you’re not alone. This will be a major positive step in your adjustment.
  7. Remember that you’re still you—Yes, life with a disability is going to be different than how you lived before, but your condition does not define you. You’re still the great person you were before, and you can still pursue happiness, great hobbies, meaningful relationships, and fun goals just like any other person. Your disability is only one factor of your life, so even if there’s going to be a learning curve, you can still continue growing and chasing after your dreams.

Adapting to a disability, especially when you’ve lived so many years without one, can be a taxing experience. But there are more resources out there than ever before to support you in this journey. Don’t wait to see what’s available to you.

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