Last week, we held a terrific conversation about how damned long the ordinary maintenance of living takes as we get older - the chores, errands, daily upkeep and other stuff that we hardly noticed in the past except, maybe, as a nuisance to be gotten through as quickly as possible.
I'm returning to this subject today because even though many readers had a lot to say about it, I cannot recall ever having seen it addressed in the serious literature of aging.
As far as I can tell, professional commentary goes straight from the total capability of midlife (zillions of magazine articles and books on efficiency) to frail elders (when incapacity requires the intervention of family and/or care agencies). No one talks about those in-between years.
In particular, there are two kinds of time eaters I'd like to expand on today. Celia mentioned one of them last week:
”Then there's the ruinous recovery time if you get sick or injured. The couple of days it used to take to snap back is now a couple of weeks or even months.”
Celia is right. It has been my experience for the at least the past decade (I'm 71 now) that a simple cold can last two or three weeks and feel as bad a flu virus. And then, cold or flu, when the main symptoms are finally gone, it can be weeks more before full energy returns.
And that's really irritating.
But beyond extra rest, there is little to do about the length of time involved to get over what were once minor illnesses. However, we (me!) and those around us need to be aware that we aren't the kids we used to be and to help out one another during those prolonged periods of recovery when, sometimes, it is just listlessness - not debilitating but tiring nevertheless.
Of course, more serious conditions and injuries take an even longer, more difficult recovery time and I'm sure some of you can speak to that.
Another old age problem I forgot last week is the time involved when routine is interrupted, and I'm guessing this is what young people mean when they say elders are “stuck in their ways.” There is a reason and it's about energy levels, not social or technology issues.
For many of us, sleep is a tenuous proposition. Can't fall asleep. Can't stay asleep. Too many bathroom runs at night. And even with enough sleep, sometimes we just need additional rest during the day.
One of the ways old people husband their energy is via a daily routine giving us the capability to predict what will happen and when it will happen. Certainly, we each plan our days and weeks differently but I'm pretty sure we have a lot of common ground.
When I have a two-hour meeting scheduled in the evening, I know I must nap in the afternoon. If I have a lot of driving to do in a day, I don't also plan to grocery shop.
During the week leading up to house guests, I do the extra cleaning so no one should think I'm entirely a slob, but I also plan ahead for the blog, for extra groceries in the house and make sure I rearrange meetings and other obligations that fall during the guests' stay so we can have as much time together as possible.
Even so, after they leave, I need some recuperative time – some quiet time to regroup and work myself back to my routine. Any activity too much out of the ordinary is more tiring than when was younger.
Example: Last week, I received an invitation to participate in a one-day, roundtable event on an elder health issue in New York City at the end of this month. I would like to attend but I am hesitating because these days it is so exhausting to fly – exhausting because airlines have made it deeply irritating, uncomfortable and awful - all the moreso because I'm old.
Then, of course, there is extra work up front to get the blogs in shape for my absence and catchup when I return. So I still haven't decided.
It is interesting that this elder need for recuperation from interruptions in routine seems to have been neglected in the aging literature. Perhaps the “experts” think it falls into the well-known category of tiring more easily as we age, but I think it is a separate condition or need.
There is no one more expert at the demands and constraints of aging than elders themselves. So let us know what you think.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Metamorphosis