553 posts categorized "Journal"

Adapting to the Changes of Old Age

Cicero

Being about midway into old age now, it seems to me that changes great and small come barreling down the pike lickety-split – that there are many more arriving at a much faster rate than at previous ages of life.

I can't prove that with facts and figures and numbers and charts but it feels about right and I've come to believe it is an important job of elderhood to learn to adapt as we are buffeted front and back, up and down, left and right and around again with each new, often unexpected development.

It's not easy. As you know, my life was upended three months ago with a cancer diagnosis. I'm still trying to find a way to make the large number of restrictions that control my days now as commonplace as, for example, brushing my teeth has always been.

It's frustrating that I'm not there yet. I have other things I'd rather do than try to remember if I took those pills after breakfast or treated my hands with that special lotion.

Although I've fought hard on this blog during its 14 years of existence against the generally accepted perception that there are no positives about growing old, it shouldn't be denied that loss is a part of it – more than most of us would like.

There are the ones to which we adapt with relative ease: eyesight and hearing can be successfully treated now; dental implants, if affordable, are almost miraculous; there are many ways to deal with graying hair and hair loss depending the degree of one's concern.

If you try to track down information on the internet about the changes that come with old age, the only things you will find are about health and debility. To the not yet old - the ones who make the rules and decide who is worthy - old people are defined entirely by failing health. Period.

(Keep that in mind as, in the next two months, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, will do his best to dramatically increase what old people pay for Medicare. Cuts to Social Security are being crafted too. Stay tuned for information here about these proposed changes soon.)

But there is much more to growing old than health and although there is crossover among them preliminarily, I have placed these changes into five general categories: Physical, Emotional, Social, Calamitous and Cultural. In old age, all of them take away something we have been accustomed to for a lifetime and, usually, enjoy.

The physical is obvious as our bodies wear out, we slow down and we collect a group of manageable but annoying conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, balance difficulties, even living with cancer, etc.

Emotional issues range from such things as my obstinance about accepting daily changes caused by cancer to sadness from losses as old friends die or move away, and recognition of our own approaching death – among others. These are no small change.

We lose a lot of social engagement when we retire or don't get out and about as easily as we once did or reduced income prevents us from past social pleasures such as theater and travel.

The calamitous, of course, has to do with dire health risks to oneself, a spouse or other people we love. Only a few days ago did I realize that if the chemotherapy is successful and I am pronounced cancer-free at the end of six months, I will still need to be tested every three months for the rest of my life.

Four times a year I will hold my breath waiting for test results to tell me something good or not good. I remember what that feels like from years ago when, a couple of times, I waited a week for answers from breast biopsies.

There are, of course, many other tests of our resilience in old age than these.

Oddly, given the last two paragraphs, it is the cultural category that most aggravates me. In the 20 years I've been studying ageing, the American attitude toward old age has not changed a whit: youth is perfection and old age is a personal failing worthy only of fear and pity.

It comes to each of us, the day when we step over a line in the sand that no one told us was there, the day when the world rejects us, ignores our knowledge and experience, maligns and scorns us.

And no, it doesn't cheer me that the people doing the maligning and scorning will join us soon enough. They have still robbed me of basic dignity - in their eyes if not my own.

Even so, I have found these years of growing old the most engaging, interesting and exciting time of my life. I may not get out and about as much as in youth and adulthood. I have lost interest in keeping up with the latest fads and fashion that I once had fun with. And at last, I have outgrown caring what anyone thinks of me.

But I am more passionate than ever about the two things that most engage me these days: our terrifying politics and what it's really like to get old.

It may not surprise some of you that I've been reading Cicero again, his Cato Maior de Senectute or On Old Age written in 44BC. There is much to learn from Cicero but two things come through strongly about my time of life:

To focus on what I have and can do rather than what I don’t have or can’t do

That age is no barrier to remaining engaged with life: intellectually, physically, socially

There are good reasons mankind has been reading this treatise for more than 2,000 years. Cicero advises us that wisdom is to accept the limitations of old age and look for opportunities to work around them:

”Nature has but a single path and you travel it only once,” writes Cicero. “Each stage of life has its own appropriate qualities - weakness in childhood, boldness in youth, seriousness in middle age, and maturity in old age. These are fruits that must be harvested in due season.”

By the way, Cicero is also the man who said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This has been rolling around in my mind for several days and easily could have been 20 pages longer. I've spared you that and feel confident that you will add and subtract from it as you see fit.]


Chemotherapy School

One day last week, I spent an hour and a half at chemotherapy school, given at the OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University) clinic where my chemo will be administered.

They handed out a large Powerpoint deck at the class and I already been given a giant binder the week before with pages and pages and pages of lists and commentary on what to expect, what to do and other instructions to follow during chemo treatments.

ChemoBinder

Huh? Why didn't you guys who've been through this (and according to your comments here, there are quite a few of you) tell me that chemo is a full time, 24/7 job for the next six months?

Until now, I thought it would make me tired and maybe sick for a couple of days after each treatment. But oh no. All kinds of terrible things can go wrong and there are a dozen or more preventive measures plus a lengthy list of side effects a few of which require immediate emergency attention.

For that last item, they prepared a page to post on the refrigerator door for easy reference. Oy. I had no idea.

RefrigeratorList

Of course, these are generalized documents meant for all chemotherapy patients and which side effects an individual is subject to varies with the chemo formula. Some people escape with none or hardly any difficulties. Nevertheless, it is daunting. Among the possibilities:

Decreased blood clotting ability
Irritation of the entire gastrointestinal tract
Nausea and vomiting
Constipation or diarrhea
Neuropathy
Chemobrain
And my personal favorite (that's snark, folks), Hand-foot syndrome

That's when the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands become red, can crack and develop blisters. The prevention, they tell me is to take tepid, not hot baths and showers, and to wash dishes in tepid water.

That goes with the admonition that chemo compromises the patient's immune system so to avoid infection, one must wash, wash, wash hands constantly.

All that washing, of course, exacerbates hand-foot syndrome so there is a specific kind of lotion to gently rub on hands and feet several times a day. I can't wait – recall what I said above about chemo being a 24/7 job.

All right, I know I'm whining and I shouldn't. For someone with one of the scariest of cancers, I'm incredibly lucky. I am among the only ten percent of pancreatic cancer patients eligible for the Whipple surgery I had.

And now that I am facing chemotherapy soon, they tell me my “dose” will take about an hour to administer. Some people need six or eight hours each time. I am so grateful for these two pieces of luck.

Plus, all these and many more additional instructions, warnings and admonitions come with the care and concern of the medical staff based on their collective years of experience with chemotherapy patients in one of the best cancer centers in the United States.

But still, you could have mentioned this stuff to me. Okay, I'll shut up now.


Are Children an Elder Hazard?

In the nature of callow youth, when I was a teenager - and maybe a young woman too - I noted with some disdain that the homes of old people I knew were often in need of a design update.

If the décor fashion of the day was Danish modern, for example, I felt a kind of contempt for the people who were not keeping up.

It's not that their homes hadn't been cleaned but threadbare upholstery, nicks on chair legs and permanent stains on table tops pointed up some shabbiness. Oh, my disdain knew few bounds.

I've noticed through the years that a lot of children can be as judgmental as I once was and on some reflection, I wonder maybe that it's okay – as long as they aren't rude about it.

It takes a long time to form one's tastes and discernment and young people generally prefer the new to the old – and maybe that applies people as well as furnishings for them (I THINK that's a joke).

And, of course, there are a lot of understandable reasons an old person's home can seem dated to the young. It's expensive to reupholster an otherwise perfectly good sofa and money is generally tighter in retirement.

My latest reason for not spending much time thinking about replacements for whatever is worn is realizing that it probably isn't worth the effort for whatever time is left to me on earth. (I THINK that's half a joke.) Here's an example of one thing I won't be replacing.

Deskleg

When Ollie the cat first came to live with me 13 years ago, from day one he used a leg of my desk to hone his claws. It was a new desk then and I was concerned about what he was doing. At least he wasn't shredding the sofa upholstery, I told myself, but it was a nice desk that he was ripping into.

When I asked a friend what she thought I should do, she had a couple of questions: Is the desk an antique, Ronni? Are you planning to leave it to me in your will?

No to both. And my friend said, “So why do you care?”

She was right and I have not cared ever since nor do I have any intention of replacing the desk even if there are young people who, like me at one time, would see the desk leg as a sign of senile neglect.

All that is leading up to a more serious issue with children, mostly younger ones in this case.

At the hospital where my surgery took place, there is a long, wide hallway between the check-in lobby and the exterior stairs. A nurse was pushing me in a wheelchair as we navigated that space on the day I was leaving.

I was still shaky, in some pain, and acutely aware of my sore midsection where the long incision is. As we moved forward, an old man using a cane with one arm while holding the arm of woman I guessed was his adult daughter, walked past us in the opposite direction.

Suddenly, two boys – maybe seven, eight or nine – ran full tilt down the hallway, brushing the old man's cane arm as they scooted by and then, making a course correction, nearly bumped into my wheelchair.

I don't recall any previous time when I was frightened in just that way. I immediately pictured myself and the wheelchair tipped over on the floor of the hallway, my incision ripped open with blood pouring forth.

Okay, perhaps I was being dramatic but I was hardly myself yet with the effects of 12 hours of anesthesia still muddling my brain. And anyway, in the circumstance it was not an inconceivable accident.

Then, just a couple of weeks ago while shopping at the Saturday farmer's market an almost identical situation took place: I was wandering the stalls when a couple of young boys, playing tag or running just for the fun of it, almost set me off balance as one of them brushed my arm in passing.

I wasn't as vulnerable that time as I had been in the hospital hallway, but it frightened me in the way that pretty much all old people are afraid of falling (as we should be at our age: one-third of Americans 65 and older fall each year. Some of them die from the fall).

These two almost-accidents are a new phenomenon for me. Before them, I had never thought of young kids as an elder hazard.

It is one thing for young people to ridicule how old people live in their homes – most of them, like me, will outgrow it. It is quite another for them to endanger the lives of old people - and you cannot help but wonder where their parents are.

In my case, I came to my newfound feelings of vulnerability via a massive surgery but in time it would have happened anyway with the normal debilities of age.

But I know that from this moment forward I will give all young children a wide berth. They are not safe for an old person to be around.


Eclipse Day Reveals Some Personal Changes

Solar-eclipse-map

I don't know about everyone else but if, like me, you live within the path of today's eclipse or within easy driving distance, the event has been a local news story to rival President Trump.

All right, that's not quite true but it was the second or third lead many days during this past month and it has been a common topic of conversation.

A week or so ago, at a gathering on the deck of a neighbor one lovely evening, we discussed the upcoming phenomenon. We live about an hour's drive from the path of the total eclipse and not one of us had plans to make that short trip to experience it.

Even those of us who had never seen an eclipse shrugged. “A partial eclipse is fine for me,” or “I'll watch it on television,” we said. Certainly the expected 1.5 million visitors from out-of-state who are clogging the roads affected my decision.

All of us at the gathering are retired, ranging in age from about 70 to mid-eighties and our relative disinterest in the eclipse got me thinking about how age has changed my behavior. Maybe yours too.

There was a time when I would have weathered any amount of traffic to be on the spot when the mother of all lights goes out but that was a long time ago. Because I can, I arrange my life now to avoid being stuck in traffic, among other annoyances.

TRAVEL
In recent years, I have become a dedicated homebody under most circumstances. Even two or three hours away from the house for a restaurant meal, a doctor appointment, a meeting or errands and I'm eager to return.

And although I enjoyed all my business trips throughout my work years to almost every one of the United States along with world destinations and saw places I never otherwise would have, airline travel has become so dreadful, I am not sure what could compel me to do that now.

Not to mention that travel generally doesn't fit in my retirement budget.

Many people use their retirement for travel. Some go on cruises (have you seen those prices?). Others buy RVs to take their homes with them. Those vehicles interest me in the same way that boats and tiny houses do (so clever how every inch of space is used well) but not enough to live in one, and certainly not enough to drive it.

SLOWING DOWN
Obviously we slow down as the years pass. When I worked, I could clean the house (well, a New York City apartment) from top to bottom in one, three-hour swoop on Saturday mornings. Now I spread it over an entire week.

It's possible that I could still get it done in one go, although not three hours, but I just don't want to. So it's a room or two a day.

One of the oddest developments for me in old age is that as my time on earth becomes demonstrably shorter, the more willing I am to put off all kinds of things until tomorrow and beyond whether it is an onerous chore or a pleasure. I don't understand that but it feels like there is always more time.

In today's case, it's not as though there will be another total eclipse in my vicinity during my lifetime, but I'm staying home anyway.

NO PATIENCE FOR DISCOMFORT
Years ago, I believed elastic waists were for old people. Now that I'm an old person, I thank god for stretchy waistbands.

I also don't try to hold in my tummy anymore. I sleep when I'm tired. And before this newly enforced meal schedule thanks to my recent surgery, I ate when I felt like it which often had nothing to do with the three usual meals a day.

It's been a couple of years since I watched a movie in a theater. The last two or three I attended, in different theaters, punched up the audio so high it actually hurt my ears. Suggested ear plugs are useless – they either don't work or irritate my ears. And sitting farther away from the screen doesn't help since there are speakers all along the walls.

So I watch movies I am interested in after they show up on television via Netflix, etc. and I don't feel like I'm missing anything.

There's more but you get the idea.

As with today's eclipse, very little feels compelling enough these days to require that I discompose myself by leaving home for too long. And anyway, there is so much to do here: books, movies, cooking, the cat, this blog, good neighbors, visitors and there is a lovely park along the river just steps from my door. Even the weekly farmer's market is only a five-minute walk.

I wasn't always like this but I'm pretty sure I am not alone in my cleaving to hearth and home in my dotage. Nevertheless, I am equally convinced that plenty of others feel differently. How about you?


Today is Millie Garfield's Birthday

SunflowercardwithMessage

More people are living longer these days than when we were young but it is still remarkable to have lived 92 years and counting and today we celebrate Millie's birthday here at TGB.

Millie is the first friend I made on the internet after I started this blog. I no longer recall the circumstances but we've been talking and emailing and phoning and keeping in regular touch with one another for about a dozen years.

Millie started her blog, My Mom's Blog, 14 years ago. In fact, she may have been the first elderblogger– she was doing it at least a year or so before me. Here's how she explained the beginnings of her blog:

”It was thirteen years ago when I asked my son Steve an innocent question, 'what is a blog?' He explained it to me and asked if I would like to have my own blog. I said 'Yes.'

He helped me get started, encouraged me and also introduced me to video blogging. I thank him for that!

All this has got me thinking - maybe I could post something once in a while. Life is different for me now. What would I write about? Who knows?”

Millie stopped regularly posting to her blog a year or two ago but she sometimes posts at Steve's Facebook page where you can check out what they're each doing.

For a long time, Steve produced a couple of video shows with Millie. Here's one from her “I Can't Open It” series:

Steve also shot several Yiddish class videos with his mom. Here's a short one:

Undoubtedly, Steve and his wife Carol will be celebrating with Millie today. Here is a photo of the three of them from a couple of years ago:

SteveMillieCarol

The thing about Steve is that I've never seen him – in photos and a couple of times in person – that he is not grinning. He's a really happy guy and he probably owes that disposition to his mom.

For the past two years, we've celebrated Millie's birthday by adding up all our ages in the comments. Here's how I explained it last year updated for 2017:

Take Millie's years, 92. Add my years, 76, and we've got 168. Now, the next one of you, in the comments, should add your age to that, then the next of you add to that total and then the next and so on.

Of course, because more than one will comment at a time, the total will get all screwed up – but that's part of the fun at birthday parties, just being silly. In 2015, the final count was 6,414 collective years. Let's see if we can outdo that this year.

Happy Big Deal Birthday, Millie. I so treasure our friendship and I am privileged to know you.


Focus and Concentration Deficiency

It's really annoying. Since my surgery four weeks ago, I've lost focus. I can't concentrate long enough to get through an average news article or sift through a simple Google search results page and certainly not a book chapter.

Sometimes, when I read a sentence, there is a delay before I understand it. Not much; I've been describing it as the length of a slow finger-snap – just enough time so that the slippage is obvious to me.

When that happens with each sentence in succession, concentration drifts away and meaning is lost.

As it turns out, there is a name for this phenomenon as it occurs after general anesthesia. It's called Post-Operative Cognitive Disorder (POCD). TGB reader Linda commented about it here on 7 July.

She quotes from the American Society of Anesthesiologists:

"Confusion when waking up from surgery is common, but for some people – particularly those who are older – confusion can last for days or weeks..."

It's not exactly confusion for me. In fact, I never doubted that the gazillion bugs I saw crawling up the walls of my hospital room for a day or two following surgery were anything but hallucinations.

However, some other changes Linda tracked down that affect the process of cognition definitely apply to me:

”Cognition is defined as the mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment. Typical complaints of those people reporting POCD are:

Easily tired

Inability to concentrate. For example, they cannot concentrate sufficiently to read a book or newspaper

Memory dysfunction. For example, they have a reduced ability to remember things recently said or done

Reduced ability to perform arithmetic. For example, they make mistakes with normal money transactions while shopping.”

I'm doing fine with arithmetic but the first three are definitely present in my life although I'm heartened to learn they are temporary. Meanwhile, I'm mostly annoyed by it but it does make napping and resting easier than it would be if I were eager to be reading.

ASIDE: Perhaps you have noticed in these blog posts since the surgery that they are all generated from my head alone - no research, no outside links, no facts and figures. That's unlikely to change until my brain fog (POCD) clears.

It is experience rather than reading and research that is making this months-long recovery period a sharp learning curve for me, and I expect there to be more of it.

For all the many years I've been studying ageing, I see now that I have never fully appreciated the difficulties old people face whether from a bodily assault such as my surgery, the natural progression of growing old or “just” managing a chronic disease or condition.

Only last Friday, after being home from the hospital for two weeks, did I finally get a usable grasp on my medications, their dosages, frequency and times of day. Food restrictions add another layer of complexity.

It took several hours to make a chart I can follow until my brain, out of daily practice, will finally know what meds to take when without consulting a list – and double-checking it to be sure I'm correct each time.

Fatigue requires daily management not only of one's own energy level but recognition of it by family members, friends and helpers. I tire so easily that I've given myself a routine of one hour up and about, one hour lying down or napping.

Even the normal activities of life are draining – the small amount of cooking I do, washing up the few dishes, paying bills, sorting the mail, answering email, etc. take their toll.

If there is an “event” in my day – a doctor visit, a physical therapist session at home, a friend stopping by, even phone calls with my medical team or friends – I need the next day to myself, to quietly regain my energy.

Until now, I did not realize how crucial the home assistance tools of recovery (see this post) are and it took a while longer for me to understand that for many elders, they are not temporary, that daily life without them can be nearly impossible.

It's hard to be old, something I've said in the past but did not know until experiencing it first hand how much effort goes into it every day.

That takes nothing away from the pleasures of life and it might be that the difficiulties make them even more precious.


Happy Thanksgiving 2016, Everyone

Some of us may have worried a bit about the outcome during the presidential election campaign but I doubt many – and certainly not me – could bring ourselves to deep-down, really believe our country would be where it is on this 2016 Thanksgiving.

Nevertheless, here we are, and developments from the transition team of the new regime have done little (well, read: nothing) to reassure that the American values reliably trusted (mostly) during our lifetimes still apply.

It is hard to be thankful when the bedrock of the greatest democracy history has known may not hold for much longer. But because, this week, we are only on the cusp of what is yet to be, let us be thankful for what we have. Here is a starter list:

Family
Children
Grandchildren
Friends
Favorite foods
Cats
Dogs
Good books
Nature
Laughter
Music
Add your own items to the list in the the comments below

Also, in my case, I am grateful for the best blog readers and commenters on the internet. Without you, I would not do this or, at least, I wouldn't enjoy it much. You are the best.

In 2013, I vowed that due to my delight at rediscovering Arlo Guthrie's epic Thanksgiving fable, Alice's Restaurant, after the decade or two it lay somewhere in memory limbo, I would make the song the annual holiday anthem of TimeGoesBy.

As I noted that year, I was equally delighted to discover that with a couple of minor lapses, I still knew the entire monologue by heart. I can't say why but it gives me a great deal of pleasure to sing along for the entire 18 minutes, which I took the time to do (with gusto again this year) before readying this post.

Maybe you would enjoy doing that too.

It's a fine ol' song, don't you think.

Just because I can and it's a holiday, I am giving myself a vacation from posting not only tomorrow, Thanksgiving itself, but Friday too (unless something comes over me and I change my mind). Enjoy your holiday and I'll be back here on Saturday with the latest list of Interesting Stuff.

For everyone who honors me year 'round by reading, commenting and/or generally hanging out here,

Thanksgiving


I Will be in Mourning for Awhile

Some people want those of us who are horrified at the result of the Tuesday election to get out and begin changing things. Right now. Start a movement. March. Get busy turning this around. Many are doing this in cities around the country. Nothing coherent yet, just noise. But it is a beginning and I understand the impulse.

Many of us need more time.

By Thursday morning, an embarrassing number of political liberals, pundits and others who fancy themselves to be thought leaders and believe they know better than I how I should feel and behave had a lot of horseshit advice on "acceptance." Many of these people, the same ones who, for more than a year treated the now-president elect as the anti-Christ, are already licking his boots.

He used to be a Democrat, they say. How bad could he be. It was all an act, say others, he didn't mean those things he said. "...we owe it to our nation...to give President-elect Trump a chance," writes Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times.

A chance? A chance for what? We are discussing the man who believes he has the right to grab any women "by the pussy." Who has never met a non-white person he doesn't want to imprison or deport. Who has encouraged xenophobia, misogyny, bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred giving all of it free reign in the land. And as a kicker, a man whose grown sons shoot endangered animals for fun.

A great number of public people, in fewer than 24 hours after the winner was called, have forgotten all that, as though it never happened. I doubt they will ever mention any of it again. But not me. It is the bedrock of who this man is and those things never change.

Okay, it's obvious I'm still angry. Eventually, I will accommodate that and find ways to channel it and if you continue to show up here I can already see myself haranguing you to never forget. But not yet. The human mind and spirit do not heal overnight and contrary to the people who want us all to jump on the SFV's bandwagon, I will never, ever join them.

And right now I need to parse that the unthinkable has happened, that we live in a different world. That takes time.

It is not so long ago that when someone in the family died, people mourned for a long time. Custom dictated that mirrors in the home be covered, social life curtailed and that the mourners wear black (widow's weeds) for up to a year and even more in certain cases.

Everything is faster now and today that kind of mourning is obsolete, even considered morbid. Not me. Given what has just happened, I do not believe it is unreasonable at all.

Two things for sure. Like some people in the comments on Wednesday's post told us, I am wearing black. Complete black, even earrings. Maybe not all the time, but a lot of the time to remind me every day what a terrible thing we as a country have done.

My attire will probably lighten up in time but I own a lot of black clothing so I'm giving it all a new kind of symbolism and meaning.

Second, never again will I say or write that man's name.

Neither of these silly, little protests will change anything. But they will keep what has happened in the forefront of my mind and that will inform choices I make from now on.

Mostly, right now, I want to be quiet and to learn to breathe again. I don't know when I will be done with that and unlike the go-getters, I think it is a good thing to do – to be quiet and reflect.


A Rite of Elderpassage – One More Time

[EDITORIAL NOTE: A couple of unexpected appointments intruded yesterday leaving no time to get a post written before I ran out of steam by mid-afternoon so today I have a rerun for you.

This was first published here 10 years ago (while I still lived in Portland, Maine) and I may have republished it since, although I can't find it. A decade later, I still like it and I am still happy I made a point to mark this passage for myself. See what you think.

* * *

We humans have numerous rituals to celebrate important events. Some are one-time, special occasions like baptisms for babies, confirmations and bar or bat mitzvahs at around puberty, marriage (well, not too many in a lifetime) and funerals. Others come ‘round regularly – birthdays and anniversaries, for example.

Many of our celebrations involve special foods and music, recitations of text and clothing just for the occasion. Our rituals give context to and mark our path through life. They strengthen social bonds, renew commitments, are demonstrations of respect or faith and, sometimes, are conducted for the pleasure of the observance itself.

There is one U.S. ritual, however, that is not remarked upon and as far as I have noticed, not widely recognized as a rite of passage: signing up for Social Security. I did that yesterday.

For all my life, 65 was the “official” U.S. retirement age, the birthday on which all workers and some others become eligible for Social Security. In the past few years, the government has been raising the age at which full benefits are given and for me, having been born in 1941, it is 65 and eight months – December 2006.

During the past two or three weeks, I checked the Social Security website and knew I needed a certified copy of my birth certificate, my tax return for 2005 and my checking account number to arrange direct deposit of my benefit. I had those, but when I tried to sign up on line – twice – the link to that page was broken.

That didn’t give me a lot of confidence that the enrollment, if I could catch the webpage on a day it was working, would happen without a glitch, and as time went by, I began thinking that becoming a Social Security beneficiary is too important an event to toss off with an online form.

Nothing else we do marks our passage into old age. Oh, some have retirement parties when they leave their last full-time job, but with fewer people working at the same company for many years as in the past, retirement celebrations are less common and, anyway, it doesn’t rank up there with birthdays and bar mitzvahs. When was the last time anyone got a gold watch?

We have written and argued here for almost three years about the age at which someone becomes old. Obviously, it is a fluid designation - a different time for different people - and some refuse to be categorized as such at all.

But the whole reason Time Goes By exists is to exercise my curiosity about what being old is really like and receiving a monthly retirement benefit from the Social Security Administration is a pretty good signal that one is no longer young – or even middle-aged.

So I decided to make a private ritual of it, to mark the day when I became an official old person.

I could have called the SSA 800 number, but that's no better a ritual than a webpage form. So at about 8:45AM yesterday, I packed up my papers and drove to the local Social Security office – a dank little building down the street a short way from a strip mall where, inside, a police officer moonlighting as a guard sat reading a war novel. I was there at 9AM, early enough to be fifth in line.

After a 30-minute wait, I was called to the counter. “Social Security number?” the woman asked. Then, instead of “what is your name,” she asked “who are you?” Since I am more than my name, I liked that and decided on the spot that it was an auspicious beginning for my little ritual.

Another wait of 15 minutes and then a different woman, Mrs. Ortiz, called me into her cubicle. Like me, she is from New York City – Brooklyn, to be precise. Moved to Portland, Maine three years ago with her husband and two small children. We had a fine old time talking about what we like about Portland and what we miss and don’t miss about New York.

It was nearly an hour we spent together looking at my papers and leisurely filling out forms while I swore to the facts that I’m not a felon or a fugitive, am not lying about anything and understand my rights.

Except that the Social Security office is as drab and dull and gray as all government agencies and, oddly, neither Mrs. Ortiz nor any other employee I could see had a single personal item in their cubes – not even a box of Kleenex – it was the best experience I’ve ever had with a bureaucracy.

Pleasantries were exchanged as if we might have been seatmates who had never met before at a wedding dinner. Questions were asked and answered. Computer keys clacked in response and a printer whirred.

As the final step in our ceremony, we shook hands to affirm that my new status had been ritually achieved. I was now a Social Security beneficiary and, in the lights of the U.S. government, I had become an official old person.

Aside from whatever number of additional birthdays the gods grant me and unless I marry again, this was the final rite of passage before my funeral. Mrs. Ortiz may or may not have realized it, but she made it feel like the ritual I wanted. And to celebrate my "coming of age", I had a glass of wine with dinner. Whooeee!


Crabby and Her Latest Annoying Affliction of Old Age

As if there are not enough well-known ailments of old age, new ones keep creeping up on Crabby Old Lady.

She's not talking about the diseases of age, not the terrible diagnoses no one want to hear. She's talking about the minor irritations - things like fingers too dry to turn book pages, eye floaters, tinnitus, chin wiskers (women), toad spots, short-term memory lapses – for which there is no useful remedy.

Do all these things (and others) happen to all old people? Probably not, but Crabby is pretty sure most of us have our own collection of daily irritations which we can't do much about.

The other day, TGB reader Richard Lombard sent Crabby this email:

”When I saw Tylenol thought Tyvek. Today while watching the crawl on a news show, Tropical Storm Julia drenches Florida...I read Tropical Storm Judi Dench. I could not understand what Dame Judi was doing in Florida.”

“Julia drenches” becomes “Judi Dench.”

Of course it does. It makes perfect sense to Crabby. She's been making similar mis-readings now and then for quite awhile, in books, magazines, online, pretty much anywhere there are words.

It is not uncommon for something like “free checking” to become “free chicken” in Crabby Old Lady's reading, but it is usually enough out of context that she goes back to re-read the sentence and find her error, as Richard obviously did.

Sometimes the mis-readings are funny but Crabby also wonders how often she doesn't catch the error and winds up believing something that is not so.

As far as Crabby can tell (that's a big question), this doesn't happen often. Much more frequently, she types these kinds of mistakes. She knows the word she wants and believes she has typed it and then when she proofs a blog post, there's a weird word where it doesn't belong.

Something like, from the immediately preceding sentence, “...believes she has tripped it and then...”

There is usually some connection between the word Crabby wants and what she types – perhaps that each begins with the same letter. And they usually have the same number of syllables. Verb errors are usually in the desired tense.

Unlike reading errors, typing errors occur several times in one story or email. Yes, email too. It has been many months since Crabby has sent an email, however short, without proofing it and just as often as not, there is this kind of error.

A blog story is much worse than email, usually half a dozen such mistakes and it happens so often that Crabby knows she cannot post anything without two and even three proof readings to catch the errors.

Sometimes Crabby misses them until they've been posted so undoubtedly some of you have seen these along with more usual sorts of typo she doesn't catch. Of course, Crabby has always made typos but nothing to this degree or this kind – substituting similar-looking words that more often than not have no meaningful relationship to what she intends.

Crabby Old Lady is not concerned that these errors are signs of any serious brain problem (yet) but she is really crabby about adding one more irritation to the growing list of old-age related annoyances.

It is a bit of comfort knowing that it happens to Richard too.


Crabby Old Lady Contemplates Shaving Her Head

A more serious post was planned for today but a story about a generation of young women shaving their heads grabbed Crabby Old Lady's attention and it's been too long since she appeared in these pages.

The New York Times which, keep in mind, is frequently behind the curve in regard to youth culture, reports that there may be a fad of young women shaving their heads – as a fashion statement:

“'I’ve definitely noticed this trend on the streets recently,' said Andrea Donoghue, who owns Laurel, a private studio in the East Village. 'I think it’s a trickle down from what’s been happening in fashion lately.'

“'A client of mine recently came in with a picture of [model] Ruth [Bell] from a Zara campaign,' Ms. Donoghue recalled.”

Reading that, Crabby flashed on her hair cut last week when she told the stylist, an old friend by now, that she not infrequently thinks about shaving off all her hair. It would be so much easier.

As many of you know from past stories here, Crabby was deeply vexed when her hair had become so thin at the crown and front that pink scalp shows through the few wisps that remain. So two or three years ago after weighing several possible solutions, she began always wearing a hat when she leaves the house.

She has a large collection of winter, summer, big, small, smart, beautiful and silly hats now hanging on a wall, including this new addition she bought for an upcoming Halloween party:

Halloween Hat

Isn't it a terrific witch hat? What you can't see are the spiders crawling about on the netting. (Yeah, Crabby knows it's good for only one day a year but what the hell. It didn't cost much and YOLO, as those shaved-headed young women probably say.)

It was nearly eight years ago that Crabby Old Lady first wrote here about going bald and after listing the options (none of which Crabby liked), noted:

”Embracing baldness by shaving her head is a choice Crabby half-seriously considered but it works best on an attractively-shaped head and Crabby has no idea if hers is a pleasingly contoured.

“Besides,” Crabby continued eight years ago, “with every public encounter, it calls attention for a wrong reason, especially on an old woman. The thought of explaining herself to any fool who asks – and many would - makes Crabby tired already.”

But now, Crabby has moved from “half-seriously” considering shaving her head to seriously thinking about it.

The first time Crabby saw a deliberately bald woman was back in the 1970s, model Grace Jones, and she was stunning. Of course, unlike Crabby, she was born with an especially lovely face and beautifully shaped head.

Here she is in her bald look along with some other well-known women who have shaved their heads - left to right, Grace, Demi Moore, Tyra Banks and Cynthia Nixon. After the first bit of shock, they all look great.

GraceDemiTyraCynthiaBald

One of the young women in The Times story about the head shaving fad, 22-year-old Alana Derksen, said she had wanted to shave her head for a long time:

”...but refrained out of fear of how her 'conservative' family would react. Then, late one night last summer during a tense trip home, she finally gave in to the impulse, cutting off her hair in her parents’ bathroom and using a Bic razor to finish the job.

“Now, she said, she’s so used to her bald head, which she maintains with electric clippers, she has nightmares about her hair growing back. Even her parents have come around on the shorn ’do.:

Self image comes into it for Crabby only when thinking about how others would react. She doesn't want having a bald head to be the first thing people think about her. Someone asks, “Who is Crabby Old Lady?” “Oh, you know, the one who flaunts her shaved head.”

There is a whole lot of discussion in that Times story about whether the phenomenon of young women shaving their heads is a cultural response to expanding gender identifications. Crabby will leave that debate to them; her concerns are more prosaic.

First, as Crabby mentioned eight years ago, she is not sure she wants to be known for shaving her head. And for sure, she does not want to be thought of as trying to emulate women young enough to be her great granddaughters.

On the other hand, it would lift a small burden from her life to not think about thinning hair and hats anymore - as much fun as the hats are – or to blow dry what's left of her hair every other day. And, anyway, Crabby could still wear hats on her shaved head.

Which leaves this remaining question: Is the shape of Crabby's head reasonably nice looking? And that can be answered only one way - trust Crabby, plastering wet hair down on your head doesn't do it.

Crabby Old Lady is pretty certain this is just silliness for a Friday post after a week of serious issues. But then again, maybe not.


A Podcast in Which I am Interviewed – Part 1

That is, interviewed for my “wisdom and wit” according to the podcaster. She's very kind but if you believe that...

My vacation continues - made easy as items keep turning up for which others have done the heavy lifting leaving me to just point you toward them.

About a month ago, I received an email asking if I would agree to a Skype interview for a podcast that features only people age 65 and older. Of course, pretty much anyone would be flattered at being asked to talk about herself for an hour, and I agreed.

Now, Part 1 of our conversation is available to listen to but first, here is what Amber Singleton sent when I asked for a short biography so you would know something about her when I posted the interview:

”Amber is a 36-year-old writer and podcaster (who moonlights as a flight attendant). She's based in Chicago, and when she's not flying, she's exploring topics like fear and wisdom through her podcasts at the Rock Your Genius network.

“One of those podcasts is Del Mar Social Club, which started from a simple idea, that the older generation (the 65 and older crowd) has a lot of wisdom and wit to share, which makes for good conversation (and insight, if you're listening).

Amber and I spoke for more than an hour and I had a terrific time. She is smart, articulate, funny and I felt like I had made a new friend.

She has divided our conversation into two parts. You can listen to Part 1 here and she has gone the extra mile by also providing a transcript here.

Part 2 of Amber's interview with me will be available in about a week. I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, you will find previous interviews Amber has done with other elders at the Del Mar Social Club website. Her other podcast, Chicken Shit Conquers the Planet, is at her Rock Your Genius website.


The Terrible Consequences of Sleep Deprivation – Part 2

As I explained in Part 1 on Monday, for four months this year, I tried to function on two to three hours of sleep a night. This was due to the sudden onset, sometime in January, of a nightly crescendo of horribly loud noise from the apartment adjacent to mine.

The snoring was operatic in scale, volume and duration and there was nowhere in my home to escape it.

My life and routine became disjointed. I was exhausted pretty much every waking moment and lack of time became a big issue.

What one normally accomplishes in a full 12-14 hour day, I needed to cram into the morning hours before I ran out of what little steam I had. You can imagine that I never got anywhere near completing the goals of my daily to-do lists.

Looking back now, I think that for a long time I was so mentally impaired that I did not recognize how distorted and diminished my life had become.

Also, it seemed to be something I wanted to keep a secret although I don't know why. But I didn't tell anyone except two or three good friends and then only toward the end of the ordeal.

Finally by May, it felt like my world was falling apart. I was desperate for relief, desperate to sleep.

One afternoon about two weeks ago, I spoke with the condominium association. I explained my situation and asked if there was anything that could be done about the epic snoring.

After a week, they got back to me. Apparently, I was told, anyone can make as much noise within their home as they want. There is no recourse. However, neighbors of this snorer were approached, my problem was explained and it was hoped that they would then get the message back to him.

Maybe that worked. About six or seven days ago, the snoring stopped. Well, I don't know if stopped but it is no longer being transmitted through the wall into my apartment.

That first night with no snoring, no being shocked awake after a couple of hours or so, I slept for an uninterrupted 10 hours and nearly as long in the days since then.

The difference in my physical and mental capabilities now is amazing. I would almost call it euphoria from just being normal again. I'm thrilled at how I good feel and from this point forward, I will never again take being rested for granted.

ADVANCED SLEEP PHASE DISORDER

There is an additional bit of complexity to my sleep problem that pre-dates the snoring issue.

It took me years to find out why I couldn't stay awake later than about 7PM or 8PM. It is called Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder or ASPD and I first wrote about it here.

It is rare, it affects mostly old people, one percent of us, they say, and it means I irresistably fall asleep in the early evening (which does make dinner with friends difficult). Then, of course, I would wake at ungodly early hours – 2AM, 3AM or thereabouts.

Some time after I discovered what ASPD is, I began waking after only three or four hours – wide awake, ready for bear, no going back to sleep. I struggled to do so but after awhile, I gave in and read a book or watched TV for awhile or puttered around the house until I felt sleepy again in a couple of hours.

SECOND SLEEP

I recalled having read somewhere about second sleep and found it again in a book, At Day's Close – Night in Times Past, by A. Roger Ekirch.

There is growing evidence, Ekirch explained, that for centuries, maybe thousands of years, the normal sleep pattern for humans was in two parts:

“Both phases of sleep lasted roughly the same length of time, with individuals waking sometime after midnight before returning to rest...Men and women referred to both intervals as if the prospect of awakening in the middle of the night was common knowledge that required no elaboration...”

“After midnight, pre-industrial households usually began to stir. Many of those who left their beds merely needed to urinate...

“Some persons, however, after arising, took the opportunity to smoke tobacco, check the time, or tend a fire. Thomas Jubb, an impoverished Leeds clothier, rising around midnight, 'went into Cow Lane & hearing ye clock strike twelve' returned 'home & went to bed again.'”

Since Ekirch's book was published in 2005, more references to segmented sleep have turned up. The earliest (so far) is from the Greek poet, Homer. In The Odyssey, he wrote, “In his first sleep...”

A Harvard website on sleep notes a contemporaneous report that Napoleon (1769-1821) slept

”...just a few hours at night before rising at about 3AM to work. He then typically takes a hot bath and returns to sleep for a few hours in the late morning.”

Most researchers I've read recently are coming to believe that this was the norm until the advent of electric lighting allowed people to be active much later in the evening than ever before and humankind switched to one long sleep cycle.

Since nothing I had tried kept me from falling asleep much later than early evening, I made segmented sleep my own. Until the snoring problem, it had worked quite well for me.

I would wake sometime around midnight, read for a while or get up to write or watch a movie until getting sleepy again within 90 minutes or a couple of hours.

As I mentioned above, I am currently sleeping much longer, presumably making up for the long deprivation. But as soon as is practical, I will try to get back to my routine of a segmented sleep schedule. Oh, wait. And lose those damned 10 pounds that was so hard to do as part of my 40-pound loss two years ago.

Thank you all for your commiserations on Monday and your concern and those who pretended to not notice the fall-off in the quality of posts here. I appreciate you all.

Not that I am out of the woods yet: I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the snoring guy isn't just on vacation.


The Terrible Consequences of Sleep Deprivation – Part 1

There is a reason sadists keep sleep deprivation in their torture arsenal. As Dr. Kelly Bulkeley writes at Psychology Today online:

”...prolonged sleep deprivation is an especially insidious form of torture because it attacks the deep biological functions at the core of a person’s mental and physical health.

“It is less overtly violent than cutting off someone’s finger, but it can be far more damaging and painful if pushed to extremes.”

For the past four months or so I have rarely slept more than two, sometimes three hours a night and often fewer. It is only for the past week that I have been able to return to a normal amount of sleep and can now make some sense of the distress I have been living with since January.

It is hard to overstate the misery one suffers during the other 21 or 22 hours of the day with only two or three hours of sleep at night.

During those months, it took days, even weeks, to work up the energy for the normal chores of daily life. Mopping the kitchen floor, vacuuming the carpet, doing the grocery shopping required such effort that I skipped them for long periods of time.

I shortened fitness workouts from 45 minutes to 30 to 15 and then none although I did manage the shortest time once or twice a week. I stopped walking any farther than the car and trash bins. Physical exhaustion along with a deep, aching ennui was ever present.

The mental fatigue was even worse. It did not seem unreasonable to me when I found myself thinking (frequently) that every news writer online had lost the ability to put a coherent sentence together.

My brain was so foggy that I couldn't always follow a simple news story on television and it was hard to pick up the thread of what I was reading after turning the page of a book.

Writing this blog came to feel impossible; I thought about quitting. There is a growing list of stories I have wanted to do that take a good deal more research and other work than, for example, writing something like these descriptive paragraphs of a personal event.

But I could not concentrate enough to gather the information, let alone organize it along with my own thoughts into a coherent form to write it. Even keeping track of the URLs of links to include with the stories seemed unachievable.

None of the above symptoms are news to sleep researchers. Here are some of the consequences of sleep deprivation from WebMD's section on the topic:

Significant reductions in performance and alertness
Memory and cognitive impairment: inability to think and process information
Inability to sustain attention such as to watch movies

And those are just the short-term effects. Here is WebMD's list of some of the long-term consequences of chronic sleep deprivation:

High blood pressure
Heart attack
Heart failure
Stroke
Obesity
Psychiatric problems, including depression and other mood disorders
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
Mental impairment
Injury from accidents

In regard to blood pressure, throughout my life I have sometimes been rejected from donating blood due to low blood pressure. Now, for the first time in my life, it is higher than normal.

Certainly my attention has suffered, there is no doubt my cognitive ability has waned and although no one would label me a happy-go-lucky sort of person, my world view has been much darker than usual.

Even the obesity consequence has affected me. Without changing my diet (exercise has next to no impact on weight), I've gained eight or nine pounds since January. That doesn't sound like much unless, as with me, it is tacked on to my 120-125-pound average.

Further, according to WebMD,

”Studies show an increased mortality risk for those reporting less than either six or seven hours per night. One study found that reduced sleep time is a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure, and heart disease.”

Having lived with another, less destructive sleep disorder, I'm not unfamiliar with this information but only as research material until now.

Here is what happened:

One night in January, I was shocked out of a dead sleep by a huge, loud noise that sounded like it was next to me in bed. For a few seconds, I was frightened that someone was in the room with me but no. It was thunder-like snoring coming through the wall from the apartment behind mine. The best I can describe it is that it's what walruses sound like. As it turns out, that's a close match which you can listen to here.

I've lived in this apartment for six years. In that time, never once – not ever – have I heard a peep through that wall. Not music, not TV, not people talking, nothing. Suddenly, it was as though someone had torn down the wall – it was that loud and felt that close to me.

After 15 or 20 minutes of the din that night, I dragged my blankets to the living room to the sofa. I discovered sleeping there might work when you're 25, but maybe not at 75; I woke in the morning unable to turn my head to one side due to a pain - probably from sleeping crooked – that took two weeks to heal.

Meanwhile, I returned to my bedroom. Not a single night went by that the snoring did not wake me. I tried sleeping in the guest room but even with the doors closed, the godawful snorts and groans wakened me.

I began to go to bed each night in a mental crouch, waiting for the roar to begin. It never failed. I tried to get to sleep before it started, which was usually about 2AM, but the rescheduling didn't work because my entire circadian rhythm was now screwed up.

I no longer had a wake/sleep schedule. Mostly, I had an awake schedule without a sleep section to it and as far as I could see, no recourse.

If there were a loud party disrupting my sleep, I tried to reason, I would let it go for one night. If it continued a second night, I would say something. But what do you say about someone snoring? It's not something they can control.

Twice in the ensuing months, I knocked on the door of the apartment without a plan – just hoping I would figure out what to say when I met the neighbor. No one answered the knock.

You may ask why I did not take further steps and I ask myself that question now. This is a condo, after all, and there are rules but I don't know why it took me so long to act.

It's certainly possible the problem was my cognitive impairment from so long without sleep. It was difficult to concentrate on anything, I was easily distracted and I know now that throughout winter and into spring my brain, even on simple tasks, was not working properly. Most of my days were spent in a hazy mental cloud of distraction.

Although I tried hard to compensate, I wasn't successful and for four months, I dragged myself through every day like a zombie. Only now that I am recovering nicely, can I see how debilitated I was.

Part 2 is here.


The Ordinary Artifacts of Everyday Life

Because we are human, we have our frailties. One of mine is that it is hard to imagine the world without me in it, a world in which I am not taking up some amount of space along with the things, the stuff that mean something to me. That's not uncommon and maybe it is also not uncommon that it comes to mind more than occasionally.

It's been like that with me even when I was young but it happens more frequently now as my age makes it impossible to ignore the fact that the day approaches when I will be gone.

Often it is the objects of my life that occasion these thoughts - favorite items, ordinary stuff I use around the house, that cause me to contemplate my not too distant fate and their fate too: how they will be hauled off to a dump after the better part of a lifetime of good and useful service.

A cast-iron frying pan. Nothing fancy and not particularly large, eight or nine inches, bought when I lived in my first apartment at age 16. Other pans have come and gone, scratched, worn out or damaged in some other way. But this one is as good as it was on the first day, almost 60 years ago.

My sofa has been with me for about 35 years and it is much older than that. A friend found it at the Salvation Army and telephoned me to get there before someone else bought it. It was perfect, she said, for my then-new apartment and she was right.

Carved, wooden frame and front arm panels, obviously an antique that was newly reupholstered when I bought it for $250. Many friends have slept on that sofa; all have praised its comfort as well as its beauty. It pleases me as much to look at it from a chair across the room as to sit or lie on it to read or contemplate my ultimate destiny.

A younger everyday object is my dining room sideboard that was new, made just for me, in the mid-1990s. My friend Neil Thompson built it to fit into a uneven setback in the wall next to my desk in New York City - an odd, trapezoid space duplicated in this personalized piece of furniture. Who will know the reason for it's peculiar shape when I am gone.

There are some other things whose little stories from one person's life, like these, will die with me. Until then, in their daily ordinariness after so many years with me, they are old friends. They help hold together the continuity of my years and give me pleasure still to see and use.

This came to mind a few days ago when I was perusing an old book of poems by U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins, one that I may not have opened in a decade.

We are the same age, Collins and me – he is just two weeks older than I. Sometimes to read him is to feel that he can see into my mind, maybe even my soul, but I know he speaks as much for others too.

This is from his collection, Questions About Angels, published in 1991. You will easily see why it brought today's little anecdotes to mind – and he says it so much more elegantly than I.

MEMENTO MORI
There is no need for me to keep a skull on my desk,
to stand with one foot up on the ruins of Rome,
or wear a locket with the sliver of a saint's bone.

It is enough to realize that every common object
in this sunny little room will outlive me -
the carpet, radio, bookstand and rocker.

Not one of these things will attend my burial,
not even this dented goosenecked lamp
with its steady benediction of light,

though I could put worse things in my mind
than the image of it waddling across the cemetery
like an old servant, dragging the tail of its cord,
the small circle of mourners parting to make room.


Me, Myself and I in Old Age

A friend who lives on the east coast mentioned to me last week that his wife, at an age when they are both coasting toward retirement, says she feels more and more like being a homebody these days.

Me too. Even in childhood, I had no trouble being with myself but in the years since I retired in 2004, I have gradually become more appreciative of my own company, to even crave it when life sometimes feels too busy.

This does not mean I don't want to be with other people. I just seem to want a bit less of it these days, of shorter duration and to give myself more time between each encounter.

Scheduling can get tricky because my weekly visit to the farmers market during the season seems to count as visiting time for me as do long telephone conversations – an hour or two each – that I regularly have with friends who live far away.

Not often but now and then, up to three days can go by when, not counting a short greeting with a neighbor at the mail box, I don't see or speak to anyone. And that doesn't bother me.

But it sure does bother people whose jobs are in the field of ageing. Old people are lonely they tell us. Their social circles dwindle as they age leading to more time alone and the isolation that results can be deadly:

”Isolation has been associated with people developing more chronic illnesses and facing a higher risk of death. Hypertension, less physical activity, worse mobility and increased depression have been tied to loneliness and isolation,” reported U.S. News & World Report last year.

“Not too surprisingly, mental abilities can suffer as a person's world shrinks. Cognitive decline and dementia may become more likely with isolation.”

A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that “among participants who were older than 60 years, loneliness was a predictor of functional decline and death.”

Some have called elder loneliness in the U.S. and in the U.K. an “epidemic” but how many old people are lonely is highly questionable. An AARP Foundation study [pdf] published in 2012, was unable to quantify it:

”...current estimates indicate that isolation could impact up to 17% of Americans aged 50+.”

Estimates? Could?

What is not hard to know is that wherever the health of old people is being discussed, loneliness and isolation are hot topics and the remedies suggested are always the same:

Volunteer
Take a class
Join a club
Move to a retirement community
Get a pet

(ASIDE: You can always tell when someone who is not old yet is writing about being old. It doesn't occur to them, for example, that for many elders, a pet might be too expensive, too difficult to care for or that concern it would outlive you and maybe not have a new home is too hard to contemplate.)

It is not unreasonable to assume that some people who are lonely don't want to admit it to people they know and we should all try to be sensitive to that with those we know, to do what we can to help.

But what I don't like is the sense conveyed by the ageing media that all elders are at “risk” for isolation and loneliness. Some of us, probably more than those experts realize, find increasing comfort in being with ourselves as we grow older, and being alone is not synonymous with loneliness.

This idea has come up in the past at this blog and a lot of us are on the same page with it as shown on Monday's post about Jung's seven tasks of ageing.

“I have learnt to enjoy my own company much more than I ever did before,” wrote Chillin.

“Solitude is not a sin--far from it. And it's good to use it for writing, including writing remembrances or memoir. Toward the end of life I think it's natural to experience occasional loneliness. We can survive it!” said Barbara Young.

“I'm 69 this year and I'm already tired of AARP reminding me to stay connected, wear high heels, get another job and stay busy! I was very very busy, employed, and connected for 55 years and now I'm going to embrace my essential introvert and explore these tasks in depth,” wrote Susan.

“I love to park my car at the pier, turn on some satellite music, eat my lunch, contemplate life and write. It's peaceful,” said doctafil.

It is a good thing in old age, I believe, to spend some time with me, myself and I. In that regard, here is a lovely little poem I found on the internet some time ago titled The Secret Place by Dennis Lee.

I suspect it was written for children but you and I are old enough to know that doesn't matter.

There's a place I go, inside myself,
Where nobody else can be,
And none of my friends can tell it's there -
Nobody knows but me.
It's hard to explain the way it feels,
Or even where I go.
It isn't a place in time or space,
But once I'm there, I know.
It's tiny, it's shiny, it can't be seen,
But it's big as the sky at night.
I try to explain and it hurts my brain,
But once I'm there, it's right.
There's a place I know inside myself,
And it's neither big nor small,
And whenever I go, it feels as though
I never left at all.


A TGB Extra: Tech Support Fun

Darlene Costner emailed the following joke that had me laughing all day. Anyone who has ever had computer problems and relationship issues will get it. I suspect this one has been around the web for many years and you may have seen it in the past. Doesn't matter. It's still funny and it's still true on so many levels.

Enjoy.

* * *

A young woman wrote to tech support and their reply is a stroke of genius. She wrote a letter as a joke and only remembered about it when she unexpectedly received their responding email.

Dear Tech Support:

Last year I upgraded from Boyfriend 5.0 to Husband 1.0 and noticed a distinct slowdown in overall system performance, particularly in the flower and jewelry applications which operated flawlessly under Boyfriend 5.0.

In addition, Husband 1.0 uninstalled many other valuable programs, such as: Romance 9.5 and Personal Attention 6.5, and then installed undesirable programs such as NBA 5.0, NFL 3.0 and Golf Clubs 4.1.

Conversation 8.0 no longer runs and House cleaning 2.6 simply crashes the system. Please note that I have tried running Nagging 5.3 to fix these problems but to no avail. What can I do?

Signed,
Desperate

Dear Desperate:

First keep in mind, Boyfriend 5.0 is an Entertainment Package while Husband 1.0 is an operating system. Please enter command: I thought you loved me.html and try to download Tears 6.2 and do not forget to install the Guilt 3.0 update.

If that application works as designed, Husband 1.0 should then automatically run the applications Jewelry 2.0 and Flowers 3.5.

However, remember, overuse of the above application can cause Husband 1.0 to default to Grumpy Silence 2.5, Happy Hour 7.0 or Beer 6.1.

Whatever you do, DO NOT, under any circumstances, install Mother-In-Law 1.0 (it runs a virus in the background that will eventually seize control of all your system resources.) In addition, please, do not attempt to re-install the Boyfriend 5.0 program. These are unsupported applications and will crash Husband 1.0.

In summary, Husband 1.0 is a great program but it does have limited memory and cannot learn new applications quickly. You might consider buying additional software to improve memory and performance. We recommend: Cooking 3.0 and Hot Lingerie 7.7.

Good Luck!


What are the Late Years For?

Last week, on a post titled What is Successful Ageing?, I wrote this about reflecting upon our lives:

”This takes quiet time, alone time. Make notes, write a memoir even if it's only for yourself. These years are the time to remember, recall and work out what it all has meant..”

A few days later, a TGB reader who I don't remember hearing from before emailed to say:

”What an idea for an eventful life!! Writing a memoir to myself. I think by 70, everybody has had an interesting life, as the obits always show. A personal memoir, though, is something I have never thought of.

“No legalities or deadlines, just a history of an interesting life. It does not have to be published, so it could be 'bare all'. Thank you for a great idea.”

After such a kind email, it would be nice if I could take credit for the idea but I first read about it decades ago. It is contained in psychologist Carl Jung's Seven Tasks of Aging which, in short form, are:

  1. Facing the reality of aging and dying
  2. Life review
  3. Defining life realistically
  4. Letting go of the ego
  5. Finding new rooting in the Self
  6. Determining the meaning of one’s life
  7. Rebirth – dying with life

In the earliest days of this blog, I was lucky to come across David Wolfe, a brilliant man, a visionary really, who wrote an important blog called Ageless Marketing. (He wrote a book with that title too)

You would not think that a blog from a consultant about how to market consumer products – even to people 50-plus - would be on my radar and generally you would be right. But David was different.

David didn't just study consumer behavior, he studied people's behavior and then applied what he learned to marketing. For me, it was his writing about how old people come to be and are different from younger people that kept me going back to his blog.

David WolfeDavid died in 2011 but the email note from that TGB reader reminded me of a series of posts David wrote in 2007, about Jung's seven tasks of ageing. I excerpted short points from each before linking to his full exposition of each task. Now, nine years later it is every bit as relevant so I am repeating them for you today.

Here is my introduction to the excerpts as I wrote it in 2007:

”David’s purpose in his series on Jung is to convince marketers that elders are not ordinary consumers. Our mindsets are different from midlife and unless marketing and advertising people understand these differences, their products will not sell.

“If you are reading Time Goes By, you are probably not a marketing professional, but that should not deter you from David’s series where you will find the clearest explanation of Jung’s tasks I’ve read anywhere among the general commentary.

"To nudge you toward doing so, below are links and short excerpts from David for each of the tasks.”

The title of each task links to the full version at David's blog.

Task No. 1: Facing the Reality of Aging and Dying
“Those who have successfully carried out Jung’s first task of aging have grown ageless in their outlook. Moreover, they have discovered that the last quarter of life is not as lousy an experience as they might have anticipated at age 40.

“One benefit of reaching this state is an almost adolescent feeling of being beyond harm’s way. Abraham Maslow saw this arising from a lifestyle in which “A day is a minute, a minute is a day.” It’s about living in the moment in a constructive way.”

Task No. 2: Life Review
“…the second of Carl Jung’s Seven Tasks of Aging – life review – can have a deeper effect on many people than nostalgia does, especially the older they are.

“Life review involves a critical examination of one’s life leading toward reconciliation between the sweet and the sour in life. It is a process for removing regret and anger from one’s worldview.”

Task No. 3: Defining Life Realistically
“In Winter, the primary developmental objective is to develop a sense of oneness with all and reconcile the sweet and the bitter in life. The main life focus is reconciliation – finding harmony and peace with ourselves, others and life in general.

“Winter’s mythic theme is irony, reflecting a persistent anticipation that the unexpected is always around the corner – though not necessarily in a negative sense. In fact, the unexpected often delights the older person as much as it does a child. Irony is particularly therapeutic in how it helps us cope with what we can’t change. And, it often provides us with a certain comedic twist to ease the burdens of old age.”

Task No. 4: Letting Go of the Ego
“Letting go of the ego enhances personal well being by taking one to new and higher levels of life satisfaction. Beyond that, research indicates that getting beyond the self to turn more attention to helping others improves the efficiency of the immune system. People who help others tend to live longer and healthier than those who stay wrapped up inside themselves.”

Task No. 5: Finding a New Rooting in the Self
“The worldviews of people in the first half of life are generally rooted in the external world. In contrast, the worldviews of people in the second half of life tend to be rooted less in the physical or mundane and increasingly in the nonphysical or metaphysical (or spiritual).”

Task No. 6: Determining the Meaning of One’s Life
“Life meaning among the young is framed by styles of appearance, language, material acquisitions, and social affiliations in the quest for a solid footing in the external world...

“However, the search for life meaning undergoes a major shift in the second half of life. Whatever people’s material success, many find less and less meaning from 'things.' So, they begin to look inward rather than to the outer world in their search for life meaning.”

Task No. 7: Rebirth – Dying With Life
“Jung’s last task of aging, 'Rebirth — dying with life,' is a familiar theme throughout the religious genre, but he was not thinking religion when he framed that task. Success in prosecuting this task leads to loss fear of life and death alike. Rebirth after dying with life transports a person into the timeless domains of an artist lost in his or her work or a child absorbed in play when living in the time of a delicious moment is all that matters.”

Ronni here again:

As you can see even from the short excerpts, these are no ordinary tasks. Rather than doing, they require being and a conscious contemplation of unconscious changes that take place within us.

Perhaps I came to studying and writing about old age in my own old age from reading Jung when I was young.


How Time Flies – Or Not Sometimes

Most old people agree that the older we get, the faster time goes by. But in under an hour early Tuesday morning, I had a good lesson in just how slowly time can pass in certain circumstances.

By 8AM, I was stretched out in the dentist's chair while enduring first, two massively painful needle sticks in my lower jaw followed by the extraction of a bad molar and insertion of an titanium implant.

Those procedures took about 35 minutes in real time which surprised me. It had felt like at least an hour and a half. I was exhausted.

In the book, Felt Time: The Psychology of How We Perceive Time that I mentioned on Monday, the author Marc Wittman (translated by Erik Butler) reports on the results of recent research into the subjective experiences of time.

”In situations that trigger intense fear (note: I am always convinced the dental pain killer won't work), time expands enormously...Unusually stressful situations lead to subjective time dilation in all human beings.”

Directly finishing the dental work, I walked across the street to the pharmacy I use and waited 20 minutes for an antibiotic prescription to be filled. Again, the wait seemed much longer than it was. Wittman again:

”While waiting at the doctor's - when one is paying attention to time...half an hour may pass in an intolerably slow fashion.”

No kidding. As my Tuesday morning proved. Twice.

On several past occasions I have written about how time speeds up for elders, including the most popular explanation for the phenomenon: that when you are ten years old, for example, a year is one tenth of your entire life. When you are 80, it is only one-eightieth of your life making a year seem, supposedly, of shorter duration.

That explanation has never been good enough for me. It just seems “off” and Wittman agrees – although for more substantial reasons than mine.

He is a research fellow at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health, Freiburg, Germany who has been studying the psychology of time for many years.

He believes that the perceived increase in the speed of time in old age is much more complicated than the popular explanation. One way that is true is that time perception varies depending on whether a person is sensing it as a memory of the past or a current sensation (as my dental appointment) or anticipation of a future event.

It is an important finding in several studies, says Wittman, that our experience of the speed of time depends a great deal on memory of events.

”Numerous studies from the field of cognitive psychology have shown that the subjective duration of a span of time depends on the number of events stores in memory and the number of changes experienced in this period...

“A large quantity of changes perceived over a stretch of time causes duration to expand subjectively, compared to the same span spent under conditions that are monotonous and poor in experience.”

In addition, the discrete number of unique events, which change over the years, also affects people's sense of the passage of time .

”...childhood, youth and early adulthood are phases of life marked by the accumulation of constantly new experiences: the birth of a younger sibling, the first day of school, the first vacation spent without parents, the first kiss, and so on...

“Three years of adult life often mean three years of routine: getting up, going to work, watching television, sleeping, getting up again and so on...The result is a lower quantity of memory contents...

“What stands out are the experiences that occur for the first time; as such, events from the early phases of live prove especially enduring.

In old age, Wittman tell us, due to

”...increasing routine and the decreasing novelty-value of experience that this entails, time seems to accelerate subjectively as fewer and fewer memories are stored over the course of a life.”

There is substantially more to know about the many ways we experience time than I am giving you in this short blog post, including the role our emotions play in creating and recalling memories.

Even without that information, it is easy to understand Wittman's smart advice for those of us who might like life to slow down even a bit.

”In order to feel that one's life is flowing more slowly – and fully – one might seek out new situations over and over to have novel experiences that, because of their emotional value, are retained by memory over the long term,” he writes.

“Greater variety makes a given period of life expand in retrospect. Life passes more slowly. If one challenges oneself consistently, it pays off, over the years, as the feeling of having lived fully – and most importantly, of having lived for a long time.”

Or, I suppose, you could just spend more time in a dentist's chair.


Will I Live Long Enough to Use All This?

Have you seen those human interest stories that turn up now and then about super-dooper coupon clippers? You know, the mothers who feed a family of six for $3.27 a month because they are such world-class coupon collectors?

I have no patience for coupons and anyway, if you don't count ice cream, they are never for anything I eat. Only high-sodium, high-calorie, hi-sugar processed stuff that also contains a lot of unpronounceable chemicals gets discount coupons. Never fresh produce or fish or good cheeses.

That does not mean, however, that I don't keep an eye on other kinds of sales at the local grocery stores.

Over the past few years, the house brand of steel cut oatmeal at one of the local markets has become a personal staple.

Regular price for the one pound container is $3.99 and because it is my standard breakfast (stuffed with berries, banana, apple sauce and yogurt), I buy a lot of it. So when it is on sale three or four times a year at two for $4, that's a bargain and I buy four or even six canisters at one go.

One of my pet peeves is the high price of paper products and I am almost as crazed as those super coupon women about never paying more than a dollar for the “boutique” size box of tissue. When I see them on sale occasionally for $.89 each, I buy a dozen.

Generally, I keep a good eye on what I spend at the supermarket, but those two products are about as extreme as my bargain-hunting fetish goes.

Except now and then.

Few people these days sit down and have a long visit on the telephone as we commonly did in our younger years. But I have several friends with whom I do that almost every week – ones who live far away.

One 40-year New York City friend and I spend a good deal of time talking about what it's like to grow old – what our lives are like now in our mid- and late 70s, how our interests have changed, the kinds of things we do differently now.

We keep a mordant eye on how we have settled into life as, respectively, a little old woman and a little old man.

Good food has always been a top pleasure for each of us and we are both reasonably good cooks. Recently, we were discussing our grocery shopping habits.

Pushing my cart down an aisle one day, I told him, I noticed that tinned tuna was on sale for $.89 a can. Wow, I thought to myself, I should buy ten of them. Just in time, I remembered I had already done that only a few days earlier.

“Yes, yes, yes,” my friend exclaimed in solidarity. “Except I went that one further step and bought them. Then, when I got home, I saw that I already had 10 new cans of tuna in the cupboard.”

We decided together that it might be a reasonable bet he would not live long enough to eat 20 cans of tunafish.

And then, even though separated by 3,000 miles of digital ether, it felt like we were in the same room for a few moments as we shared a great, long, wonderful belly laugh at the folly of our aging memories and selves.