Elder Music: Summertime

Growing Old and Bald Too

EDITORIAL NOTE: Over the weekend, Elaine Frankonis of Kalilily Time sent a photograph of the workspace in her new home for the Where Elders Blog feature. It's great fun to see where bloggers whose words you know toil at their computers and everyone is invited to send their photos. Instructions are here. And you can check out the whole section of photos here.]

It has been about four years since Crabby Old Lady stopped coloring her hair and about three years since she quit going to hair salons. The price, when she was still in Manhattan, was edging close to $250 for a cut and color in 2005, and Crabby’s not talking Frederic Fekkai – just the neighborhood stylist who happened to be a brilliant colorist too.

It was a relief for several reasons for Crabby to be done with that kind of upkeep. She never liked the ambience of salons, nor the two or three hours lost on a Saturday every five weeks, nor the price, plus 15 percent tip, even before it hit $250.

Crabby’s hair – in its variegated shades of gray - has occasionally been cut (by friends) in the past three years to remove an inch of dead ends, and has grown now halfway down her back. Not that you'll ever see it that way. Tossing one’s head back to get long hair out of one’s face is more appropriate to a nubile actress than an old woman, and now that she has finally found the kind of hair pins that allow her to twist it all up in bun that remains in place without slipping, no longer an issue.

The new hairpins, in addition to actually doing the job for which they are intended (most don’t) do not break hairs so Crabby no longer needs to use bands (which do break hairs) to keep it all out of her face. These pins are of vital importance to Crabby because – Hear Her Wail - she is GOING BALD and she doesn't want to exacerbate the progression.

Crabby sweeps up more of her own hair than the cat's. Long, gray strands are everywhere – floor, bed, shower drain, desk chair, car, the back of whatever she is wearing - she even found some clinging to her snow boots. Crabby sheds hair like a dog with mange. And until her hair was long enough to arrange in a bun, pink pate peeked through at the crown of her head.

Although her hairline is not receding yet, Crabby suspects it soon will. It’s so thin above her forehead, she gets freckles there in summer.

It is not difficult to find out why. A few trips around the web produce unanimous medical agreement about hair loss that, in the short version, states:

“The cause of the failure to grow new hair in female pattern baldness is not well understood, but it is associated with genetic predisposition, aging, and levels of endocrine hormones (particularly androgens, the male sex hormones).
- MedlinePlus

Hair loss for women is a social stigma that is not discussed as openly as male baldness. No one knows for sure, but it is thought that it affects about 15 percent of women, can begin as early as one’s 20s and increase after menopause. There is no known prevention for loss that it is unattributable to disease, chemotherapy or hormone imbalance, and no matter what the hair-growth shills tell you, the hair loss is permanent.

Oh, joy.

Most of the time, Crabby is a practical sort who doesn’t worry about what can’t be changed, and considering some of the serious things that can go wrong in old age, it is vanity, pure undiluted vanity to be disturbed about going bald. Nevertheless, there you have it – it’s taking up way too much space and time in Crabby’s brain.

The remedies are few, mostly ineffective, expensive or tedious.

  • The single drug approved by the FDA is a two percent solution of Minoxidil. It works only about 20 percent of the time and, anyway, Crabby is disinclined to smear goup on her head every day.

  • Implants are wildly expensive and as much as Crabby is whining about losing her hair, she would rather spend money in that magnitude to visit friends around the country and the world (even while bald) than undergo such an unappealing procedure.

  • Hair weaves are a lesser expense, but equally tedious, must be repeated forever and can themselves cause hair loss.

  • Wigs. Yes, well, a possibility. Crabby wore one long ago for a few months; they are hot, itchy and unless exquisitely- (and expensively-made) as in Hollywood films, mostly unattractive.

  • Embracing baldness by shaving her head is an option Crabby half-seriously considered, but it works best on an attractively-shaped head which Crabby does not own. She is no Grace Jones or Sinead O’Connor. Besides, 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.

She hadn't planned on going bald in her old age, particularly with no reasonable remedy, and that pretty well leaves Crabby with no option but to whine about it on her blog.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place, Lois Cochran gives us a poem anyone with a cat will appreciate: Baked in a Cake.]


When I lived in Kuala Lumpur (Malaya, as it was then, now Malaysia) 55 years ago, I often saw old Chinese women who were almost completely bald except for the knot or bun of gray hair at the back. It may have been genetic, but the explanation most commonly heard was that a lifetime of pulling their hair back tightly had weakened the roots, starting at the front and moving inexorably backwards.
If it's true, then that's what will happen to me too. But what the hell? The less hair, the easier it is to wash.
I know what you mean about the shedding, too. But hair composts well. And it is good nesting material for birds, too.
BTW, the very oldest of those Chinese women used to hobble very slowly, with two sticks. They still had bound feet. It looked gruesome. Let's just be glad that particular concept of female 'beauty' has been consigned to the dumpster of history!

I quit having mine colored about 3 years ago and I have loved every minute of being gray. I used to complain about paying $45 for expert color; had our prices been much above that level, I would have quit (or never started) coloring long, long ago!

Right now I am letting my hair grow out, but I have found in the past that cutting it short gives it the appearance of growing in thicker. Whether it actually does or not I don't know, but periodically I will cut it all off just for that effect. Like you I find long strands of my hair everywhere (including in my food, ugh!), but with short hair, all that goes away :-)

I've had good luck with an inexpensive vitamin supplement purchased at our local "drug store"/general store. It's label says it is specific for stronger hair & nails & it does work rather well. Also my spouse has taken Biotin, a B vitamin for many years & he's had good luck with that too. That's not to say that we have not had some loss, but it's less than it once was & the texture has stayed good as well. I'd love to have the patience to grow mine, but alas I do not, so I keep it clipped rather short which I agree (with Anne)makes it look fuller & is much easier to take care of. BTW, we have several walk in shops that charge $10 for elder cuts (they call them senior cuts)& they give a nice cut. It's a great bargain especially with a $5 coupon. Needless to say the customers are mostly children & elders altho' I see many middle-aged & older men there, too. Dee

From your salt and pepper, retreating haired person here with a husband with Alopecia which started in his beard and is not moving up his head, I send you hugs.

I'm glad you're back, Ronni... with or without hair!! Some things do stink, and we're under no obligation to pretend they don't.

On my mother's side, the women seemed to end up with thin hair but on my father's side, they did not (but they got breast cancer); so I don't know what I will have. So far (at 65) my hair is thick and although I wind it up sometimes, mostly I let it hang loose as it pleasures me (and always has) to feel long hair on my back. The only time it's a nuisance is when there is a wind and then tying up does have to happen but the long length and a knot make a couple of bobby pins all that I need to carry.

It used to be that no old woman could let her hair hang loose and maybe it's my part of the Pacific Northwest, but I see a lot of it now and gray. I love the freedom to do what suits me and not have to care what is appropriate for an old lady.

I do notice the long, white hairs a lot of places but some of that is part of natural hair shedding of 100 hairs a day which we don't notice so much when it's short ones.

About eight years ago I finally gave up on my hair. After a couple of disappointing but tolerable perms I experienced an awful one. It left my hair dry and frizzed and my scalp painfully dry. After that I went back to wearing wigs which I had done periodically before. I have had times when the wig was hot and itchy but the new ultra lights are much more comfortable and the synthetics keep their style (some can even be worn in different styles.) In the hottest weather I even wear scarves I have learned to tie up in traditional styles. God gave me the hair I have but I don't have to show it or spend an inordinate amount of time, energy and money on it.

I read that taking statins for high cholesterol causes hair loss. Here's one link: http://www.spacedoc.net/statins_hair_loss.html

As someone whose forehead is getting ever higher, I sympathise. As a male though my options seem easier - I have already resolved that when the forehead gets towards the top of my head it all comes off!

On a different tack, I found this article about hair loss after chemotherapy very touching.

recently i started taking Ultrabaths (2 cups epsom salts, 1 c baking soda, 10 drops of lavender oil in the hottest tub of water you can stand, soak for 20 mins.) and while i'm there, i wash my hair with the bar of soap. lemme tell ya, that gives my hair LOTS of body!! i've always had baby fine hair and a very high forehead--thanks to my german forebears. if i use regular shampoo and conditioner, my hair lies flat and limp--reminds me of my favorite line about hair from Flannery O'Connor: "like ham gravy trickling over her skull."

This past summer I took the chance and had all my one length God frosted hair cut off into a sort of buzz cut and now as it grows back and I keep hoping for more silver than black/brown, I try combing it in different ways and no more beauty parlor for coloring etc. till its summer again and buzz cut weather. I love the less hair look and especially when even at age 65 a hot flash attack, my hair stays dry. It is so hard and costly to be beautiful but coming to grips with self freedom from all the stuff, it great. Thanks Ronni.

My hair is thin too, after a lifetime of extreme thickness.

On the statins causing thinning hair, maybe not. I cannot take statins, but still my hair grows ever thinner. I've also heard that blood pressure meds cause thinning hair. I suspect these causes are more folklore than reality.

Please Ronni, wear a hat in the summer! You don't want freckles in your scalp or skin cancer.

My hair was always my crowning glory. When it was styled right I looked nice, but when it wasn't I looked terrible. My hair was thick and held a curl well.

Alas, those days are gone and my hair is cut short. It's easier to shampoo and all I have to do is run a brush through it. And, oh yeah, it is getting thinner on top.

I, share, the shedding, the thinning and the decision to go gray/silver/white. Yes, I have a pinkish tinge... and yes, the shedding is sometimes more than I care to look at or think about.

At times, I did have it colored professionally and although I lived on LI, we still had moderate mom type salons where a cut,color etc. came to about $65 in the 80's. I then went back to the do it yourself because my roots came in after two/three weeks. It became too much.
Quite some time ago, I decided to grow it out - what a nightmare and had to get it cut down to a man-type cut to do this.

Yes, people do criticize and give reasons - especially those who believe by going blonde, most problems are solved - except for those of us who are true brunettes and will never have skin tones for blonde.

My own thoughts as to the thinning and texture changes are early menopause, stress, eating processed/packaged foods and environmental issues.

For me, more than the thinning has been the textural change. It feels stringy when wet and I wash, am almost afraid to keep a towel on my head or do more than pat drying because it is so fine. Sigh...

In closing, there are more serious concerns/issues/problems in life and perhaps with a touch of humor - put in the cateogy of gee, can't wear a mini skirt any more, can't wear high heels anymore but whew, am I more comfortable now!

I'll be one of those bald (or darned close) older ladies too, Ronni. I'm 61 and I'm getting there. It sucks.

On a happier note -- Welcome Back!!

You whine away, Ronnie - we're here to listen. Welcome back.

I’ve gone from having my hair thinned each time I visited the hairdresser, to checking the mirror in an attempt to hide any visible bald spots. I’ve been shedding for several years now and don’t like it one bit. I color my own hair and keep it pretty short.

Here's a story I think all of you would love - about funny reasons why this writer WANTS to get old. Enjoy,

Years ago, a doctor responded to my hair-loss cries w a test for thyroxin deficiency. These are not routine tests, and you might want to ask for one. Results showed that I needed this hormone boosted with replacement meds, and the situation improved dramatically. I tell everyone who raises the matter; it might work.

Welcome back! And thanks for sharing the link to my post on capturing the "Smile Project" 2009 award.

All my friends understand my "surprise hair" excuse on the days when my baby-fine flops no matter how much spray and fluffing. I, too, am letting it grow out so I can twist, pile, poke, spray and go. BTW, minoxidil is also used to treat high blood pressure, so some people can combine two aggravations of old age with one drug!

Are you taking statins? Check for side effects.
And welcome back, your younger elders missed you!

Re hair loss as a statin side effect that a couple of people mentioned, I've been taking one only for about two years and my hair loss far precedes that.

When my hair was short when I was still working, I had to be careful to hold my head away from the headrest on the commuter train. If I didn't, my hair flattened and left a bald spot showing.

I was about 38 when I walked into the hairdressers' at Harvey Nichols in London and told the hairdresser to "trim the sides and the back and leave it full on top" and he looked at my reflection and said "C'mon now gov., that comb-over doesn't fool anybody, let's just get rid of those wisps on top and stop trying to delay the inevitable" He was quite a "cheeky chap" but absoloutely dead-on. So I lost the comb-over and a little while later shaved my head completely - inspired by a neighbor, Telly Savalas.
Haven't been inside a barbershop or hairdresser in more than thirty years. (9 X 20 =$180 a year X 35 yrs= $6300 .
I am "sorry for your loss" as they say Ronni but look at all the money you're saving. And hair does collect dirt and germs. You'll be healthier person as well.
As Eric Idol sings "Always look on the bright side of life"

I'm nearly there tho I get an inch trimmed off at a cheap place once every couple of months. I colour mine with a 'natural' henna from the holistic store but with bad eyes I'm wondering if I look like one of those henna-d people (Lucille Ball) from days of old. Karma finds me every time.
could you share the hairpin info? I put my hair up a lot and have pretty bad psoriasis at the back of my head, anyone know of a cure for that?
Great post Ronni and I get the hair looks great!

You are a brave woman to talk so freely about one of those things that we all foolishly fret about and try to hide. I wonder why hair loss is so sensitive a subject.

My grandmother had a bald spot on the back of her head, and she had a sort of twist of hair that she pinned on. She never lost it in front. Mine is just thinner all over.

I just didn't have the patience to color my hair and I have been gray since my 30's. I wore it as long as yours Ronni until 2007 when I had to have surgery and knew I would be in the hospital a week. I have kept it short since then. The thinning of my hair is more noticeable on my scalp now but I must have been losing quite a bit all along. My Mother's hair has gotten thin also but she still has hair all over her head at 92 so I hope the loss will slow down. I don't know what I will do if i go bald. I don't like any of the alternatives any better than you do. I don't like wearing hat so I expect a wig would feel worse. A lot of the women here have their hair cut very short and now I wonder if it is in response to thinning hair.

Notice how all this 'going bald in old age' conversation has so far focused exclusively on heads? How prim we all are!

I started statins a year and a half ago and it's had no effect on my hair-- so far. I do not have much body hair anywhere but never did. I suspect a lot of this is genetics and it can skip generations; so a mother with no hair or a lot wouldn't necessarily say what we would get. I have looked for the thinning given my own mother's thinning hair.


I saw you in some TV appearances a few years back and loved your hairstyle. I am so sorry you are having this problem!

You might want to check this out with a doctor although, as we all know, it's not easy to find an accessible physician if you're on regular Medicare.

If you're pretty sure it's not caused by prescription meds or another physical problem, I concur with some of the other posters about some of the useful home remedies, including:

1) Try a shampoo just for gray hair...they have silkening and thickening agents, as well as making the gray shine really "pop." I have had great results with Jhirmack Silver Brightening Shampoo. Inexpensive, doesn't smell horrible, and available at your corner Walgreen's.

2) Go to the vitamin store and look for hair vitamins. That's what they're called--no kidding.

3) Cut your hair to give it body but keep it long enough to still put up. The updo is a great style for you and inevitably lower maintenance than most cuts.

Now here's where I disagree with the other posters: Be extremely cautious about very short cuts.

Most of these cuts are likely to be whatever the 20-year-old cutter thinks of as The Old Lady Haircut.

Over 50, as we all know, you are supposed to stop having a work life and a sex life. Evidently you are also supposed to stop having bone structure, hair texture or any other individual difference, as well. No matter what you say, no matter how many pictures you bring in--you WILL be getting this cut.

Some of these are super stylish (sort of post-menopausal punk). I wore some version of this one for years, though I'm growing it out now for a change.

Really bad renditions have Mamie Eisenhower bangs stuck on the front of the State Poor Farm Lice Control Scalping.

And, as prison wardens through time can attest, nothing keeps a former "person" in their place like a really hideous haircut. This cut is something a "stylist" would never do to a 35-year-old.

Whichever version you get, you have to do it all over again in three to six weeks. Very short hair is easy in the short term, but high maintenance over time.

Will you let us know how this develops? We're never too old (alas) to have some hair struggle going on.

Mine is getting thin on top, just like my mother's, (and her mother's, and her mother's, too; so I think it's a familial thing in my case). I used to keep it short when I was working, because it really looked better, but I've let it grow now so I can just stick it up with a big clip. I really don't have time to go get a haircut every three weeks, which is what it would take to keep it tidy. And hats—I crochet, and I like hats, so that's my camouflage nowadays.

Well, I'm not going bald - yet, and I love my short, spikey gray cut. However, I have a loose molar which makes me think my teeth might eventually fall out the way my mother's eventually did.

How come we can put a man on the moon, but we can't cure baldness?

How come we haven't invented a thing, like a drink machine. Picture a is a selection row of hair types...skunk, horse, mouse, cow, raccoon, wolf, monkey, etc. You put $20 in the machine, select a hair type, color, length, and then stick your noggin in the round opening.

BAM! You come out with an original, rocking head of hair.

I too have thin, fine hair. The best way for me to wear it, is short and spiky. Easy to take care of it..a bit of gel and I'm good to go, but I can't help throwing admiring glances at horse tails.

Oh well, better to be smart, than hairy. Someone once asked me why I wear my hair so short. I replied. "I'd rather be awesome than average."

ROFLMAO, Paula!!!


If no one has mentioned it yet, there are terrific wigs - at very reasonable prices - made for married Orthodox Jewish women. You can use a search engine to get an idea of what's out there.

I'm sorry to hear about your hair loss - I will be devastated if that is my fate, as my hair is definitely one of my vanities and I am looking forward to having long gray hair someday (at 27, I currently have long brown hair :) ).

I'd love to know what kind of pins you use? I normally don't do much with my hair at all but it would be good to have pins that are effective and don't pull out hair.

The comments to this entry are closed.