On Wednesday's post about striving, a commenter named Jack used a terrific phrase I'd never run into before – at least not in relation to dental ills. He wrote that he is “in the process of outliving his teeth.”
Me too. I know a lot about that. I am six months or so into a two-year process of implants that involves growing new bone in three or four locations, which takes several months each, before the metal posts can be drilled in place.
Meanwhile, I am wearing (and have done for the past five years) a full upper denture. It's bad enough that we naturally lose taste buds as we get older but a denture, covering the upper palate, further diminishes the ability to taste food because there are receptors for taste on the soft palate.
I compensate to a degree by using a lot of flavoring - pepper, onion, garlic, herbs, spices, etc. - reminding myself when cooking for guests to tamp it down so they aren't overwhelmed.
That's about the best anyone can do – it's just old age.
Counting only our five senses, there are serious, debilitating diseases that might afflict us in these late years. Jack's comment, however, put me more in mind of the less fearful but annoying ways our bodies can plague us as we grow old, especially as they pile up one after another.
None of what follows, like teeth above, is life-threatening. They are just irritating, caused mostly by parts wearing out.
Smell, of course, works in concert with taste for enjoyment of food. My smeller hasn't worked for more than a decade due as much, I suppose, to those years I smoked cigarettes as to old age.
It was once an important part of cooking for me; I could tell if I'd used enough onion and garlic, for example, by the intensity of the aroma during sauteeing.
Nowadays, I smell almost nothing. Except, weirdly, cantaloupe. I can tell it's in the vicinity from at least 50 feet. Any other aroma needs to be extreme for me to notice which makes it a good thing, I guess, that there is no gas in my home.
TOUCH AND FEEL
Does it seem that as your parents aged, they dropped things more frequently? Do you remember your grandmother dropping a lot of stuff? Is it happening to you these days?
You're not imagining any of that. All kinds of conditions including ubiquitous arthritis that afflicts so many elders can cause butterfingers.
So far, I haven't noticed that things slip out of my hands more frequently and as far as I can tell, the skin on my body is no less sensitive now than in my younger years. Well, unless you count my fingertips that have become as smooth as a baby's cheek.
Did you know that fingerprints wear off as we age? It's true. Some old people (me, for example) cannot be fingerprinted. You can read about that here.
And have you noticed that it's harder to turn pages of books and magazines? I recall seeing old people, when I was a kid, lick a finger before turning a page and now I know why. Our skin becomes drier as we age and combined with no fingerprints, page turning can be an exercise in frustration.
(Just a reminder that, as I often mention on this blog, people age at dramatically different rates. That isn't only in general; it also applies to such individual details as our senses. There is no specific age at which these things go wrong – or even that they will for everyone.)
Isn't vision fun. We're still young when our arms seem to grow too short to hold the book far enough away to read. That usually happens around 40 so I guess we can say that at least we have some practice for the additional annoyances that will inevitably pile up.
Even in our lifetimes, cataracts once meant blindness. Now they are an easy fix; a literal few minutes (seven, my surgeon told me) to replace the lens and we're good to go. To me, cataract surgery is as much a modern miracle as growing new bone for dental implants and I do not take either for granted.
But floaters? Do you know about floaters? Those little, black, stringy, worm-like things that move around inside your eyes? They afflict only one of mine but what makes them so terribly irritating is that their movement lags a nano-second or two behind the speed of eye movement. Out of sync, then, they are impossible to ignore.
Floaters are particularly noticeable against a white background, a book or computer screen for example, and outside on a sunny day. Like lost smell, we're just stuck with these nasty little buggers. No cure.
As with the need for reading glasses, we are still fairly young when it begins to become difficult to hear close-up conversations in noisy rooms. I've been known to turn around and walk out when I enter a new restaurant and huge noise assaults me.
There are enough restaurants in the world that it's not a bother to skip some and my larger annoyance nowadays is tinnitus – what is referred to as ringing in the ear or, in my case, more like perpetually standing under a roaring waterfall.
Fortunately, it doesn't impede hearing other things. I don't need to turn up music, radio or television – other sound apparently moves through the rushing noise without volume loss.
Although I can ignore it when I'm listening to other sounds, tinnitus is never not there. Sometimes late at night and early in the mornings when the world is mostly quiet, I yearn to hear silence as I once could. In my life, that won't ever happen again.
So: tinnitus, floaters, bum smeller, defective taste, bad teeth. In the greater scheme of things nothing here is crucial and in several cases – teeth, cataracts - we are lucky to live in times when they are correctable.
Beyond the annoyances, however, is the inescapable reminder of each new affliction, as it appears, that our bodies are wearing out, our lives are winding down. But we know that already and most of the time (if you don't count #$%^&* floaters) I can accept the changes with a wry laugh.
We become, I tell myself, like rattletrap, old cars or, as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, “It's always something” and it's best for our well-being that we find some acceptance.
[NOTICE: This is not nor is it intended to be a blog post about whatever medical issues may attend these afflictions. Instead, it is an acknowledgement of one, commonly shared aspect of old age.
As always, advice about treatment, drugs, remedies, therapies or medical ministrations of any kind are not allowed in the comments. If they appear, they will be deleted.]