ELDER MUSIC: Where's Phil Ochs When We Need Him?
A Few Things I've Learned About Growing Old

Crabby Old Lady and the Surprising Aggravations of Age

One of younger adult's favorite rebukes of elders is that we talk about our health, or lack thereof, too much. This is not always an unfair stereotype but Crabby Old Lady has had a revelation about it:

No one told us that in old age we would be condemned to constant noise in our ears, a new mole or other kind of skin eruption just about every week and that our ability to sleep through the night would go all to hell.


Most of these changes are merely annoying and don't rise to the level of medical intervention or even discussion in the short period of time most people are allowed with their physicians these days.

Recently, a 78-year-old friend told Crabby about this conversation with his doctor who had just finished examining a tender spot at the base of one of his thumbs:

DOCTOR: Arthritis.

FRIEND: Anything we should do?

DOCTOR: (Shrugging) Pain meds. [Pause] If it spreads to other joints, I can refer you to a rheumatologist. [Another pause] Some conditions arrive with age..."

Yes, some things in old age don't warrant much attention - at least, not professional attention.

TGB reader Harold, who blogs at The Way I See It, acknowledged this in a comment when some irritations of old-age were discussed here more than a year ago:

”When I do go in for my annual check ups someone always asks if I have any complaints, and I don't know what to say. Since I've never been this old before I don't know what it's supposed to feel like, but maybe it's supposed to feel like this.”

Exactly. Through most of Crabby's life, the ailments of old age didn't come up much in conversation and when they did, if she was as dismissive of her elders' health conversation (a not unreasonable, if shameful, assumption) as today's children and grandchildren are of current elders', why would she know what old age feels like, what is normal and what is not?


Recently, Crabby Old Lady had a mild disagreement with her doctor. What he called a cough that might need treatment Crabby calls throat-clearing that comes and goes throughout the year.

Some time ago Crabby was relieved to find an explanation online: glands that secrete lubricating mucous around vocal chords decrease with age. Drinking water helps reduce the throat clearing so Crabby has filed this one with her growing list of (mostly) ignorable ailments.

There is hardly any end to these petty annoyances: general aches and pains with no explanation, constipation, sore muscles, stiff joints, insomnia, excess gassiness, spontaneous nose bleeds, hair loss where we want to keep it, new hair where we don't want it, fading vision, fading hearing, weight gain, dry skin, dropping things, minor forgetfulness and...

Recently, another of Crabby's complaints was confirmed:

Netflix sent a message announcing that The Manchurian Candidate had been added to the service's movie list for April. Crabby assumed it was the remake starring Denzel Washington and she was not wrong about that. But she was sure surprised to see that it had been released in 2004.

If you had asked Crabby, she would have said it had been in theaters a couple of years ago, not THIRTEEN years ago.

This is a change that hardly anyone places in the aggravation column (but Crabby does) – that time slips by at such an accelerating rate of speed now, everything from a decade or two ago feels like yesterday. Crabby no longer trusts any time estimate she makes that is older than a month or so and even then, she can be off by a year or two sometimes.

It's no wonder old people talk about their health a lot: it's because no one warned them about these surprise, minor but irritating manifestations of age. No one said that if you live long enough, here is how your life will change.

Crabby would like to have had some advance notice. But would she have paid attention? Would she even have remembered the notice when her time arrived? Probably not.

Now, however, Crabby Old Lady gives herself permission to ignore all the mean jokes about the afflictions of age and talk about them anytime she wants – at least among her peers.



Recently I attended a township zoning board meeting about some proposed changes to a development under construction. During an exchange with the developer and his attorney, I realized that he and I were the only two who had been there in 2008 and 2012 regarding his applications and...2008???

On the way out of the meeting, one of the board members said he was glad I had brought up the old 2012 application. *sigh*

I have been blessed, the last few years, with a fair amount of good health having hardly any aches or pains to speak about, unlike many of my fellow residents here at the ALF who have just about every pain, disorder, occlusion, misalignment, and ailment known to man. And, as Ronnie said, they are not ashamed to speak about them.
Having nothing to complain about, I feel like an outsider who has refused to conform to the norm and has been shunned by his contemporaries.
Fortunately, today, I woke up with a most egregious backache causing me to pop Tylenol tablets like Altoids.
I couldn't wait to sit down for breakfast and complain about my back to my fellow diners.
And, as I suspected, my newly acquired ailment became the focus of our breakfast conversation to the delight of all in attendance.
It's so nice to feel wanted again.

So refreshing!

I laughed! So true! Just thankful to be here to join in with the complaints!

I used to talk on the phone with my Mother every day, and we always discussed how she slept, or didn't sleep. I really didn't understand how she had a problem sleeping, but I do now!


I love your Crabby Old Lady story. She sounds pretty familiar to me, a crabby old guy.

[Ronni here: Barry has a couple of Crabby Old Man stories himself. You'll find them at his blog linked from his name below.][

You nailed it, Ronni. All that and a bag of chips! Would that were all I have to deal with, but 60 years of rheumatoid arthritis has wrecked my heart , back, and limbs. Fortunately, I have 2 whining buddies--2 women, one being my daughter, who also suffer intractable, excruciating pain, so we understand each other. We have an agreement that we can whine to each other whereas with others we keep a brave face and answer "I'm fine!" or "Well, I'm still HERE!"

Thanks, Ronni, I enjoyed Crabby Old Ladies post and printed a copy of that last cartoon to show the specialist I am seeing this afternoon. My mind is still fine, but my body has definitely passed its shelf life.

We tell each other our endless complaints because if we tell them to a GP they'll prescribe endless drugs. If we tell an alternative practitioner they'll prescribe endless exercises and therapeutic routines. The exercises and routines take endless time. I'd rather bore my friends then go through all that.

I live in a retirement community where we gather for dinner every night at the "restaurants"on campus. My friends and I have a rule: no organ recitals during dinner. When we're not eating, of course, we often compare notes, and it's always surprising how many people in any group share the same minor ailments.

Dry eye, anyone? Blepheritis? Cataracts? Leg cramps in the middle of the night? Basal cell skin cancer? And how many people are partly bionic, having had a knee, hip or something else replaced? We compare doctors, procedures, aches and pains--and as we learn from each other, we get some idea what's normal for our age range. If that's whining, it's also useful.

Oh my goodness...so true on all points!

Thank you Ronni - and all who commented. Laughter is indeed the best medicine.

The truth expressed in that last cartoon with the doctor advising the patient that these are the 20 extra years he earned by clean healthy living is something I've been thinking a LOT about lately. It seems a cruel twist of fate when those years following a disciplined regimen of healthy eating, and moderation in everything, turn out to be increasingly filled with pain, dependence, and unwelcome change.

Two years ago, my mother looked at me across a table and suddenly said, "I never wanted to be 85." Well, she's not any 85 any longer, but now 86, well on her way to 87 and does hardly anything outside of her home any longer. My 90 year old stepfather has had to take over the grocery shopping some time ago, and now has added cooking to his tasks. They spent the last couple of decades following a fairly disciplined regimen of healthy eating, enhanced with a few basic supplements for joint pain and memory, and both have experienced pretty good health for all that time.

I suspect that they will continue in this pattern until they hit a wall like my husband's parents did a few years ago, also after a life of clean healthy living. Then everything will suddenly change for everyone again. I would like to be able to do more for them to prepare for what may lie ahead, but I suspect they will be as resistant to that as my in-laws were, stubbornly trying to maintain their independence, denial and self-reliance until a fall or dementia sabotages them, too. I also suspect that this is the "same as it's ever been" for many people, perhaps most, who live into their late 80's and beyond.

I remember watching the Today Show, back in 1983, on February 7, as they were celebrating the 100th birthday of Eubie Blake. Eubie had always been there on his birthday, but wasn't that year, due to, as they said, "recovering from pneumonia." He died 5 days later. On a clip that day, they showed Gene Shalit, with Eubie at the piano, on the Today Show set , I think from the previous year when he turned 99. Shalit was asking him to what he attributed his longevity -- healthy eating, clean living, avoiding drink, no smoking? Eubie said he ate and did what he liked, had a sweet tooth and loved candy, drank every day, and wished he had a cigar at that very moment. Although I try to be an advocate of at least the idea of healthy eating, and I've never been much of a drinker and never smoked, it was during that show that I decided that you might as well do what makes you feel good for as long as you can. There simply are no guarantees and life can be a trickster.

To one extent or another, I've got most of the complaints mentioned above. They've come as an unpleasant surprise since I've no friends my age and my parents never complained about whatever aches and pains they were dealing with. (And here in Colo. I see so many people who look my age but are lean and mean and out hiking or cycling, etc.) I do understand now, though, why my mom had so much trouble getting a decent night's sleep and why she always sat in a particular wood chair with arms rather than on the lower, cushiony couch.

I can relate to it all. Interestingly, I don't recall my grandparents or parents complaining much. I think they were a stoic bunch. Love the blog.

Another great post. I copied it to share with my now 96 y.o mother. Especially appreciate the last cartoon.

Whenever I get a new ache or pain, I say to myself, "jeeze, I didn't get that memo" lol I carry on! It's my new chapter of life with no prewritten script...so like turning the page of a book, each page and day is brand new and I like it that way...

Loved that last cartoon, Ronni. I'm going to forward this blog to my conservative friend to show him you aren't always the loving "tree hugging Oregon hippie" he says both you and I are. I've explained you're really a " liberal yellow media elitist " who moved to Oregon but his "thoughtless conservative ass" is made up.
Jim is the only conservative friend I've managed to keep and he still wants me to move back to SoCal with him and give up the cold weather that hurts my arthritis so very much.

This post really nails it on each point it makes.

I went to an orthopedist in my late fifties, having been informed about five years prior that I would eventually be needing a hip replacement. At the end of the appointment (after confirming that diagnosis) he remarked “welcome to the golden years” - I believe my response was “grrrr”.

The one thing I recall that my grandfather said about getting old was how he hated the full-length mirror at the end of the hallway in his house. He said it took him aback to see that old guy walking down the hall because he was still sixteen in his head.

Many years ago I read a book (I think by Russell Baker?) in it he described his growing-up years. He wrote that back then almost all households had at least one oldster who would just live there with everyone else (usually like a displaced Aunt or Uncle). Generally these oldsters just sat and ate and drank and maybe played solitaire at the table. If I remember right he opined that these people seemed sort of useless---EXCEPT they served as examples of how life was going to be if you lived as long as them. You'd be privy to what types of problems could (and would) show up. It's a continual decline! Now I realize that my h's expression is probably right on the money: "Cheer up, the worst is yet to come".

What I have learned about the aging surprises is that it never gets better. A year ago I was still able to pick something up off of the floor with ease. Now I have to use a grabber to retrieve anything below my ankles. I am sure that next year I will need the grabber for anything below my knees. And so it goes.

As usual, I agree with you completely. As a matter of fact, I was discussing just this subject with a friend of mine. We are taught what to expect at puberty, but no one tells us what to expect in aging (although there are books about it now).

Emily Tall...
There are a lot more books about ageing than there used to be but you would be hard pressed to find many that discuss the kinds of daily ins and outs, ups and down, good and not so good that we discuss here - the "what it's really like to get old" stuff only people who are old know about.

I was talking about this very subject with my twenty-one year old grandson yesterday. He asked if "those pages from the manual were missing"? He meant the manual you don't get with your newborn. He has heard family members speak of those missing instructions since was a toddler.


Oh, dear...Now that I've stopped laughing, (the last cartoon really got me) I can add my 2cents' worth and say how his post helped me pay more attention to the aches and pains I've ignored for the past few years. And, oh yes, I've decided it's time for a full physical!

Once again........SO USEFUL! When bad stuff happens, I have a tendency to think it's only happening to me, but this lets me know that's not the case.
Just came in from weeding and planting, sitting on a little plastic foot stool.
I remember, in my forties, feeling horrified when my mother fell asleep at the dinner table. Now, a bit down the road, I could see myself doing it. Oh la.
Oh, and the stuff they DON'T tell you.......like the cataract surgery that will allow you to drive at night will wipe out whatever near vision you had. (Not true for everyone) That the hearing aids that will help with conversation will drive you crazy in a noisy room.
No wonder some of us get crabby!

I notice someone on FB did not appreciate this column. Personally I like it and I smiled the entire time as I understand it.

My body, which didn't receive the best of care in its youth, never expected to be around for 80 years. That's true even though it's received reasonably good care for the past 40 years, more or less. All the physical stuff that can go wrong in old age isn't widely discussed in mixed-age groups (or wasn't until Big Pharma decided to bombard us with their obnoxious ads!) because it doesn't make for very pleasant dinner conversation.

So. . .we're back to Lillian Rubin and "Old age sucks--always has, always will". It is what it is.

Great last cartoon!

Other than a little additional financial security, I think the biggest thing I probably miss about living alone is not having someone to share this stuff with on a daily basis when a new old-age malady pops up, seemingly overnight.

I can totally relate to everything you wrote. Just today I was wondering whom I could confide in about the latest strange new thing, which is my inability to find a certain object when it is mingled in with other objects. I searched my kitchen utensil drawer two days ago for a certain item that I ended up finding in the very place I had looked 4 times the day before! It's more than a little disconcerting as I am "only" 68. Heaven knows what this will morph into by the time I'm 80. And it has happened several times in the past few months. It's like my eyes know what the thing I am looking for looks like but then it doesn't send the memo to my brain.

So absolutely yes, I totally get why we talk about this stuff to each other. It's because younger people are totally clueless and probably don't think it will ever happen to them.

Thanks for the great topic. I feel so much better now :-)

My sister, age 62, was disconcerted noticing that after sitting for a while she felt stiff for a minute or two when she got up. I wanted to say “Oh, honey, it only gets worse.” but I didn’t have the heart. I thought she’ll find out soon enough. Maybe others spared us the knowledge of these aches and pains of aging.

Whenever I get up from the couch I turn into my mother....bent over, shuffling along slowly until my arthritic hips and legs get lubricated and become unstiff and I can move at a better pace. She never complained so I can only assume she'd get stiff and sore as I do after sitting for awhile.

I just recovered from a 4-week bout of cold/cough and started back 3 days ago on my daily 30 minute walks. I became depressed a few days ago and thought "aha, I haven't been walking" so now I feel ever so much better.

Now that our weather here in coastal California is warming up at least my joints don't ache like they did when it was cold and rainy. All the roses and plants are beautiful from all the rain we have had, and my sense of smell is still good to enjoy the bouquet I cut for the house.

At 77 I have slowed down considerably but still take only one medication for osteoporosis, and eyedrops for glaucoma unlike many of my younger friends who are on many more medications. And thank God for cataract surgery so us oldsters can have clear vision once again. My sister used to call the various rough skin patches "barnacles" and I do have my share of those.

Thanks for the great topic and all the comments.

I loved Ronnie's post and all of the comments...at 63 I more frequently have been remembering my grandparents and parents. I am remembering strong and proud seniors - all graced with a little humility as their "disabilities" slowed them (they didn't complain). Hubby and I agree that quality of life supersedes length of life (so no regrets at the end-game)! Nonetheless, we acknowledge we are slowing down, so we "celebrate" the 40-50-some years we worked incessantly, and enjoy the no-obligation era of our retirement. No apologies for not being busy and no whines about slowing physically.

This is SO true. When a new pain--in a new place, in a new way--appears, it seems to signal, "Just you WAIT! There are so many more to come of which you know nothing!" Then it vanishes and life goes on. Or not; it's back in a week, only to vanish again.

So far (I'm 66), I've greeted these unwelcome visiting twinges with, "If it's important, I'll find out in time."

But I'd love a age-appropriate pal or two to swap stories with. Heedless forty-year-olds (and I was one once; karma bites) have NO idea.

At least my walker is red. :)

Thanks for today's post. I read and chuckled to myself in friendly recognition and annoyance over some of the aging realities. My parents, grandparents nor aunts and uncles shared much, complained some. No, they just stayed silent so I too could experience the adventure and joy of discovering these growing changes of aging. I've so appreciated your openness; it has saved me from telling the doctor who generally doesn't seem interested. And also helped be to be aware of what might not be "normal" and therefore needs attention.

@Pamela (above) The NYTimes had an article recently about how to find misplaced items. One of their recommendations was not to keep looking in the same places that you've already been through. I had to laugh. I, too, can look right over the very thing I'm looking for, and I'm guessing we aren't alone in this peculiarity. Clearly, the people who wrote the article are young.

In collecting some Genealogy information I called a 95 year distance relative, whom I had grown up around and knew me. I started asking her questions about people 70-80 years in the past, she rattled off information like she was reading off a paper, names, birth/death dates, marriages, their children their birth date, who they married, and all their children. I was blown away by the amount of information she possessed. but about every 5 minutes or so she would stop as ask who I was, she couldn't remember who she was talking too. Later I learned everything she had gave me was 100% accurate. I guess something are burned into the memory, especially during the early and mid life times, and with old age memories of the "Good times" and "old friends" are that left.

So, how does this post intersect with the penultimate one, "Not Like Them"?
Along with Debbie Downer, I feel vindicated.

As for not sleeping through the night, try two benadryl before bed. If that doesn't work, why not get a prescription?

Thanks, Ronni. This one is spot on!

One of the more serious aspects of diagnoses on old age are the misdiagnoses.

One friend was diagnosed with clinical depression because of "imaginary" sensations in her head and when I insisted she get second and third opinions it turned out to be a fatal brain tumour.

I was diagnosed with "statin intolerance" because of severe cramping in my legs with occasional paralysis 3 years ago. It turns out it was extreme peripheral vascular disease undiagnosed for 2-1/2 years.

My GP just shrugged dismissively. It was his locum who alerted me.

I could tell more of these stories. I find as I age it is hard to be taken seriously by medical professionals.


Just a little aside...
I ignored occasional heart palpitations and sometimes brief faintness for about 20 years, assuming it was stress. (The first time it happened, nothing showed up on tests.) A couple of months ago I had a longer lasting "spell" also featuring pain. Had an aortic valve replacement 19 days ago! Thank goodness it didn't progress to a full-on heart attack or heart damage. And I'm "only" 68, but do relate to this post and comments. You just never know...

I suspect that all these ills are sent to help us not mind dying so much when the time comes.

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