Depending on how you define the phrase, probably not.
As we have always reported at Time Goes By, people age at remarkably different rates and any gerontologist or geriatrician worth his/her salt, will tell you that people, as they grow older, become more individual from one another than when they were younger.
Because those two, four-day hospital visits in April interrupted my blog life, there are several topics that got lost in the shuffle that I want us to catch up on. One is a story from the highly respected Kaiser Health News (KHN) titled, Is There Such a Thing as Normal Aging?
They don't really answer their question. Instead, the KHN reporter consulted with Dr. Thomas Gill, a geriatric professor at Yale University, and three other geriatric experts to identify
”...examples of what are often — but not always – considered to be signposts of normal aging for folks who practice good health habits and get recommended preventive care.
In doing so, they break down ageing into decades containing these typical changes. My short version – the subheads in the story:
• The 50s: Stamina Declines
• The 60s: Susceptibility Increases
• The 70s: Chronic Conditions Fester
• The 80s: Fear Of Falling Grows
• The 90s & Up: Relying On Others
Those are the generalities of “normal ageing.” (There are fuller explanations at the links to Kaiser above.) Except for noting that the oldest old feel happier than young people, KHN defines normal ageing from only one point of view: negative health issues. I wondered how others approach the idea of normal ageing and checked out the usual suspects:
The Mayo Clinic website provides a long list of what physical things can go wrong in late years and supplies suggestions on how to prevent them.
WebMD has a similar list that's not quite as thorough as the Mayo Clinic.
Area Agency on Aging (in St. Petersburg, Florida) has a long but succinct list of physical changes and the reasons for them.
The Merck Manual Consumer Version online has the most usable, useful and informative version of health issues that can be expected in old age. And I like their pullquotes of these little nuggets of information:
“Disorders, not aging, usually account for most loss of function.”
“To make up for the muscle mass lost during each day of strict bed rest, older people may need to exercise for up to 2 weeks.”
“Most 60-year-olds need 3 times more light to read than 20-year-olds.”
However, all four web pages, each from a reputable health organization, deal only with those negative health developments of growing old, reinforcing the widespread but erroneous belief that to be old is to be sick.
It's a tricky thing to balance curiosity about what “normal” physical changes might turn up in old age without feeling you are being defined as sickly. While surfing around the web on these topics, I came across a blogger named Brian Alger who has some different thoughts on “normal aging”:
Aging doesn’t just place a limit our our lifespan, it also constantly alters the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social context of being alive. In this sense, aging is a medium, a total surround, of our experiences in life.”
That resonates with me for putting into words some feelings I've been having about growing old but haven't been able to articulate even to myself. Further, writes Alger,
”We can confidently expect that every aspect of our life will be touched by the direct felt experience of aging. Normal aging makes time increasingly precious. As a form of communication, aging inspires a conversation with time, impermanence, and the great flow of life that we are immersed in.”
From another page at Alger's blog:
”Aging is our most intimate connection [to] the natural world; it is a source of unity and essential belonging with all life everywhere at once. The very essence of elderhood originates entirely in nature.”
Regular TGB readers would be disappointed, I'm sure, if I didn't bring up how the language of old age reinforces negative beliefs about it in both elders and younger people.
In response to sickliness being the most common definition of growing old, in 2014, Science Daily reported on a study from the University of Alberta. One of the researchers says such terms as “normal” or “healthy” aging themselves fall short how elders actually live:
”"The implication is that if you have a chronic illness as an older adult, you've somehow failed in this goal of aging without chronic disease, which is perhaps not that realistic a goal."
"When aging is just defined as 'healthy' and 'devoid of disease,' it doesn't leave a place for what to do with all of these older adults who are still aging with chronic illnesses..."
I have long contended that issues relating to aging should always include input from someone who is old, as this quotation from a subject of the Alberta study makes clear:
"'I don't know what would be considered normal aging,' said [80-year-old Diana] McIntyre, past president of the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton. 'What's normal for a 45-year-old? What's normal for an 80-year-old? Those are really irrelevant terms as far as I'm concerned.
“'My own philosophy is I would like to do as much as I can, for as long as I can, as well as I can.'”
That last sentence from McIntyre works for me. How about you? Do you think you're ageing “normally”?