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Crabby Old Lady: It All Goes Wrong From the Neck Up

Has anyone else noticed that most of the non-life-threatening stuff that can go wrong in old age happens above the neck?

Yes, Crabby Old Lady realizes that terrible cancers, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia afflict the brain which is, obviously, above the neck.

But today she's talking about relatively benign ailments that nevertheless require daily attention, often extended daily attention involving time that increases as the years pile up.

Most old people are stuck with at least one of these or other such ailments, usually more than fewer, and the head harbors an outsized number of them.

It starts around age 40 when suddenly you can't read street signs or you start complaining that publishers of books and magazines and websites are using smaller and smaller fonts, impossible to see clearly.

Eyeglasses or contact lenses can make the necessary corrections but give it a few more years and the world starts to turn fuzzy, maybe a bit yellow or colors fade toward grayness.

That's cataracts, folks, but the surgery to fix them is one of medicine's modern miracles. It's fast, easy and returns vision to that of a newborn babe, or close enough. And it is successful more than 98 percent of the time.

A down side is that if your eyes are corrected for distance, you will waste way too much time hunting for your reading glasses which are never where you need them.

Even so, all good. Right? Not always. After a year or two, Crabby's vision became fuzzy, usually first thing in the morning and again during the afternoons and evenings.

Not a big deal, said the optometrist. It's just some minor dryness. Here, use these eye drops.

So just when Crabby was relieved to give up the daily hunt for her elusive readers (she chose monovision when she had cataract surgery), she's got to spend way too much time locating the damned eye drops.

One-third of Americans age 65-75 have some degree of hearing loss. That goes up to nearly 50 percent in people older than 75.

Only a quarter of those with treatable hearing loss (80%) use hearing aids. (Probably due to cost, which easily reaches $4,000 and is not covered by Medicare.)

Crabby Old Lady hears just fine. Actually, too well. She no longer goes to movie theaters because no matter where she sits in the auditorium, the audio is pumped up so loud, it makes her ears hurt.

At home, it's a different problem: in certain TV shows, the dialogue mushes together so she can't make out individual words.

An audiologist told Crabby that particularly since her hearing is otherwise normal, hearing aids would not help. Thanks a lot.

But recently, Crabby discovered that the difficulty is a combination of two technical issues: (1) audio is commonly recorded poorly combined with (2) the indifferent sound quality built into most television sets.

So she now has acquired “sound bar” made especially to correct that deficiency and produce crystal clear dialogue. As is too rare in life, the product actually does what they say it does.

That solves Crabby's TV audio difficulty but doesn't help people who use hearing aids with Crabby's overall issue: the time involved with all this maintenance – in the case of hearing aids: sound checks, cleaning, battery testing, etc.

Or lack thereof. Many old people have lost all or some of their teeth and Crabby Old Lady is among them.

About three years ago, Crabby spent tens of thousands of dollars (stolen from her emergency fund) for an upper “overdenture” which involved first growing new bone over six months, then implants – another six months wait - and many fittings.

Like cataract surgery, Crabby considers it a modern medical miracle and is thankful that she could scrounge the money.

Unlike real teeth however, the overdenture takes more extensive maintenance, extra visits to the dentist for fixes, along with the several instruments and cleaning agents, including water flosser, for both denture and lower jaw twice a day to forestall losing the rest of her teeth.

Crabby hasn't timed it but she is pretty sure it takes longer to clean her mouth – and do it twice a day - than to wash her whole body in the shower.

Crabby's hair was already thinning a lot before last year's treatment for pancreatic cancer but here is a little secret people who've been through cancer know: you don't give a damn about bald spots when cancer is at issue.

So Crabby quit wearing her signature hats - she just didn't care anymore.

A couple of months ago, she went through five weekly iron infusions to treat the anemia that chemotherapy had caused. After two or three of them, hair started falling out when she was shampooing.

No one told Crabby liquid iron or the anemia itself (there are arguments in the literature supporting both explanations) can cause hair loss. Now it's even more thin, doesn't appear to be recovering and Crabby is back to hats.

And now she is considering a wig which will mean even more time out of her life for in addition to hair cuts, there will be wig cleaning and maintenance to keep up with.

Then there is the hair problem on the other end of her head – her chin and above her upper lip that require daily removal.

Crabby suffered through creams and sticky strips, razors and other stray hair remedies for many years until, a few months ago, she succumbed to a TV advertisement for a cute, little, battery-operated shaver.

Guess what? It works! It really works. (Apparently Crabby Old Lady is lately having a lucky streak with what are usually dubious consumer products.)

Oh, one more hair issue. In the past couple of weeks Crabby has noticed a surplus of nose hair. So there's another chore for Crabby to deal with each day and that cute little shaver can't do the job. Crabby will need another tool.

A rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation adds up to about an hour a day – give or take - of above-the-neck maintenance time. One. Whole. Hour. Per. Day. Of mind-numbing boredom.

The head, on average, is just 7.5 percent of the body by weight. But by Crabby's accounting, it takes up about 75 or 80 percent of the total time and effort to keep one's self in working order, much longer than when she was younger.

That doesn't seem right. But apparently it's an old person thing.


Golly, you've hit the nail on the head when it comes to all those above the neck irritations! One you omitted was aging skin on the face--sagging, lesions, pre-cancers and cancers. Would like to know more about that "sound bar" for clarifying TV dialogue as am not famliar with it.

This made me laugh one of those "so true!" kind of laughs. You know, where you are laughing on one level and feeling the pain on another.

Hearing: 1) For at least the past 20 years, I have gone to no public event without my ear plugs - just plain old ear plugs. (They were perhaps $5-$10/pair and have, so far, lasted for that 20 year span). To modulate the amount of muffling that is needed, I can pull each plug out a bit or push it in a bit further. For me, high soprano outputs are excruciating as they are amplified by most sound systems. 2) TV closed captioning helps catch the occasional word that isn't clearly audible. I keep cc on about 99% of the time. This is especially helpful in understanding those who, to me, have an accent.

I saw a cartoon a while back that said: "No matter how much you turn up the volume, you still cannot understand the dialogue on those shows from the BBC."

I've been using the closed caption feature on DVDs since I was 50, and only hear about 30% of dialogue in a movie theater.

I have hearing loss which was straining my ability to interface with my family and the world in general. Hearing loss is no joke! It cuts us off from the world and can lead to diminished mental capacity. No one would think twice about correcting a loss of vision but loss of hearing is brushed off as a mild inconvenience not important enough to correct. There are many less expensive options for hearing correction.

My hearing amplifiers changed my life!
Now I will get down from my soap box. Thanks for a funny and oh-so-true post!

Ditto for all of the above. We have to laugh right? Otherwise we would cry all the time.

I've carried earplugs with me for years now. Good news about the soundbar. I'm going to look for one.

Since basel cell cancers run in our family, face and scalp, I spend quite a bit of time applying sunscreen to my face (so far the main site of the problem) and reapplying it. And wear hats outside all summer. Got handy, dandy little shaver online shaped to disappear those nose hairs.

Is it any wonder old people become reclusive and avoid outside activities? Preparing for an outing can be time consuming and exhausting! So many new “things” to attend to...

Though I still think the guys have an easier time of it. No one thinks twice if they have no hair.

You forgot about ear hair. I think I have it but since I can’t see it from any angle, I’ve just grown my hair long!

We have a sound bar, but still is closed captions for most shows. They work well, but CC for news is a joke. Words misspelled or skipped altogether. Better to read the news.

Oh la, aren't we a mess! Now, a note on the word "mess." In the south, where I have lived for 34 years, the word "mess" can mean cute like a baby, or a tangled up situation of any kind. My little dog often is told, "Now look at you, aren't you a mess???" And this above the neck situation is a different kind of mess. It's a mess of time, a mess of little tools always in the wrong place, a mess of coming to terms with unhelpful vanity, it's a MESS! My mother, when she was elderly and preparing for an event, would fume, "I'm exhausted before I leave my front door!"

All too true. I got monovision implants when I had cataract surgery and loved them. Now I have double vision. The doctor denies that monovision caused it, but I have several friends in the same situation and we all believe the connection.

So now I have heavy glasses with prisms on them and have to wear them all the time.

Hee hee. Funny and sadly ironic -- all at the same time! You nailed it--once again. I've started viewing myself as a much-loved but aging car that simply needs more maintenance to keep it on the road and safe for the public. And often (but certainly not always) I give a little nod of gratitude that I've been road-worthy for such a long time. So far, I've enjoyed the ride--and even some of the more challenging detours!

Crabby, not more than 15 minutes ago as I was working the teeth, I thought to myself. I spend more time on my teeth every day than I spend in the shower!!! Yes, I have implants and probably two or three new cars over the years to save those not so pearly whites in my head. Can't stop now!

Again, you made me laugh out loud.

I can add an above the neck complaint: my voice isn't what it used to be. Some days it's okay, but I made a business call this morning and all that came out of my mouth was a series of noises when I got someone on the phone.

Currently waiting for cataract surgery, can't hear worth a darn, losing my hair for no perceptible reason. I'm glad I can still laugh about it (most of the time).

All truths!
I like closed captioning on tv for clarification . It is very helpful for me , though distracting for others.

I have only slight hearing loss in one ear but still find television programs hard to understand (especially British accents, even though my dad had one). My husband and I both use closed captioning and it really helps.

Merle Thompson wrote
" I got monovision implants when I had cataract surgery and loved them. Now I have double vision."
I got MINI monovision implants three years ago. I am still good, no double vision, no dry eyes, no glasses. I did spend more than two years research about cataract surgery.
I tried to convince people, but have limited persuasive power. Hopely you can do one post about MINI monovision implants. Many people will be benefited.

How I love Crabby Old Lady!

Crabby, live forever!

Ah, yes, you crabby old thing! I'm with you all the way. In addition to the person who talked about keratoses and skin tags and other weird skin things. I also am finding that what I assume are pores that have been clogged for years have decided to erupt. Not many, thank goodness, but enough to make me indignant!

I've given up wearing makeup except lipstick. No one looks at me anyway! The last time I wore a full face of makeup was at my son's wedding 4 years ago and it was a real chore to get it all on. I, too, use those little shavers, but mine keep breaking. Maybe my beard is too heavy. I also get stray hairs on my neck that I see suddenly are 2 inches long. Gross!

As each part of this old body stops working I rely more and more on all of the aids available to me. First was a Cochlear Ear Implant (I still rely on CC) and it was paid for by my insurance, but the maintenance and worn out parts are not. With help from my doctor I was able to convince the insurance company that the implant is no good without a processor, head piece and power cells so they reluctantly paid 80%.

My vision is fading and I have to pay for exams and glasses. I had to have my first bridge on 4 upper teeth. With private insurance it still cost me several thousand dollars.

And so it goes as each part ceases to work right. Some things just can't be fixed. As a neighbor said, there is no cure for old age. But it would sure be easier if we didn't have to worry about how to pay for all the things that should logically be covered by medicare.

Yes, I often think it's time consuming just washing my face, applying moisturizer, and then sunscreen ....adding a concealer on a stick is simple, as is eyebrow pencil, and mascara after curling my eyelashes...but my hair takes up a few minutes too when I have to make it presentable.

Have had hearing aids for about 4 years and they help especially when watching TV , as does the closed captioning.

As for eyeballs - I got a close up lens for my first cataract surgery and then with the second one I paid for a multi focal lens which is great for middle and far distance. I have glasses to help with far vision when driving at dusk or at night. No problems what so ever....but then I wore mono vision contact lenses for years so I knew they work for me.

Yep, have had thinning hair for years now but have used the shampoo made to help with that and it seems to have helped as no noticeable continued loss. What I do not like is loss of energy and need to stop to take breaks and rest after strenuous yard work, or house work . I have had a cleaning lady every 2 weeks after I suffered a bad fall almost 7 years ago and I do mean suffered - could hardly get up off the couch. That improved but it took a long time...as we know everything takes longer to heal now...I will soon be 79 and am just grateful for all that I can still able to do.

My very small pet peeve is facial hair that pops out on the neck and chin. I use to pluck with them with a tweezer but I found a neat device that is a battery operated razor. A few strokes and gone for awhile. No more misses using the tweezer.
I worked for an audiologist whose patients were over 65 and I learned a lot about the importance of protecting our hearing.

I keep my laptop on a tv tray by the couch. Also on the tray at the moment are, among other things, 5 different bottles of assorted eye drops (for allergies, dry eyes, and occasional real discomfort), two tubes of eye ointment, lip balm, a nail file, nail clippers, a small magnifying mirror, tweezers, one of those tiny little battery shavers, and a lighted magnifying glass. Go figure.

Despite both cataract and glaucoma surgery, I still wear glasses most of the time either for reading or for a very slight tweak to distance vision (helpful with tiny type on the tv screen). They are rimless glasses with titanium wire frames, gloriously light weight but nearly impossible to see when dropped on a taupe colored carpet! It's easier to wear them than look for them.

So true but you left out molds. Or am I the only one who seems to grow them on my face?

Oops! Make that moles not molds.

Bah, humbug, to it all. It is what it is. . .but nobody says we have to like it.

I love COL when she talks about things we usually brush under the carpet. Wish you allowed brand names. Colleen mentioned her hearing amplifiers which led me to believe she has something short of a hearing aid. If that's the case, I would really appreciate it if you would give her my email so I can find out what she has. Also, would like to hear more about your sound bar.

Also#2, can you tell me about the razor you're using. I suspect it wouldn't work for me because I have a beard an 18 yo boy would be proud of and I have to shave every morning. Afternoon, too, if I'm going out at night.

Keep up the good work. Makes me feel like I'm not a freak.

Haha! So much truth here, not sure I can take it!

I did find out something recently that might help someone else: in pursuit of something else, I looked up 'ptosis' (TOH-sis) and realized that -- in my case -- the double vision that's been driving me nuts ever since my cataract surgery is (mostly, at least) caused by my left eyelid drooping just enough to interfere with vision, and maybe even push that eye just enough out of alignment, that my vision can't fuse into a three-dimensional image. I know this is true because if I consciously tell that eyelid to lift, then magically... I have 3D vision again!

The main cause of ptosis is, apparently, old age. I did have occasional fatigue-related episodes before the cataract surgery, but afterwards, the problem just moved in and wouldn't go away. I'd been trying to fix it by exercising the inside muscles that move the eyeballs. Now that I know which muscle is weak, there's something I can do, and it doesn't even need gadgets, pills, or eyedrops.

Tinnitus is one of my biggest complaints above the neck. I live with it and ignore it much of the time, but it can be depressing when considering that there will never be total quiet due to the variable hissing sound like air being let out of a tire.

I am 65, and in the last few years, I have developed problems with FOOD lodging between my teeth! I have been told that as you get older, the spaces between your teeth become greater, due to gum deterioration and teeth shifting. It is maddening, to say the least. If I'm dining with friends in a restaurant, after I finish my meal, I must excuse myself and go to the bathroom and remove the bread, etc, that has packed in between my teeth! Gross! I always hated to see old people pop a toothpick in their mouth in public, but now I understand. (But, I'm not going to ever do that)

For what it might be worth, John, I have found after 'fiddling' with this annoying problem since I was 50 or so (now 80)that taking more than 1 or 2 Aspirin for ANY reason makes it markedly worse.

I guess it is like other meds or even investing; it is risk versus gain.

Keeping a journal for a few weeks about what went into my mouth, helped me track it down. I hope this might aid you too.

I liked your signature hats! When I was bald from chemo years ago, I wore colorful cotton bandannas like a do-rag. I puffed it up a little to add height, and then tied it slightly high on the back of the head. You could see I was bald, and I liked that, yet I liked the cover in the front. I'll bet you would look really cute in that style. I would go back to that if I run into hair issues again.

all of the above

I had burning mouth syndrome 4 years ago. It was due to a B12 and magnesium deficiency. It returned but this time was due to a different cause, silent GERD. So, I am on a GERD food plan.

I am concerned about my hearing. I have noticed a change in my right ear. I got a free hearing checkup last summer which found no hearing loss but there was a difference between the right and left. I use TV headphones and a computer headphone but this is so I don't bother the neighbors. I live in a condo with cardboard walls and ceilings. : (

I think I spend more time on my hair than I did when I was younger. I lose enough hair to knit a sweater with. I call the bathroom tile floor my hair rug. Just a joke to myself.

My vision has stayed pretty much the same? I use to wear contacts when I worked but not as much anymore since I retired. I make a lot of mistakes because of my nearsightedness and astigmatism. My vision is better when I wear contacts but then I must use reading glasses.

I could talk about my hands and feet but I'm staying on topic!

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