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.
HAIR – TOO LITTLE AND TOO MUCH
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.