The Fourth of July 2019 and The Alex and Ronni Show
INTERESTING STUFF – 6 July 2019

Handling the Changes That Accompany Old Age

In the days following those two cancer-related anniversaries in June that you helped me celebrate, I've been wondering what, if anything, I've learned from these two years since I was diagnosed.

Until then, ageing was the major game-changer but nothing dramatic: thinning hair, reduced energy, weight gain, insomnia, etc. In the greater scheme of things, more annoying than serious.

It had been that way all my life. Aside from some of the childhood diseases of my era and the occasional flu in adulthood, I had no health problems.

That changed dramatically in June 2017, when the doctors told me I have pancreatic cancer. Those earliest few months following Whipple surgery were, as I have often said, the worst thing that ever happened to me. It was months until I was right again.

Since then, I've been through two or three rounds of chemotherapy with the usual irritating side effects, a couple of “small” surgeries to fix a bleed in my chest, the ever-present collection of pills to take at different times of day and the regularly occurring aches and pains that have no explanation.

Have I learned anything from all this? I had to think long and hard about that.

Looking back now, I see that the difficulty in my recall is that new ways of understanding or of doing things or behaving differently (particularly in late life when you think you've already figured out a lot of the big stuff) don't arrive full-blown, ready-to-use.

Like new ideas in general, they come in increments, bits and pieces that slowly meld together into something useful to know. Here are three of mine. These are not new ideas, but now they present in a new context that I have no practice at until now. See what you think.

DON'T FOCUS ALL YOUR ATTENTION ON WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOUR BODY. Do what is necessary to take good care of yourself, use your body as much or as little as you are capable of and then get on with everything else.

USE THE TOOLS NECESSARY TO HELP YOU FUNCTION with the kind of attitude people bring to eye glasses – they are just an aid to your well being. I knew a woman who refused to use her walker when she was away from home because, she said, she didn't want to appear old to other people.

Here's the news about that: she looked old to the world with or without her walker and the only thing she accomplished leaving it at home was missing out on things she might have enjoyed doing. Not to mention the possibility of suffering a fall.

These days, I can't carry all the groceries into the house in one go as I did not long ago so I am currently haunting Amazon to find just the right wheeled cart to help me do that. In times to come, I will add whatever aids are necessary to live as full a life as possible.

So use a cane, a walker, wear hearing aids or oxygen, etc. as you need them. What other people think about you is none of your business.

THIS IS THE GOLDEN ONE, the one that makes all the difference in navigating old age in general or with whatever conditions, ailments or diseases you find yourself stuck with.

Although I now use a medication that improves the effects of COPD, I'll never be able to walk up more than a few stairs again. I'll never be able to do the daily exercise routine I had done five mornings a week for many years. And I can't carry anything that weighs more than about five pounds without losing my breath.

But what about all the other things I can still do? I have a friend who always said he was saving learning pastry cooking (he was a professional chef) and trying to understand Wagner's music for his late years.

I didn't make plans for what to do in my old age as my friend did but major theme of my life has been books. I have loved them beyond measure – from before I have memories or so it feels. Maybe I was born with one in my hand (as opposed to newborns today who enter the world clutching tiny, baby-sized smartphones).

I have stacks of books around here - new ones along with plenty of old ones that I would like to re-read before I die.

There are wonderful movies and great TV shows to re-watch too. A couple of months ago, I spent four or five weeks, binge-watching The West Wing, seeing it for the first time since its original broadcast 20 years ago.

I had such a good time reveling in the superb writing along with the stunningly good interpretation of those words by the actors and directors. It is brilliant and although there are other good TV shows, I can think of nothing that surpasses this one.

Now that I think about it, maybe I'll watch the whole series yet again. Excellence in anything is one of the world's great pleasures.

Then there are movies I like to watch again and again starting with The Third Man that I must have watched 20 times; I can do the dialogue by heart. And, well – never mind; we each have our lists.

My point is this: we all have interests that we have neglected during the busy mid-years of life that give us pleasure and certainly some of them can be adapted to our old-age infirmities if necessary.

Heraclitus was right, you know: “The only constant is change.” Here in the realm of old age where most of us at this blog live, one of the biggest changes is how our bodies betray us – and they do it in an astounding variety and number of ways.

We can be miserable lamenting our lost capabilities, or we can acknowledge them, wave them goodbye and find ways to get on with new ways of living. I know I sound like Pollyanna but she too, like Heraclitus, was right. Sometimes.

It is another great pleasure in life to live it in the best way possible given the circumstances bestowed upon us. For as long as we are conscious there is a life to be lived. It is enormously gratifying to do that despite (or, maybe, because of) the impairments that require us to adapt.

Let us know in the comments how you deal with the not-so-wonderful changes that come with old age.



Comments

I agree!
I am aware of a growing list of things that I have already done for the last time and that there's no point in lamenting them. That's the past. Finding joy - whatever that is - lies in doing what we can and not mourning what we can't do.

The only thing that really bothers me about old age is my decreased mobility. I can't take those longs walks anymore, or even short ones for that matter. Fortunately, I can still pursue my hobby (photography), but just a little closer to home. And BTW, I use a cane and find it to be a great "prop."

Me too, Bruce - about even short walks being difficult. Because I am a little rocky on my feet these days, I bought a walking stick to help with balance. It works but as you say, it's the walks themselves that I can't do much of now.

I find that when it comes to physical limitations, the big step is learning exactly what those limitations are and how to work with them, so that you have some control within an uncontrollable situation.

I was still in my 50s when I got irritable bowel syndrome--IBS. It took five years before I got a diagnosis for this condition, a diagnosis I actually found myself after an array of doctors and specialists couldn't tell me what was wrong with me. During that five years I often became despondent because the symptoms would strike without warning and I couldn't figure out what exactly had caused them. I gave up this food and that food and it didn't seem to make any difference. I'd get abdominal pains, bloating, constipation, and occasionally a full-blown flare-up with excruciating pain that was like menstrual cramps on steroids.

When I finally found a diagnosis and a reasonable diet plan that kept the symptoms in check, it was like a miracle. I had to be careful about what I ate, but I had some control, and that made all the difference in how I felt about it.

I still get down sometimes, longing for some forbidden food or wishing I didn't have to ask someone who'd invited me to dinner what was being served. Food is so much the center of social life that I feel like a persnickety spoil sport with all my needs and limitations. But for the most part I just accept that this is what I have to deal with and it's not nearly as bad as what some people have. Knowing what's wrong and what to do about it have made it so much more tolerable.

Brilliant post! Thanks

As my neuromuscular condition progressed, I had to give up my much loved birding in the field. I, of course, had feeders around the house and enjoyed the birds at the feeder but I needed something a new challenge. A blogging friend had a post up about butterflies and plants that attracted butterflies. That post changed my outlook and I now have 2 large beds filled with plants which feed the butterflies and caterpillars. I use an electric scooter now and one of my joys is going out along the beds to see sho is there. We also take 2 trips a year to the Rio Grande Valley to the National Butterfly Center.

Accepting what I have, sometimes content with it, and often quite joyous. And great relief and gratitude for what I have been spared.

At 67 I had been taking ice skating lessons. I got through Basic 1, 2 and was into 3 when I fell onto my outstretched hand. The X-ray showed my radius rather smashed. It also indicated osteopenia. I had surgery to plate and pin it. I don’t regret the lessons. I learned to skate! But now I’ve overused my good hand to the point where I’m in pain. You think you’ll bounce back, but this showed me it will now take more time to heal and I can’t do everything like I did before.

At 76, cataracts and osteoporosis, not expected just yet but no big deal either, are current ailments/restrictions on my living.

When something happens that brings a change in my life, I do a few things, every time. (And yes, there are and will be times when the note isn't high and positive.)

First, I research and take control of what's going on, to the extent that I can, such as telling my physician I'd like 6 or more months to try alternative med choices, nutritional changes and exercising. The issue is researched as are various ways of handling it.

Regardless of the above's outcome, finding an 'opportunity' from the mess, from a change, becomes the focus. Like you mention, this might sound Pollyanish, but
it's working for me emotionally and perhaps physically. And I don't tie myself to the outcome, whether successful or a bust. No judgements. As Elizabeth Rogers says, "It is what it is."

Unable to change the realities that often accompany aging, this is a form of kind embracement of them, a challenge perhaps, and it makes me feel good.

I agree with Beverly, an absolutely brilliant post. You are a true gift. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

I so resonate with what you said about books. I've been reading since the age of 3-1/2 and even as a child would carry a book with me if I accompanied my mother to the store so I could sit on the electric pony and read--I remember being enthralled with and reading "Alice in Wonderland" in that way.

Along with Mom, my vice is collecting books. I just like having them around. I told myself I'd finally read them all "when I retired". Well, still haven't gotten to most of them, despite retirement. Besides, I have to read a new book every month for my book club. Now I tell myself that when I'm no longer able to be very physically active, that's when I'll do all that reading. . .just hope my sight hasn't failed me by then!

Like my mother would say, she never felt lonely if she had her books as she could enter into another's world.

I like your philosophy of adapting, without shame, as needed. Didn't bother me at all to get hearing aids when I got tired of saying "huh?" It sounds like you are adapting marvelously!

I have always tried to adjust to the changes of aging as they occurred and adapt or replace the loss of one ability for another.

Now I have reached the time when it is no longer possible for me to adjust to my failing body and I need help from others to do the simplest things. Sadly, I find that unless you have unlimited funds to hire a caretaker there is very little help to be found. As more and more of we Ancients are sticking around this is a problem that I hope can be solved. Most of us would prefer staying in our homes but without personal care, it just isn't possible. The horror of most nursing homes is not something we would wish on our worst enemy and some elders are finding that the last remaining control we have over our lives is suicide.

On the plus side, I share your love of books,, Ronni, and I am grateful that I still have my vision and can read all those books just waiting for me. Although I don't spend as much time streaming videos as I could I am also grateful for that technology to entertain me.

Now if only I could stand without fear of toppling over on my noggin'. Sigh!

Fell off a ladder nearly a week ago. Nothing broke but I landed on my back which is mending s-l-o-w-l-y. I have gone from bed with the pain to anger that even with rest I am mending MAYBE a tiny bit each day. I want to be better now. What each commenter has shared is very helpful. I am trying to acknowledge the pain and then move on. “Oh, there is the pain, time for a gentle swim....”

Thank you so much Ronnie for this post. It
set me to thinking mainly about books I would like to read again. Not to mention TV shows and old movies. Very thought provoking for me.

Thanks again,
Jan

I actually enjoy being older. No longer do I have to worry excessively about where the next meal comes from and I don't have a bed where the bed springs impale me as I sleep (both actual experiences in my pre-twenty youth). The trade is all the new "prosthetics" added
to my body to keep me functioning. I'm not ashamed of prosthetics and tools for the aging, I'm just glad I lived long enough to see them evolve into personal usefulness. My endurance is flagging, young helpers (when I can find and afford that energy) compensate. I am the mind and experience, they are the sunburst. Yes, there are attributes I miss about being half this age---------------but I don't want to go backwards. B

Now that I'm into my 70s I'm coming to grips with the fact that it isn't just 'mind over matter' anymore. More and more its 'fuck you mind, this body is done with that!' And that takes time to adjust to. No more quick zigs and zags through life, it seems.

So far my health is good, but shoot happens, right?

DH also good so far.

We do our fitness routines, ride in a cycling group, walk, line dance, enjoy festivals.

My mom is ninety something- so far so good.

Maybe I have her genes.

If so, it's a gift money can't buy.

Some of the seniors in the ILR have hearing aids, use walkers or canes. I respect every one of them. Some hearing aids cost $$ and the technology can be difficult.

I witness the changes week to week.

One woman had four hip operations.

Some can barely lift a plate.

Anither woman is 102 years old.

It's a tightrope walk.

Keeping busy and active works for me.

So far.

Before I read this I had written my Free Floating Friday post which circled on this topic. I try not to brood on all the stuff I could do and embrace what I can do, being mindful of the Spoon Theory which has me plotting my energy levels in advance of my known activities. It helps me a lot. Also my fancy new cane.

I've never, ever been afraid of "looking my age" and view that as such an energy vampire when there is still a lot of living to do even with limited capacity. The capacity just is. I am a grateful old woman. Even more so that I will be appearing on stage in a production in mid-August, first time in years. I can use my cane in it as long standing affects me. I truly focus, like you, on beloved books and old shows that entranced me then and entrance me now. And knitting. I love knitting.

XO
WWW

Your Final Paragraph, Ronni, should be posted - - on the fridge, over the bed, in the bathroom, and above 'our chair'. Each of us has, somehow, won the 'invisible lottery', bestowing upon us the gift of life. We can untie the ribbon, tear off the colorful paper, open the box, and complain that, tho "One size fits all, it doesn't fit ME at all well."
Or - - we can try to remember to be thankful for this astounding 'lottery' gift. Life. Its joys and its love surely outweigh its hurts. We all, deep in our psyches, know that, - - for otherwise why do we endure the pains we're 'given'?




Thanks again Ronni! Loved reading your reader's comments as well...what a group! For me, I watched West Wing when it was broadcast, and several years of re-runs, and recorded every episode on tapes (wonder if I'll ever look at them) and have binge watched the whole series again several times on Netflix. Anyway, I'm onto another light hearted series which has more violence (fast forward still helps).

I give myself several hours of "down-time" every day to watch either an old series, a movie or listen to a digital book from the library. It's easier on my eyes than reading. I've just about given up live TV.

I want to mention that I kind of resent that I now own 2 machines that help me breathe, and I have the added responsibility to keep them working well. My Home Health agency set them up, and sells me supplies which come in the mail, but after a year of renting them, they say they're now mine.

I love to read and can see fairly well, so at least I can still do that. I can still grocery shop, do laundry, care for our 2 senior cats and keep the house reasonably clean between periodic visits from a professional cleaner. I'm not nearly as gung-ho about longevity as I once was (it's very much a mixed bag, IMO). I agree with Darlene about nursing homes and the cost of personal care--HUGE problems in the near future, I think.

In my ideal world self-deliverance (physician assistance in dying) would be available to competent elders with debilitating and/or painful incurable medical conditions who are nearing the end of life.

Since this is for sure an "accentuate the positive" group, I'll just reiterate my mantra: it is what it is.

I respond to this as I sit in my hotel room in London. I am totally exhausted by my day in Wimbledon. I brought my daughter and granddaughter (81/2) for a week. When I brought my older granddaughter 5 years ago I was able to totally keep up. This trip I have sent my girls off on their own while I relaxed in the hotel lounge. 5 years older (76) and on chemo what a difference! I am still glad I did this trip though. Creating memories for my children.

Thank you, Ronni, for this thought provoking post....and the "thoughtful" comments your readers share. I find it all inspirational in many ways. You ask in the final line "how you deal with the not-so-wonderful changes that come with old age.''

I know I mentioned securing a walker with a seat and a small 'baggage' container beneath it before, but now 2 years down the road it is even more useful and valuable to me. It bears repeating. You mentioned the "groceries from the car"... the walker is my perfect solution. I can set bags on the seat or hang them on the side with handy "S" hooks I stash in the pocket. I also use it to take trash out and laundry in and out. Older folks are likely more unstable when carrying a bulky object...it throws off the center of gravity, thus balance. Then too, like so many of us in the 80's standing very long is exhausting and I am grateful to have such a handy and accommodating seat right there.

I don't need to use it in my house all the time, but now I never leave home without my sidekick. Her name is "Aunt Molly", by the way, and yes, I'm cruisin' around the bend I know. Yet it seems we humans can anthropomorphize almost anything we find helpful or dear.

Great article. So much good info. I'm on a cpap at night and slowly sliding into being on oxygen with mixed feelings. COPD etc. We went to the local park yesterday afternoon with my new lightweight 3-legged folding camp stool. It was just what I needed. It takes me 3 sit downs to get from the curb to the bandstand. The main point being I can get there on my own still with my own portable seat. Planning and acceptance. So far I still drive easily and have found tools to help me do things that were easy but were becoming overwhelming. I have a cart to carry groceries and what not in and a 2nd rolling cart just for my laundry that stays in the house, because the shopping one gets stuff on it I don't want on my laundry.

I'm shopping up a trekking pole. I borrowed one from a friend and was surprised how much steadier on my feet I was with it. And such as it was, I could walk farther with it.

One busy day though means the next day is filled with rest or naps. That's ok though. Those days I catch up on N-flix and the like (I'm watching W Wing again too) and my reading. It works fairly well.

Changes and more changes. One way or another that's life and I'm glad I'm still around to do them.

Thank you for this one! For a while there I thought I was the only one who held this attitude.

For instance, people thought I was a bit ditzy when I had a big grin over the little portable oxygen containers with carrying case that I could take in the basket of my brand new walker when I was out and about ... and to top it off, the addition they put on my oxygen producing machine so I could keep them filled myself! It was like a gift from the gods. And it set me free to go and do things that up to then I couldn't do easily without the oxygen!

Today life's pleasures big and small are quite different from the ones earlier in my life, but nonetheless just as exciting and full of joy.

Truman read books in his retirement. He was a reader & during his presidency, he would visit the Library of Congress to read how past presidents handled a problem that vexed him. Your comment about books made me think about him.

There are so many losses as we age. But, we are adaptable!

I took early retirement 8 years ago. Every year since then has been different as I've tried different things. I've returned to drawing which was a childhood love.

The thing is to do what you love. This is basically it. What brings you joy?

I have my groceries delivered. You order online and they are brought right to your door, or even inside if you wish.

Diane K.

At the moment, I am playing "Beat the Clock" and gearing up for a month in Europe with my wife. I will put old age completely out of my mind during this time but fully aware that it is watching me, waiting to pounce, soon, but maybe not until next year or even the year after, if I should be so lucky. In 2008 I was in Italy and upon loading my suitcase into a train's ceiling level shelf, a lumbar disc ruptured and I barely made it home walking. I was in a walker soon thereafter and could not stand up without support. A great surgeon and will power combined to revive my spinal nerves (hit head on by the massive lumbar herniation) and by 2009 I was back and walking again. It's modern medicine that saved me and allowed me to go again and again and again--but I know what it's like to face adversity and immobility so I will savor the good times, much like reading a book over and over.

Your post was very helpful to me.
I cope by wondering how far I have come with what little I had and this keeps me motivated.

Ronni, treat yourself and get groceries delivered! I haven't been inside a "food morgue" in over a decade thanks to various services. Safeway, New Seasons via Amazon, and more. The best part is the nice person hauling in the kitty litter! Use your valuable going out in public time for something more fun than grocery shopping. 😀

I'm 78. I've just joined your website, Ronnie. Needed a bit of a pick-me-up as I'm not handling getting older very well at all. I live with my dog, Molly, a very spoilt Maltese, a rabbit, Podger, also very spoilt, and three cats, Betty, Fluffy and Willy George and love them all bits. My only living relative is my sister but we have never been very close. I have not had children and if I could have done it all again, I would have rushed out and become pregnant as soon as I was able to. It is one of the sadnesses of my life that I have never had children. I'm English but now live in Australia. I lived in DC for nine years many years ago - during the 60's - fabulous time to be in Washington (!). I came back home due to my mother's second marriage split-up and wanted to be there for her. She passed away in 2006 and it seemed and still seems somehow to be the very worst thing that I have ever experienced. I was doing well physically until a couple of years ago when i suddenly went deaf in one ear and started having vertigo attacks. I found out I had Meniere's Disease. That's okay, I'm handling it. I also have OA inherited from my dear Grandma and am stiffening up and not able to be outside in my lovely garden half as much as I would like. I am also finding I am getting very forgetful and do some silly things like putting the garbage bin out on the wrong days and things like that. Nothing major but I feel I am deteriorating. I am stuck in a country town outside Sydney, Australia. Bought this house with the idea of renovating it, which I am doing slowly but OA is slowing me up. I have done lots of travelling and living in different countries and going back and forth and I've loved it. Wish I could do it all again. This post sounds a bit moan-y. I'm not usually like this but feeling a bit depressed about life and you all sound so positive with lots of positive thinking so I thought some of it might rub off on me!!! Hope that's okay.

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