Lockdown is Not So Bad for Some Old Folks

THINKING OUT LOUD: Growing Old with Chronic Conditions

Judging from comments on this blog, a lot of us live with chronic conditions. The National Council on Aging tells us that

”Approximately 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77% have at least two.”

Eighty percent! Think of it.

Unless you grew up with a grandparent or two living in your home (not uncommon to our generation but not so much since then), you probably had little first-hand knowledge of how old people are (and are not) different from younger adults.

For most of my adult life, I didn't know any old people – that is, older than 70 or so. There were a couple of neighbors at different times who were well into their eighties. We exchanged pleasantries in the hall or at the mailboxes, but we were not friends; we didn't hang out together.

Otherwise, it was usually in the subway or the markets that I saw old people. What I mostly noticed is that they were slow. Very slow. I remember wanting to sprint up the stairs from the subway one rush hour but being stuck in the crowd behind an old woman who took the stairs one at a time with a little rest on each step. To my shame, I know I rolled my eyes to myself. It can't be the only time I did that.

On the other hand, you know those old folks – they keep confounding you. When I visited one neighbor about some local issue our block association was dealing with, he – then about 85 - showed me how he had expanded his living quarters by building a sleeping loft and used a ladder to get up and down.

These days, as I fast approach my own eighties, I'm overly cautious even with a small step stool. I quit ladders entirely about a year ago and should have done it sooner.

(This is the same man who, as I was on my way to work one day, said good morning and then, walking along with me to the corner, eagerly told me, “Viagra works.”)

These days, I am like the woman slowly climbing the subway stairs. One of my two conditions, COPD, is forever pulling on my metaphorical dog collar. It doesn't quite order me to “heal”, but if I'm walking at my old, pre-chronic conditions pace, it steals my breath forcing me to stop walking for a minute or two. It happens way too frequently.

I also tend to forget that I can no longer carry anything weighing more than about five pounds without heaving for breath after a few yards, even when I'm walking slowly.

These (and others that I will spare you) are not new phenomena in my life. They have been accumulating for three years now and you would think I would be done with the annoyance they continue to cause me. But no. I keep making the same mistakes.

Earlier this week, I found myself thinking about the old woman climbing those subway stairs so long ago.

Grocery shopping since the pandemic began is a fraught enterprise for me. Once I've gathered my nitrile gloves, face mask, left disinfectant supplies on the patio table to clean the packages when I get home, I am compelled to sit down. Scared. Am I doing enough to avoid the virus? Is it this time I will get it?

So I sit for 10 or 15 or 20 minutes practicing some calming breathing techniques until at last, I'm on my way.

With COPD, shortness of breath can be caused not only by over-exertion but by anxiety too. And that day, I found myself in the ice cream aisle heaving to get my breath. I stood leaning against the shopping cart when I heard, behind me, “Excuse me, I need to get by.”

Because the aisles are not six feet wide, there was nowhere for me to go but forward and so I pushed the cart – slowly, still trying to breathe normally – until I could get out of the other shopper's way. And that's when the memory of the old woman on the stairs kicked in.

When I saw that the woman behind me was a couple of decades younger than I am, I imagined her rolling her eyes at me.

Maybe she did. Maybe she didn't. But I also didn't care. And later, I thought it was a not unreasonable payback for my own impatience with the woman on the subway stairs who, I hope, would not have cared either if she had seen me roll my eyes.


I have been wondering, Ronnie, if you would be able to have supermarket shopping and pharmacy medications delivered? That's what I am doing.
Do take care and save yourself the exertion and the worry if possible.
Love, from Betty in Aus.

I agree with Betty. Since the pandemic I have my groceries delivered. I would rather go to the store myself, but my two daughters tell me no, mom. For more than one reason staying home it is a good substitute till we can out again.

Believe me, I recognize myself when you mentioned eye rolling.

Many of us do not know what it's like to be our ages because no one in previous generations of our families lived to be our ages. I spent weeks at a time with grandparents, great-grandparents, and a great-great-grandmother; but, none of them reached my current age (82). Most, including my parents, did not even reach 80, more's the pity; so, I don't know what 80s life would have been like for them.

We baby boomers with chronic conditions, seem to be at 80% and being treated with biologics, even our kids have some chronic things going on, and we hear so much about Lupus, and Chrohns, most of us on statins, and blood pressure meds, unlike you, I've been around older people since I was out of college, working first as a Social Caseworker making home visits to shut ins, and now know how they felt, taking some shopping etc, and then later with an Assisted Living Facility teaching and doing cooking, gardening and "stand-up" discussions with those with Alzheimers and needing help with things, so considering all of these things, my Mom is on lockdown an hour south, and I will be 70 years old this month. Sandwich Generation still. and lucky enough to take my dog out for a walk in NE Florida today, near the beach. (not on the Beach, ) Heavenly, and G-d only knows what's going to be with our MAYDAY May Day. m

Love this post and plan to share it on FB. It's a great opportunity to remind people to slow down and try to feel the space others live in daily and grab the chance to show compassion. If we are lucky to live long enough, we will likely all be in that space in our own good time. People like you Ronni are there to teach us these can be good days, too, and hold worthwhile lessons to share up and down the age spectrum.

Adding to Cop Car, we also don't know about old age, because it was kept so hidden. I had two grandmothers, and even if they were staying in our home, they only appeared when all was well with them. As a very young child, I once saw, down a hallway and through a slightly ajar door, my dear grandma sitting in bed, crying, with her head on my mother's shoulder.
This was a shocking, troubling sight. I asked my mother, "What's wrong with grandma?" My mother answered in a very casual tone, "Oh nothing. She's taking a nap."

And I'll pile on with all those counseling Ronni to have groceries delivered if at all possible.
I am exhausted after going out.............life being what it is now.

(Another vote for delivery, here! Or accepting a volunteer's offer to shop for you.)
I had older parents than most, in their 40s when I was born, so I was around their friends as they aged. For nearly all, life in their 80s was good to very good. But also, they bore their afflictions stoically. They did not grouse; it was as if they made an unspoken agreement to do what they could and downplay infirmity.

The hallmark of old people is slowness. I try to not give into the small behaviours like digging in my purse for exact change as others wait in line. But I do accept a seat on the bus, why not be grateful for one of the last vestiges of civility.

With the frustration about Covid-19 staying-in-place, I anticipate younger people saying ‘let us resume our lives, quarantine the old and vulnerable people, they are the ones most at risk’. Younger people might say, I may get the virus but it is unlikely it will kill me. Is it too far fetched to imagine older people being banned from public places except for designated times?

While my own health has been mostly good so far, my husband has lived with a chronic medical condition since developing all the classic Type 1 (formerly referred to as 'juvenile') diabetes symptoms 40 years ago when he became insulin dependent. We have been very fortunate that he has managed it relatively well for all these decades, but now, in his 70's it's becoming more complicated. Insulin resistance and the associated weight gain and various diabetes-related conditions have become a challenge in the last few years. Diabetic retinopathy started developing many years ago, and he still has vision, due mostly to some very good care from the Veterans Administration, but they can only do so much, and a couple of years ago he gave up driving due to visual impairment.

I suspect that many of us here are in similar situations where life becomes more of a challenge due to changes like my husband's, but we compensate the best we can and like the Energizer bunny, we just keep on getting up and going and doing as much of what needs to be done as we can. Ronni -- you certainly know all about that and have provided excellent opportunities for discussion and education in this venue.

Throwing a pandemic into the mix hasn't helped. My husband has not been out of the house for five weeks now. All his medical appointments have been moved forward to mid to late summer in hopes that the threat of going out will be mitigated by then. I go out to get groceries by myself, which takes about half a day once a week. Our youngest son lives with us, and is able to mostly work from home, which allows him to be a huge help to us with many things. Still, I look forward to him being able to resume a more normal life spending more time with people his age rather than his 70 year old parents.

Wishing everyone here a good weekend and hoping that the arrival of warmer temperatures and hoping for the return of the opportunities of SAFELY venturing out again soon!

Perhaps this has to do with walking in someone else's shoes; we don't know until we live it. Our culture being youth oriented does not teach us awareness nor, gasp, empathy and understanding of the old. We extend this to babies so why not the elderly? We are marginalized.

I will add my voice to the rest about online shopping, Ronnie, which is truly the safest of all ways to get our groceries. We think we are safe with putting on masks, gloves, etc. but at lot is yet to be known. Are one's eye's a portal for disease? So, there is still a risk in a store and there is always the potential for a customer to come too close or grow impatient as in Ronnie's story. Just my two cents....

Or, Trader Joes where I live only allows a certain number of people into the store at a time. That is sensible. They also do a number of other things to keep the store a relatively safe zone.

Stay well. Stay safe,


I'm so spoiled now with having groceries delivered that I may never go grocery shopping again. Scratch that. Of course I will. I'd prefer to choose my own produce, my own meats, (my own impulse buys), etc.. And I have heavy stuff like bags of dog chow and containers of kitty litter shipped to my door.

BTW, I consider aging itself a chronic condition. Symptoms may vary but there's no cure.

You write about 2 issues—the slowness of oldness and the stress of shopping, both combined because of your condition. I empathize with both.
I learned how to adjust to “old-slow” when I visited my mom or she visited me or I took her for a vacation. She had neuropathy, and couldn’t feel her feet, so she advanced VERY slowly. One time we were in a sketchy neighborhood in a foreign country on our way to the hotel and I thought I would jump out of my skin at the slow pace we were going.
I have never looked at curbs the same, since they were huge obstacles for her. The cutaways they have on curbs now for wheelchairs also benefit seniors who are unsteady on their feet, and I am grateful for them.
Shopping—I used to love it. What’s on sale? What is new? Thumping on cantaloupes to get the ripest one.
Now it’s a version of “supermarket sweepstakes.” I make lists —one for my husband and one for me, by department. We go in the minute the store opens, usually skipping breakfast. We race around and meet at the checkout, usually in 15-20 min. If we don’t see what we want where it usually is, we don’t get it—there’s no asking and waiting. Clueless customers sometimes want down the same aisle I’m in, and I look them in thr eye and ask them to please wait.
Getting home, I spend more time washing everything with soap and water than I do buying it in the first place. It’s utterly exhausting and demoralizing, and repeated every 2-3 weeks.
But I’m happy to be able to do it. I have no underlying health conditions, even though I’m in the age risk category. I wear mask and gloves. I wash everything and put my exterior clothes in the dryer when I get home. And this is the new normal for the foreseeable future...(at least there are no rations, so far, other than hand sanitizer)

I have not been able to have a grocery delivery yet; there are never openings for the service. I have had some luck, though, with ordering groceries online and picking them up. It works very well from a social distancing standpoint - they just load the bags into the trunk of my car and off I go. I don't like it, and I much prefer to shop in person. But I live in an urban environment and 70% of the cases in my county are in my immediate neighborhood. So I think it is the best way to handle it for now. I never realized how much I would miss the simple pleasure of browsing through a grocery store or pharmacy.

We only use the base facilities. At least some exposure is limited. No more tours, dinners out or movies. We figure we got about 8 mos. of retirement. At least our money is stable and regular so far. I work hardily around the yard (COPD Gold and Asthma), but readily tell any hirelings that I am SLOW. I grew up around many older people. My Mom is 96. My Grandmother died at 87 (Drank herself to death). My paternal grandfather was born before the Civil War. Yes, we do have some deliveries done now. I, with my inherent frugality, hated to spend the extra money but these deliveries made my wife happier. I tell 50 year olds to enjoy their youth. Hah! I used fume at the slowness of the elderly. Now I am part of the club and get to eat my own words. B

I am quite comforted by others sharing the fact that we don't know HOW TO BE AS OLD AS WE ARE. I am often confused by a lack of role models and wonder if I'm failing at being old.

Grocery delivery is a wonderful thing. You might really like it.

Cop Car's comment about living longer than previous generations of her family nudged me to remember something I think about occasionally: in my family, longevity has been going the other way. Both my parents lived long lives, but each died appreciably younger than their parent of the same sex. So I sometimes wonder if, assuming some erupting virus doesn't get me, I can anticipate dying younger than my mother (that's 90, so it's still a good ways away-17 more years.)

They belonged to a generation who came of age in the late 1920s, early Depression, for whom smoking marked adulthood, so that may have counteracted what were apparently very healthy genes. Or maybe it's all random.

I spent my youth in proximity to elder grandparents and have never lacked for old people in my life. Still close to a number of folks in their 90s.

I learned how to have a good retirement by watching friends and relatives plus I now live in an Over 55 community. I see such a variety of activity levels. On neighbor in her 90s doesn’t know the meaning of slow she takes a vigorous walk every day but she can’t remember a thing and doesn’t understand why she can’t go to church. Another almost 99 has become pretty much housebound but her mind is still sharp. What makes me anxious are the friends younger than me who’s chronic conditions have profoundly slowed them down.
I had surgery in early March and recovered well as usual but I couldn’t be sure I would as I’m 79. Most days I have to remind myself I’m old and my brisk walks are short.
From what I see the important thing is to keep moving.

I, too, order my groceries, then pick up the order. I figure it is one fewer person handling my groceries. The young person who brings my order to the car is not allowed to accept tips, but I give them one of my home-made masks, and they seem to be thrilled with the gift. These are almost the only outings I've had since March 13.

When I get home there is the washing/spraying/wiping of everything and the next day I'm exhausted. Don't know why I'm exhausted. Maybe anxiety kicks in there somewhere.

I grew up with only a few occasions spending time with an older maternal grandmother. When I was elementary age I spent a week one summer with her when she was still living in the remaining still-standing portion of her rural area home. One winter she stayed with us a short time, but I recall little. The next time I saw her was my final delightful memory when I was a young working adult and she was in her early eighties.

Perhaps on all those occasions my mother prepared me for what to expect and how to treat an older person, but I don't remember if she did. I just know I always related well with my grandmother -- the only grandparent still living then that I ever knew. She entered into my childhood fantasies, entertained me with her "elocution" performances. I had patience with her and she with me -- I took my cues from her.

I don't really know why, but I've always related well with older people -- perhaps because my mother was older when I was born and I interacted a lot with adults. It wasn't my intent to work with an adult population and many older people when at midlife I began a new profession, but that circumstance presented itself. I realized at my age then, exhausted from my own children, that I preferred working with the adult energy level versus that of young children.

I became acutely aware and empathetic to the adult needs, complex family dynamics from those self-sufficient loners to the needy people requiring family and/or friends attention for happiness. All of this informed me, adding to my perceptions, so I felt well-prepared for what I might experience in my older life, planning accordingly. Despite all that, as I knew, life is unpredictable and my challenges have become unexpected, but, that's life!

I'm with those who say they may stay forever with online grocery shopping and delivery-to-one's-door. After a few initial bumps trying to figure out how to get an opening for delivery when all the grocery stores were swamped with orders (for the first few weeks, I was staying up until midnight on Monday nights, in order to grab the first available space when it opened on Tuesday morning at one of the stores here), I now have it figured out and it's SO much easier than trying to navigate going to the store in person, in these stressful times.

For all those who say they tried and could never find a space open, I'd suggest trying again now, to see if it's any easier. The grocery stores in my area have done an amazing job of increasing the number of deliveries available and of upgrading their online ordering systems so that their websites don't crash from too much traffic at one time. Each store handles it differently, but they are all rallying, and it shows.

If anyone deserves delivery-to-the-door, it's you Ronni.

I've been thinking of all of the older women I use to see shopping at my childhood neighborhood shopping district. They wore dresses, stockings and sensible leather shoes with little to no makeup and plain hair. I was a teenager working as a sales clerk at a department store. It seemed to be primarily a world of all older people, people in their 50s and beyond. I sometimes wonder what kind of lives these women led. Were they happy? Did they feel satisfied with how they lived? How did they die?

I've always enjoyed grocery shopping, a little less so now, and shop during the senior hours. I am visually stimulated. I make my own substitutions. I can be inspired by some terrific looking red peppers. I saw a delicious looking turkey meatloaf at the meat department of one store. Now, it's a regular item. I would've have never seen the turkey meatloaf had I not shopped in person.

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