Why Getting Old is Not for Sissies
It’s time to have “the talk.” No, not about sex. We need to have the talk about what it’s like to get old and what you need to know and do, now, to age more gracefully and healthily. This is not an article from a geriatrics journal or blog on aging. It’s from my own experiences. So stay with me while I share from my heart to yours. Let’s talk about why it’s true that getting old is not for sissies. At 83, I have become somewhat of an authority on the subject.
You see, yesterday I sold my car. Not because I was buying a new one. I’ve done that quite a number of times over the years. And not because I just wanted the money or was looking for something “special.” I sold it because I can no longer drive safely, and it is time to let the car go. It’s a hard realization that I’m too old to drive. When did that happen?
I was determined not to let age slow me down. But it did. I wish I had paid attention to what was happening, but I was too busy living my life to think about it. Don’t make that mistake.
Let me start by saying that old age seems to creep up on you. Sometime after the age of 65 (and for some even earlier), you begin to change as signs of aging begin to creep in. There are always exceptions to the rule because each of us is wonderfully unique but, If you’re at the top of the Bell shaped curve here’s what you will most likely experience, at least I am discovering them in my own life.
- Skin begins to get thinner and it may sag and wrinkle. It may get splotchy with brown and white spots. If you used to get a beautiful smooth tan, now the sun is not so kind and you get ugly blotches, especially on your arms. (Those of us with a weight problem at least have fewer wrinkles. A strange blessing).
- Hair begins to thin and lose its color, becoming gray or white.
- Your fingernails grow slower and may become thin and brittle. They tear easily.
- Your body may change shape (mine got fatter— some get thinner. Some get stooped, etc.) This happens even if you are careful with your eating habits.
- Your joints may hurt and it may be hard to pick things up or get out of a soft chair or couch. Stairs may become hard to climb and hands may lose strength. Opening a bottle or jar gets harder.
- You tire easily and may need naps to get through the day. You may have to stop and rest along the way if you go out for a walk.
- Eyes grow dim. It gets harder to read labels and sometimes you need glasses and a magnifier to read things that everyone else seems to find easy. Labels are particularly challenging.
- Hearing gets more difficult. You find yourself asking people to repeat what they said because you just can’t hear as well as you used to. Sometimes you can use this to your advantage if you don’t want to hear what people are saying. (Hey, there have to be some advantages, don’t you think?)
- You may shrink in height. I was 5’5″ most of my life. Now I’m 5’4″ and can’t reach the upper shelves of the cabinets. Blah!
- You may have to get up more often at night for a bathroom trip and sometimes you can’t make it in time. (We won’t mention the word “incontinent.”)
- Sometimes it’s hard to keep your balance. It’s easy to trip and/or fall. And once you have sprawled across the sidewalk or the living room floor it’s really hard to get back up. Trust me on that one.
- You begin to remember clearly things that happened in your youth but you can’t remember your neighbor’s name. Short term memory
waxes and wanes like the moon. If you had a poor memory to begin with, now it seems to have disappeared altogether. You write notes to yourself and forget where you put them or forget that you wrote them in the first place. Making “To Do” lists becomes essential. Just remember where you put them
- Now and then you get a bit confused. We won’t elaborate.
- Some older people get depressed. Fortunately, I have not joined that group, but I know others who have. It’s easy to get depressed when everything seems to be sagging, dragging or lagging.
- Your mind still feels like it’s young and vibrant (despite the memory thing) but your body just won’t keep up. It’s easy to become frustrated.
- You may have mellowed out a bit, but emotions are still keen. Gratitude seems to replace many other emotions and your wish list of things you want grows shorter.
But there is some good news
You begin to realize the beauty of each day and the magic in each moment. Sunrises and sunsets are more magnificent. “Little things” become more important and meaningful. Friends grow more precious as they become fewer.
Love means more and the significance/importance/preciousness of your spouse or “significant other” is hard to describe because words are inadequate. You realize that many are alone and you’ve been blessed with a loving companion. And yes, old people like sex, cuddling, being held and touched. We are, after all, still human although many younger people may not think so.
So what can you do to make it easier?
- Take care of yourself while you’re still young. You know the drill. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, stretch to maintain flexibility, get plenty of sleep, etc.
- Find something you love to do and stay busy doing it. I have this blog that I started in 2007. I love working on it and it takes hours every day to maintain it. It gives me purpose and keeps me in touch with other people.
- Do things that exercise your brain. Play games, read books, join an interest group or two. There are brain games on the computer. Lumosity and Games for the Brain are two sites but there are many more. When I’m not working on the blog I play Microsoft’s “Solitaire Collection,” (has 5 different games that range from easy to expert), I also play word games and build an online jigsaw puzzle. I often watch a Ted talk. If you vegetate in front of the TV you will begin to shrivel up mentally and it’s hard to get that back.
- Meditate. If you haven’t been meditating, start now. Get a guided meditation program or two if you need to.
- Think positive thoughts. This is important because there may be days that seem anything but positive. No one likes to be around a sour old man or woman so don’t let yourself become one.
- Do something for someone else as often as possible. This may only be a smile at someone in the grocery store or a cheerful greeting. But reach out some way to help another person.
- Find something that makes you laugh. Have fun. Laughter is both contagious and healing. Get your sense of humor out of mothballs and use it often.
- Be grateful. Gratitude feeds the soul and takes your mind off of your aches and pains.
- If you are alone and are able to care for one, get a pet. A dog or cat can make all the difference in how you feel and soften the pain of loneliness.
- Celebrate your life.
- And in the words of Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry. Be Happy.”