Aug 25, 2006

What do I know about growing old?

I was raised by old people. A man of 67 and a woman of 58 took me in and got the joy of raising a kid through puberty all over again. And they did it quite well. For this reason, I don't see old folks as some uniform, brain-dead mass thanks to their uniform hair-coloring and face-wrinkling, but with the expectation of them as being as wonderful as my grandparents, and with personalities and habits just as unique. I have yet to be disappointed.

But they grew old and died (a fact that still pisses me off). The growing old part wasn't bad. The growing too weak to have fun wasn't good. So what have I learned from this?

Old age is not an illness, nor are illnesses a feature of old age; if an elderly person gets sick, it's because something is wrong, not because they are elderly. Some people are tough as nails, healthy as apples, and as with it as a young genius, and they're pushing 100. Some people are picking out caskets at age 30 and in them by 60. My grandparents were lively and healthy well into their 80's. Grandpa's mind went but his body stayed agile and slim, and Grandma's body went, but her mind and curiosity remained intact. Grandpa died a few months before his 93rd birthday, Grandma a few months before her 95th. Neither ever suffered from bad moods.

That's one key: Stay happy. Or if you like, don't worry. Or better still: Forget a lot of crap. Other keys to keeping your wits and health based on what I saw:

  1. Keep walking. Don't let yourself forget how to move around outside your own home.
  2. Stay curious; don't starve your personality or your brain.
  3. Don't get fat. In women, overweight is one of the causes of incontinence; in general, it makes moving around harder as you age, and if you then lose all that weight (which many elderly do), you'll have sheets of skin being a nuisance to you.
  4. Take care of your sight and hearing. Not being able to see or hear what everybody else sees and hears will keep you from being curious. It will also make people think you're an idiot (I'm sorry to say).
  5. Have a hobby, preferably one you can share or share the results of. Or have a pet. Point is, you have to want to get out of bed because something enjoyable is waiting for you, regardless of whether your grown kids remembered to visit you.
  6. If you do discover that things aren't working quite right, get help! Don't sabotage yourself! Early nuisance problems that aren't taken care of can eventually grow insurmountable. If you leak, put on the damned diaper and go out anyway. If you've gone gimpy, get the stupid cane, and go out anyway. Get the hearing aid, the kitchen aids, the new glasses, the raised seat on the toilet, the large-button phone, the inlay soles, the wheelchair. For many people, growing old and frail is a shock. Age feels like a thief that steals energy, agility and ability, and many find their new weakness embarrassing and don't want to "advertise" that fact. They end up making life harder for themselves than it has to be, which eventually demovitates them. Stay active and independent with whatever it takes even if people stare. To those of you with aging parents, point out the perks of independence, and don't play the age card. What ails them is not necessarily due to age, anyway.

One Norwegian was asked about what it was like to be old, and he said he could still do everything he did when he was younger, it just took longer. He got it right.


Jeff K said...

Both of my grandfathers are still alive. One's 94, the other's 85. They each live in their own place, not an assisted living facility. They're both amazing men. I've been lucky, having grown up around all my grandparents. I even had two great-grandparents until I was about 5, and my great-grandmother lived until I was 15 or 16. One of my grandmothers died when I was 17, the other just a couple years ago. Great post.

Keera said...

Thanks, Jeff! I too grew up with a complete compliment of grandparents and I am very happy I did and could.

Paula said...

My mom's a cool "old" lady at 75; my dad is having problems, maybe because he always shunned exercise, though I don't like blaming him--maybe he wouldn't be doing well no matter what. My in-laws were embarrased by aging and related infirmaries, kept putting off seeing us and our kids, and now it's pretty much too late--my MIL has Alzheimer's. I'm annoyed with them for not being part of my children's lives cuz of their stupid, selfish "pride."

Keera said...

The scariest thing I think any of us can imagine is what can happen in old age: No longer being completely independent or in control of ourselves. It's a hard reality to face or admit or even identify. As Bette Davis said, "Growing old is not for sissies."

Keera said...

PS Paula: I'm sorry the grandparents missed out on being grandparents and that your kids missed out on being grandkids.

Mark said...

I knew only one grandparent, and only saw her infrequently. Now, my wife's grandmother lives with us (for the past twn years, actually). She turns 100 in a week or two.

While it has been a joy to have her here, I have learned that I do not want to live to be 100. No one should. It is a terrrible thing for one's mind to be a prisoner in a body that is functioning with increasing difficulty.

Mark said...

Tht was ten years, not two.