Jeff Kane: There’s more to aging than being old
If you don’t remember much from your teenage years, it might be because of disorientation caused by rapid changes.
You grew by inches seemingly overnight. Your shape kept morphing, so you often felt awkward and self-conscious. In the morning you lovingly admired your emerging adulthood in the mirror, and that afternoon were repulsed by pimples you could hardly see over. By your 20s the roller coaster mercifully slowed, and you subsequently enjoyed decades of relative stability.
But then you encounter old age, which is as turbulent as adolescence, and the ride begins again.
When I was young, I perceived seniors as just plain old. I had no idea what they were experiencing inside that blotched crepe-paper skin. I didn’t know that changes roiled them almost daily. A friend, pointing to the spots and patches on her arm, tells me, “Look! I’m turning to salami!” Another woman awakens one morning suddenly blind in one eye. An old guy feels humiliated by having to wear diapers. Another is devastated that he can’t safely handle a chain saw anymore, or even go up on the roof. Many lament feeling disregarded by youngsters, and resent having whole days displaced by relentless medical appointments.
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Old age is a parade of losses, but it’s not a total bummer. It has its compensations. We seniors don’t move as rapidly as we did, so we see more. We strive less and appreciate more. Younger people sometimes respect our experience, even ask our advice. We get Medicare, cheaper movie seats, and fifteen percent off at Ross Dress for Less on Tuesdays. And we’re finally relieved of the fear that we’ll die young.
I raise this subject because we’re a graying population — in fact, so much so that the fastest growing age group is the Hundred Year Club. In 2011 the first “baby boomers” turned 65, and soon we’ll feel the full elder tsunami.
Focusing on seniors’ needs, we first see the physical ones such as income, housing, and healthcare. But they have nonphysical needs, too, like being seen and heard. We can help by appreciating the rapid changes they endure, their losses and disabilities, their social invisibility and isolation, and their accumulating symptoms.
I suggest contacting the whole and undiminished people who live inside those fragile skins, especially since if you’re lucky you’ll soon enough be one of them.
Jeff Kane is a physician and writer in Nevada City.
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