So… searching the internet for I-know-not-what, I stumbled across a Google entry for a page simply titled ‘Old Age’, by Dr Marian Koshland, which piqued my curiosity and, like a fool I opened it. This is what I learned…
Old Age, apparently, is broken into three stages: young old (55-65 years), middle old (66-85 years) and old old (85+) and I must admit that knowing that I have already been old (albeit young old) for five years came as something of a shock. Alarmed I immediately checked my wardrobe (well, straight after I’d checked my pulse – I still had one, so that was good) and I have to confirm the sad fact, I am old. My clothes are either old old, or new, but still old. My jeans are not ripped, my ‘T’ shirts are not frayed, my suits are shiny (although in an overworn way, not in a fashionable way). I have woollen cardigans. At my bedside I have an alarm clock, a glass of orange squash (I can’t drink the chemical brew they call tap water without masking the flavour) and a jar of Vick’s Vapo-Rub…
According to Dr Koshland, the effects of Old Age are sub-divided into four categories: Physical, Cognitive, Emotional and Social
• Bones become more brittle and joints become less flexible – much like attitudes. Much like my knees, opinions become fixed – and prone to sudden inflamation.
• Almost everyone over the age of 55 will need glasses at least part of the time. Unfortunately, I have needed glasses since a motorbike accident in my teens when I met a tree face on. The tree did not yield. My face did. I count myself lucky that my neck did not. I am aware that my eyesight is deteriorating by the day. Either that, or somebody is moving the TV further away whilst I am not looking; somebody is smearing the newspaper with Vaseline. Perhaps even more alarming than the general deterioration in the clarity of my vision, is my inability to see in the dark. My house shines like a beacon during the hours of darkness: I cannot find the toilet without a spotlight; I cannot find the light switch without the lights on.
• Sense of touch starts to decline. Sensitivity to pain is reduced. I have no sense of touch during the winter months when my fingers are permanently encased in woollen gloves. During the summer, I am generally out in the garden damaging myself with one lethal garden implement or another. I can only imagine that reduced sensitivity to pain waits around the corner for me. It certainly does not appear to be a feature of my current age. A hang-nail can drive me crazy. A splinter may drive me to drink. A thorn under my nail may drive me over the edge.
• Older people are more prone to chronic disease. Blimey. The common cold is chronic enough for me, without developing anything that is actually life-affecting. My last visit to the doctor featured the sentence ‘Cholesterol’s OK, blood pressure’s fine, you don’t have diabetes – yet’; as if I was just awaiting its arrival. In response, I have cut down my chocolate intake. I can now take minutes to finish a Mars bar.
• Functions such as memory begin to decline – at different rates for different individuals. In my case, that started at about fifteen years of age. I used to have a boss who said ‘Remember, I have forgotten more than you will ever know.’ I have never – would never – use that line, but it could easily be at least partially true in my case. I’ve definitely forgotten loads, but I can’t honestly remember how much I might have known in the first place. It is possible to slow down this decline – in specific areas rather than general cognition. Memory training, for instance, can be beneficial, but only if you can remember where you left the cards. Fortunately, ‘reasoning’ as it applies to everyday life is unaffected by normal ageing, so I can remain quietly confident that I will not be tempted into politics in my dotage. It has been shown that physical exercise can protect brain function and I have gone for this in a big way. I have bought some socks that are at least a size too small so that I really have to pull them on. Without fail, regardless of where I am, my phone is somewhere else, so I constantly have to circle the house in search of it. I then have to re-circle the house in search of my glasses so that I can read it. I deliberately leave the TV remote just out of reach – which, in practice, means that I have been watching Channel Four for the last three months.
• As we age, apparently, we learn to accommodate the changes in our physical selves and become more focussed on pursuing meaningful goals rather than attempting to expand our horizons. Well, you can say what you wish, but I am just that far away from my goal of eating six cream eggs in six minutes and if that’s not horizon expanding, I don’t know what is. Positive attitude is incredibly important. Apparently those with a positive attitude ‘live on average 7.5 years longer’. Presumably the opposite also applies: each night I sit down to watch the news and I can feel the life draining out of me. If you really want to put your positive attitude to the test, read the unexpurgated Wikipedia page for Old Age and digest all of the grisly details it contains. If you remain positive, then you deserve your extra 7.5 years – although I’m not certain that you’ll want them.
• Finally, it would seem that as we get older our social networks shrink – eventually centring just around partners and family. This change, asserts Dr Koshland, reflects the emotional development associated with old age. Ah well, as long as it’s not just because all of our friends are dying eh…
You can live to be 100 if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be 100 – Woody Allen