A Limit To Aging

It’s no secret that average life expectancy for men and women has been steadily increasing for years.  With advances in medicine, science, disease control, and other factors that affect mortality, it’s now commonplace for people to live well into their 80s and 90s, and more people than ever are hitting triple digits.

100-candlesBut if you read the occasional stories about the acknowledged oldest person in the world, you note that the maximums don’t seem to be advancing.  You see the report on the oldest person being presented with a birthday cake with more than 110 candles, and a few months later you read that that person has gone to the great beyond and a new “oldest person in the world” has taken on that designation.

This leads scientists to wonder whether there’s a natural limit to life expectancy in humans.  One recent study, which explored a mass of human mortality information, has concluded that the human life span is naturally limited to a maximum of about 115 years, and that it would be exceptionally rare for any human to hit 125.  The study noted that only one human, a French woman named Jeanne Calment who died in 1997 at the age of 122, has even come close.

Some scientists pooh-pooh this conclusion, noting that the current crop of super-old codgers may have had their life expectancies affected by malnutrition or childhood diseases that have since been eradicated, and that up-and-coming generations of people who have not been exposed to such life-affecting circumstances may easily break through the 115 or even the 125 barrier.  Others argue that extreme old age logically should have genetic limits, as the lives of different species of animals seemingly do.  And, of course, it’s possible that new advances in medicine — such as finding a cure for cancer or the development of readily available artificial organs — could have an impact.

For now, though, I guess we’ll just have to settle for going toes up in the prime of life at the age of 115.  That’s bitterly disappointing for those of us who want desperately to see the year 2100, but at least having a presumed end date of 115 will add some welcome structure to our retirement planning.

Slowing Down

I’m sorry to report that our dog Kasey seems to be slowing down.  That’s OK — it’s what happens to old dogs, and to old people, too.  But it also makes us sad.

We first noticed it because Kasey is now having trouble jumping onto couches and chairs.  In the old days, she could spring onto just about anything from a standing position.  Then, it took a running start, but she made it.  Now, she just puts her front paws on the seat and looks around beseechingly for a friendly face who might give her a lift up to one of her accustomed spots.

IMG_2601There are other signs as well.  She limps from time to time, and she doesn’t seem to like long walks quite as much, and she doesn’t strain at the leash like she used to.  Her head is turning white.  Her eating habits have become more erratic.  She’s more content to sit in the backyard in a cool, quiet spot.  And she’s had a few of those unfortunate “accidents” around the house.

When you notice these kinds of things, the antenna go up and you begin looking for more indications of health problems.  So far, though, we haven’t had to deal with any of those — aside from Kasey’s awful teeth, which seem to be more a product of bad care when she was little than advancing age.

We don’t know how old Kasey is, because she was a fully grown rescue dog when we first met her at the Erie County Humane Society.  We guess that she’s 14 or so, but she’s a smaller dog, and they are supposed to live longer.  We’re hoping that’s true.

In the meantime, Kish is watching Kasey like a hawk, keeping an eye out for gimpiness or apparent bowel problems, so we can get ol’ Kase to the vet at the first sign of trouble.  Kish’s careful observation of Kasey for signs of aging is a bit unnerving, though.  Now that I’ve passed 59, I’m squarely in the zone of scrutiny, too.

Alzheimer’s Isn’t Funny

Last week there were reports that Will Ferrell was pursuing a new movie in which he would portray Ronald Reagan.  The project was pitched as a comedy set during Reagan’s second term, in which he is depicted as already in the grip of Alzheimer’s disease and an intern is charged with convincing Reagan that he is an actor portraying the President.  After an outcry about the insensitivity of the concept from Reagan’s children and others, one of Ferrell’s representatives said the actor wasn’t going to do the movie.

brain-tree-dementia-624x295I get why the Reagan children reacted as they did, and I think Ferrell was wise to back away from the project.  The reality is that Alzheimer’s disease really isn’t very funny.  Sure, many people who have had to deal with a family member with the disease probably have shaken their heads and had a rueful laugh about a particular episode that demonstrates how the ill person has changed — whether by repeating themselves, or by not knowing a friend or family member, or by showing radical changes to their personality as the disease ravages their brain — but it’s defensive humor, designed to help you cope with the realization that a person you know and love is falling into a black pit from which they will never emerge, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

I’ve read several memoirs written by children who’ve cared for parents with Alzheimer’s or dementia.  When the books share a “humorous” anecdote, as they sometimes do, it’s uncomfortable reading because the victim of the disease is inevitably the butt of the humor — because they’ve forgotten where they are, or have taken a shower with their pants on, or have used a word that they would never had said before in polite company.  It’s not really funny at all.  It’s tragic, and it’s not fair to the person whose intellect and personality and consciousness is being irreversibly stripped away, bit by bit, until only an unfamiliar shell remains.  They can’t help themselves.

I suppose a hard-bitten, cynical Hollywood agent might think a script about an intern deceiving a character in the grip of Alzheimer’s was a laugh riot, but only if that agent didn’t know anyone who had experienced the disease.  These days, there aren’t many people who fall into that category, and those who have been touched aren’t going to go watch a “comedy” that reminds them of the devastation the disease inflicted.  And if such a movie ever gets made, how many members of the audience are going to erupt in belly laughs about the lead character’s painful confusion?

My guess is that most people who watched such a movie would leave with the same fervent vow found among people who have dealt with Alzheimer’s in their families.  It goes like this: “Please don’t let me ever, ever get Alzheimer’s.”

Birthday Wishes

Today is my birthday.

It’s great to live in modern times because, among other things, it’s easier to wish people happy birthday, and in more communication methods and forms, than ever before.  I’ve received grossly inappropriate, unforgivably ageist cards from family and friends, Facebook congratulations from pals old and new and a post from UJ with a picture of us as toddlers, text message birthday greetings, and nice emails from clients and colleagues.  It’s been great to be the target of so many good wishes.

I’ve even received happy birthday emails from my optometrist, my periodontist, and the America Red Cross.  I suppose there’s a kind of message there, too.

Password Obscenity Roulette

Hacking hackers are everywhere these days, and all at once.  For the IT guys amongst us, that means tinkering with firewalls and new defensive software and systems vulnerability checks and incident response plans and all of the other technical gibberish that makes IT guys boring death at a party.  For the rest of us, we can only groan in grim anticipation, because we know that we’re going to be asked to change our password . . . again.

rouletteOne of the great challenges of modern life is remembering all of the different “passwords” that we must inevitably use to access our various electronic devices and internet accounts and computer access points.  Unfortunately, we can’t use passwords like Allen Ludden would recognize. In fact, they can’t be a properly spelled word at all.  So that it’s a “strong” password, it’s got to include a weird combination of capitalized and lower case letters, numbers substituting for letters, and random characters, like ampersands and pound signs and question marks.  The result often looks like the sanitized representation of cursing that you might see from the Sarge in a Beetle Bailey cartoon — minus only the lightning bolts.  (@#%*$^@#!)  In a way, that’s pretty appropriate.

Of course, all of these suB5t!tu+ed characters, plus the fact that you need different passwords for different devices and accounts, plus the fact that passwords now must be changed much more frequently, make it impossible for the average human being to remember the passwords in the first place.  How many of us sit down at a computer or pick up our tablet and idly wonder for a moment what the &*%$# the password is?  And there’s the new year/check writing phenomenon to deal with, too.  When a new year comes, how long does it take you to stop automatically writing the old year in the date, because you’d been doing that for the past 346 days?  I had to change my iPhone password several weeks ago, and I still reflexively type in the old password every time I’m prompted, until I dimly realize that I’ve changed it and it’s time to key in the new one — if I can remember it.

There’s a positive aspect to this.  We’re all getting older, and people who deal with aging say that if you want to stay mentally sharp as the joints creak and the brain cells croak you need to play word games or solve puzzles.  Well, this generation has got that covered.  We don’t need silly games, because we’ve got frustrating passwords.


Long Hair On Old Guys

Yesterday Kish and I were at an event, and seated two rows ahead of us was an old guy in his 60s with long gray hair.  I mean, really long hair.  It cascaded past his shoulders and shoulder blades, and the longest strands probably reached the middle of his back.

305471-a3And, like seemingly every human being who has long hair, he couldn’t keep his hands off of it.  As he put his arm around his lady friend with his right hand, he would use his left hand to do the casual hair-flip-off-the-shoulders move that teenage girls perfected in high school.  Sometimes he would smooth down the hair, which had the oily sheen that you often see with long hair, and other times he would gather his gray locks in both hands, like he was going to put it into a pony tail, only to let fall like a sheet of gray, hairy rain behind his seat.

This guy obviously thought that he was just about the coolest person in the place with that long gray hair.

Other people, though . . . not so much.  The poor woman sitting right behind him had to deal with that scraggly gray-haired waterfall, with all of its fidgety flips and drops and adjustments, intruding on her personal space.  I couldn’t help but notice that, when she shifted position to cross her legs, she very carefully maneuvered to avoid having her shoe or pant leg make contact with even a single gray hair fiber.

Why?  Because most people don’t want to touch or interact with other people’s long hair.  And while we might tolerate it in self-absorbed high school girls or members of heavy metal hair bands or Indian gurus or photos of gunfighters from the 1880s, when it’s one of those old guys who is desperately clinging to pretensions of youth, all a polite person can do is roll his eyes and wonder at some people’s apparently endless capacity for self-deception.

Unfortunately, the old guy long hair look is all too common.  Aging Baby Boomer guys just can’t tolerate the notion that they aren’t young anymore, I guess.  They can’t control most of the ravages of age — but they can control the length of their hair.  They want people to understand immediately that, even though they now look like their grandfathers, they are still cool and at the cutting edge of society, and they think long hair communicates that.  But of course, it doesn’t.  Long hair on an old guy doesn’t look cool.  It doesn’t make them look young, either.  Instead, it’s kind of pathetic.

C’mon, Baby Boomer guys . . . you’re old.  Stop embarrassing yourselves!  It’s finally time to act your age.

Salad ‘Speriment

I’m posting this because I’m hoping that my doctor might see it.

He’s been after me to change my eating habits.  It’s the same old tiresome nanny-like refrain — eat less meat, and when you do eat meat, make it chicken or turkey, and try to eat more fish, and eat more leafy green vegetables.  Lots more vegetables.  Except in my case, the latter request means eat any leafy green vegetables, because I loathe them with every fiber of my being and typically avoid them like the plague.  There are sound scientific reasons for doing so, and anyway you can plausibly argue that the U.S. Supreme Court, deep down, agrees with me.

IMG_0092But you have to listen to your doctor, don’t you?  And when you’re past the double-nickel milestone, you feel like you really should listen to your doctor.  You’re supposed to be wise and savvy at that point, and after all, you’re paying the guy.  And who knows?  Maybe with that M.D. degree he might actually have some useful insight into how I might actually be able to avoid the many appalling health calamities that routinely seem to strike down men my age.

So today, when I went out to lunch with an astonished associate from the firm, I ordered a salad.  This is the first lunch salad I’ve ever ordered.  In fact, it’s the first salad of any type I’ve ever ordered.  In fact, it’s the first salad I’ve actually consumed.  It was an arugula and spinach salad with cranberries and goat cheese and grilled butternut squash, with grilled chicken on the side to make it palatable and some kind of dressing.

And I ate every bit of it, Dr. Z!  Every bit!  Because I was hungry, and would have eaten the plate!  Are you satisfied?  Because I have to tell you that the entire time I was munching on the leafy green items that apparently are my failsafe ticket to long life, I was thinking of a cheeseburger.