Unwelcome Intros

The other day I got an email from an evidently well-meaning local health operations.  The text of the email began:  “At your age . . . .”  The rest of the sentence was “watch out for these injuries,” but I really couldn’t get past the introductory phrase.  Couldn’t they have come up with something a little bit less aggressively in-your-face about the age issue, and a little more neutral in tone?

storage-rack-for-folding-walkers(In case you’re wondering, the email pointed out that aging people tend to lose strength and flexibility, and have problems with their balance.  In short, when you get old you’re going to become a rigid, brittle-boned, stumbling weakling.  Welcome to the Golden Years!  And watch out for those falls that cause hip injuries.)

Messages that begin “At your age” are right up there with messages that begin “We regret to inform you.”  When you see that, you know bad news is coming.  Sometimes you don’t even need to read the introductory phrase to know that the tidings are grim.  When I was applying to law schools back in the early ’80s, I quickly learned that a slender envelope inevitably equaled rejection.  Applicants were looking for the fat manila envelopes that provided information about acceptance, financial aid availability, and other information that an accepted student might need, not the basic envelope white envelope carrying the one-page ding letter from some flunky in the registrar’s office.  (Of course, that was back in the days when people used the mails to communicate, which just shows why I’m getting emails that begin “At your age . . . .”)

And speaking of messages, sometimes what starts out positive can take an abrupt left turn with the use of the word “but.”  A wise older person once said that you should ignore everything that comes before the “but.”   Being old, after voicing those words of wisdom she no doubt promptly stood up, lost her balance, and suffered some kind of joint injury.

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Out Of Whack

I’ve been on the road a lot recently, and I feel like it’s had an impact on my normal routines.  I’ve moved back and forth between time zones, spent a lot of time on planes, gotten up at odd hours (even for me) and stayed up later than normal, and am no longer on the schedule that I’ve typically followed.

a41_lot271_2-maxAnd I’m feeling all of that, too.  My circadian rhythms are out of whack and off kilter.  I feel like an old golf ball that has lost its crisp bounce and now is just landing on the fairway or in the rough with a pathetic, disappointing thud.

The hoary saying is that you are only as old as you feel.  Of course, that saying suggests that there are times when you do feel older, and are reminded by mind and body that you’re not the spring chicken you used to be.  The realization that your rebound process seems to be taking a lot longer now than it did in the past is one of those times.  But right now I’m just too tired to care.

Never Quite “Old”

Recently the New York Times ran a piece which once again addresses the question of what constitutes being “old” in America.  The writer, who is 61, says that the question of “what is ‘old,’ anyway?” is very much on his mind and is on the minds of the 70 million Baby Boomers who are older than 50.  He adds, by way of illustration:  “Dinner conversations are now hyper-focused on how to stay young or at least delay old.”

active-seniors-bicyclingThose sound like pretty damned boring dinner conversations!

It seems like we see these articles with regularity, as we Baby Boomers fight desperately to avoid association with “old age.”  The article linked above, for example, quotes a researcher who says that somebody who is 60 years old today is “middle-aged” and true “old age” doesn’t occur until men hit 70 to 71 and women hit 73 or 74.  Wanna bet that those numbers move back even farther as the bulge of the Boomer generation moves closer to the dreaded “old age” cutoff, to the point where, in a few years, people are saying 80 is the new 50?

It’s pretty ridiculous — and kind of pathetic — when you think about it.  Some people in the Baby Boom generation have always seemed more focused on how they are perceived than how they feel about themselves.  Now that they are aging, and they don’t want to be seen as “old,” they struggle to convince everyone that a different definition should apply. But the efforts aren’t working, and people still use the same criteria to define who is “old” — things like whether you’ve got gray hair, or for that matter any hair, and whether you’re approaching retirement at your workplace.  If you have enough of those criteria, you’re going to be seen as “old,” whether or not some researcher argues that advances in longevity really should change the definition.

If all Baby Boomers were really as rebellious as they like to think they are, they wouldn’t care about public perception.  If you’re seen as old by others, so what?  The key is what people think about themselves, not the labels assigned to them by others.  Baby Boomers would be better off if they stopped talking about “being old” at dinner conversations, and started focusing more on what they personally still want to do with their lives.

My Doctor’s Questionnaire

My doctor is one of those incredibly capable health care professionals who is always acquiring information in order to provide the best possible medical advice.  He uses the information obtained from a questionnaire as deftly as surgeons use a scalpel or GPs use a rubber tomahawk on your knee to test reflexes.

Recently, though, I’ve noticed a change in the tenor of the questionnaires I’m getting from my doctor.  No longer are they just focused on allergies, or muscle strains, or my diet, or how much exercise I’m getting.  Now the questions seem a lot more, uh, pointed.  In my most recent visit, the very first page of the questionnaire I was given to complete was the “Duke Activity Status Index.”

img_5859“Can you take care of yourself (eating, dressing, bathing or using the toilet)?”

“Can you walk indoors such as around your house?”

“Can you walk a block or two on level ground?”

Can you climb a flight of stairs or walk up a hill?”

Hey, wait a second!  Exactly what kind of questionnaire is this, anyway?  Why are the busybody nerds at Duke wondering about whether I can walk a single block on level ground, or eat without assistance?

I’m guessing the “Duke Activity Status Index” is not given to 25-year-old patients.

And then the very next page in the questionnaire packet is the “Burns Depression Checklist,” and one of its questions is:  “Poor self-image:  Do you think you’re looking old or unattractive?”

Well, to be honest with you, I really wasn’t focused on the subject until I started to read this questionnaire!

Destination: Jimmy Durante

Yesterday I ran across a discouraging article.  It pointed out that whereas most parts of the human body have stopped growing when an individual reaches adulthood, there are two uniform exceptions to that rule: your ears and your nose.

589dbf1913f52__george-burns-and-jimmy-durante(FYI, apparently fat cells around the midsection are not considered a separate “body part.”)

The article explains that in most parts of the human body, growth stops because cells stop dividing — although the cells themselves can expand or shrink.  The ears and nose are different from other body parts because they are soft tissue encased in cartilage, and the soft tissue cells keep growing, and growing, and growing — forever.  And when I call up the mental images of the two of my grandparents who lived well into their 90s, I realize with a start that they did end up with pretty big schnozzollas, now that I really think about it.

This is discouraging news, because I don’t know of anyone who desperately desires to have a bigger nose or more prominent ears.  The nose is already one of the dominant features of the face.  It’s not exactly an attractive, expressive feature, either.  If a facial feature has to continue to grow, why couldn’t it be the eyes?

And, if like me, you already have a considerable, if noble, nose, and ears that look like the twin handles of a Roman vase, you wonder just how big the darned things might get.  I’m afraid I’m ultimately headed to Jimmy Durante territory.

What The Pop-Up Ads Are Telling Me

I have an app on my phone that allows me to play “Spider Solitaire,” which helps me kill time on the road.  Because I’m a cheapskate, I downloaded the free version of the app, which means I have to endure, and promptly delete, an advertisement before I can play a new game.

hqdefaultIn the past, the ads were almost exclusively for other time-wasting game apps, which almost always featured smiling and frolicking animated creatures, or happy magic elves, or popping cubes, or a classy English butler who was part of a secret society trying to find hidden objects on the screen.  Lately, though, the ads seem to be sending a darker, more targeted message:  Hey user!  We’ve somehow figured out that you’re old, and since you’ve never responded positively to an ad with adorable, starry-eyed tap-dancing pandas, we’re going to bombard you with obvious age-related products instead!

I first noticed this theme when I started to see ads for pharmaceutical products, like an ad for a drug that is supposed to deal with type 2 diabetes.  Geez, I thought:  That’s a pretty serious topic for a pop-up ad on a free game app.  But then the next ad was for $350,000 in life insurance, with no age or health limits, that would allow your family to bury you and give you peace of mind that they would be provided for after you went into the Great Beyond.  And since then I’ve seen ads for new mattresses so I can get a better night’s sleep, ads for prostate and urinary tract medications, and ads for retirement communities featuring smiling seniors out on the golf course.  What’s next? Ads for Sansabelt slacks, Geritol, and early bird specials at the MCL Cafeteria?

It’s getting so that playing a few games of Spider Solitaire has become kind of a downer.  Hey, can we go back to those ultra-cute tap-dancing pandas?