ABOUT AGING: my own story so far
Posted Oct 5, 2008
Last Updated Oct 10, 2008
My Story So Far
My Story So Far
I've been intellectually aware of my physical aging, of the over-the-hill kind, for decades, and for decades I ignored it. I described aspects of it in the earlier installments of this series. It was easy to ignore, because it was very uneven. Running was part of life for most of my years, but mostly it was casual. Then, in 1975, in my 49th year, I signed up for a 15 K race and trained seriously for it for months. I ended up out-running many racers 15 and 20 years younger. A few weeks after the race, on the Friday before my 49th birthday, I ran a clocked mile on NAU's indoor track in 6 minutes and 2 seconds — but couldn't jump worth a darn.
At age 65 I was still jogging, though I'd slowed a lot. But I still pretty much ignored the aging process. It seeemed to me I'd still be jogging, and doing everything else I did — nautilus workouts, mostly — when I reached 80 or 90, only not as well. I was mistaken. Physical deterioration refused to be ignored. What I call a workout now is far below what I did routinely in the early 1990s. For the past three years, my workouts have stressed flexibility exercises for mobility, and balancing exercises to avoid falling,. With limited, mild resistance exercises to maintain strong bones and retain some muscle strength, so that if I do fall, I can get up again. Plus power walking for cardiovascular fitness and pleasure.
In those three years I fell just twice — once three years ago walking into the supermarket when the floor was wet from tracked-in water during a hard rain, and once a few months later on slick pavement. And those I could explain. Anyone can fall in those circumstances,
Nonetheless, for 5 or 6 years, at least, I've been aware that if I was tired, I didn't walk in a straight line, and also, I didn't adjust quickly to a change in direction. On one occasion, walking along a country road, three years ago, a patrol car pulled up and the driver beckoned me over.
"Where are you going?" he asked politely. I do not doubt he was sniffing for whiskey breath.
"Just out for my evening walk." I gestured. " I live in Dan Gingerich's condo development."
"Ah. Well, take care." I seemed all right, didn't smell like the bottom of a silo or anything, and in Plain City OH, most people know building contractor Dan Gingerich, an assistant pastor in a local Mennonite church.
That was then. Tonight, on September 25, 2008, after a mild half-mile walk, I changed direction, lost my balance, over-compensated and fell on my tush. Got right up, undamaged and unhurt, but meanwhile I'd registered a new milestone on the road to Old. And had given a young man an opportunity to show his concern for an old guy.
Also I type more slowly and uncertainly, with more mistakes. Another evidence of kinesthetic decline. But oddly enough, I can still snatch flies, especially in late summer when they tend to get sluggish. Perhaps flies get senile too.
So. How about mentally? Ah, that's the main question. I'll divide it into four parts: memory, focus, intellect, and emotions.
Memory— I am rich in senior moments, a nuisance for a writer. "What the heck is that word?" Or that name? I've had that problem since childhood, but it strikes much more frequently now. Still, I've developed strategies for finding lost words, strategies that are slower than just knowing, but very useful. Comes under the heading coping.
Oddly enough, I can recite my old army serial number, my rifle number, our patrol's radio call number, the call number of our LCI, my Social Security number, my wife's... But where in heck did I put my list?
Focus— More serious, my focus tends to be poorer, especially regarding things I'm not really interested in. It goes beyond that, though. I sometimes forget what I'm doing, but it comes back to me pretty readily. Unless I'm tired. Then I dope off, so to speak. If I'm doing something I really enjoy, I retain focus quite well.
Intellect— Within limits, declining memory and declining focus are not so threatening. Most of us, I suspect, feel loss of reasoning ability, the intellect, to be the real threat. In the absence of something drastic, like Alzheimer's, some people seem to retain cognitive function to past age 100. Finnish-American Otto Johansson Tull, of Spokane WA, still enjoyed arguing politics into his 109th year, when he died of congestive heart failure in about 1990. That makes being a centenarian seem not so bad. But meanwhile…
Recently I needed to calculate a value, and started to set it up algebraically…and couldn't do it! Memory? Couldn't recall the rules, the procedure? But it seemed to me it should have come together intuitively, from the nature of the problem. I just couldn't juggle the variables. It may have been simply a matter of forgetting, but it seems to me it was a level of complexity too far for me.
I can still do simple arithmetic in my head, on the infrequent occasions I have cause to, like tax time. (My kids, when they were children, liked me to tell them how many days old they were. Especially Judy, who despite her 138 IQ, found arithmetic difficult.)
And speaking of IQ — I wonder what mine would be now. I suspect I recognize similarities and differences as well as ever, and reason by analogy perhaps better than ever, which is very useful, but in my experience, IQ tests are against the clock. I doubt I could finish one in the time allotted.
It's not something I'm likely to worry about though, and therein lies my strong point.
Emotions— My observation is that some old people do not decay emotionally. An old high school pal of mine has had alzheimers for some years now, and still lives at home, cared for by his wife, who is 4 or 5 years younger than he is. And she finds him as sweet-tempered as ever. He even tells funny stories; — "the same ones," she says, and laughs. Also he loves ice cream, and if he asks for ice cream, she gives him ice cream. Is so much ice cream healthy for him? Big deal! He deserves the pleasure.
Seemingly he came to terms with the disease early on. I suspect it's made a large difference that he's in a familiar place and well cared for, by someone not greatly stressed and who loves him. How long that can continue, I can't guess; we're some 2,000 miles apart. If he were to become ill-tempered…but I really don't foresee that happening.
I'll pick this subject up later, unless circumstances intervene, Meanwhile I have book projects to complete, and blogs.