ABOUT AGING, Part 1
Posted Mar 9, 2008
Last Updated Oct 5, 2008
Senility is the physical and mental deterioration characteristic of old age. In advanced stages it commonly becomes senile dementia. At age 81 I witness senility in myself and others. It tends to be an irregular process, and expresses itself differently in different individuals. Thus at age 108, Otto Johansson Tull, of Spokane WA, was still lucid, and enjoyed arguing politics. But his body wore out and finally quit on him.
Many of us — perhaps most of us — are more or less comfortable with the realization that the body wears out, and that sooner or later it's going to quit. What troubles almost all of us is the thought of senile dementia. Have you noticed that "old-timers" sounds a lot like "Altzheimers?" (wink) But first I'll look at the basics, and get to dementia later.
Senility is epidemic! (Oh lord! Oh lord!) And sneaky!! When I was a lad of, say 30, and 5-foot-10, I could almost — almost! — jump up and touch the basketball rim. My legs were muscular, if not all that springy, and I could run and run. Or up-end and shoulder an 8-foot pulpwood log a foot in diameter (weighing about 300 lb), then stagger with it through logging debris over irregular ground and roll it off my shoulder onto a pile. Superman? Nope. Just another pulpwood logger of that bygone era. And I not only didn't worry about my disks; I didn't even know I had any. Didn't have to know. I was young, and enjoying it.
But alas, senility was already doing its insidious work! The result not of some nasty virus, but of something called entropy. Sounds technical, does it? It's a way of saying that in the physical universe, things run down; wear out.
On the last week-day before my 49th birthday, I decided to try for a 6-minute mile on the Northern Arizona University field-house track. At Flagstaff AZ, at 7,000 feet elevation. I came close; did it in 6 minutes and 2 seconds. I'd run several 20-milers, cross-country, that summer, but on the basketball court, I couldn't come within 6 inches of the rim anymore.
Today, to help retain function, I work out. Do tai-chi warmups for flexibility, then balancing exercises, and finally resistance work for strength. All without pause, for cardiovascular benefits. Following them all with chakra scrubs and a little self-administered acupressure work. What all this comes to is, I'm not apt to fall down, and if I fall, I'll be able to get up.
And I don't tire easily — for my age. Ah, there's the rub. For my age!
A key exercise is deep kneebends, lots of them, for stamina and strength. At age 81, my legs are still strong and look pretty muscular. So. Last weekend my son showed me his new chinning bar. I stood beneath it, looked up and reached: I was five or six inches short of grabbing it. A little hop would take me there, I thought. Hah! I could not bring myself to try. Not even try!
John! John! That's defeatism!
More like realism. Consider. I have no doubt I could hop high enough to grab the bar, but to jump and grab that bar would result in an abrupt jerking strain on my shoulder joints, and my body was telling me "don't do it, old-timer!" Also jumping involves the lower back, and my four substantially degenerated intervertabral disks wouldn't like the landing, either, because those four disks, and for that matter the other — what? 27? — wouldn't like the jerk. Or the jar when I dropped off And finally they were telling me, "don't be an ass, John. If we hurt, you'll hurt."
Okay, guys, if you put it that way…
Back when I was a lad of 56 or 57, and lived in LA, my wife and I lived in the same apartment house as our daughter, and Ian, our eldest grandson. And we did lots of things together, like going to the beach at Santa Monica. I was still quite strong, still took on moving jobs for people, lugging heavy stuff to and from a rental truck. I was a little vain about it, actually, and it augmented my income from novels and irregular free-lance editing assignments.
The beach had a lot of playground apparatus, and Ian, probably a second-grader, was clambering around on it. And off to one side was a chinning bar, the uprights set in concrete. Looked pretty solid. So I jumped up and grabbed it. So far, so good. In my 30s I'd discovered, in a Denver park, that after years of no gymnastics, I could still do kips and muscle-ups and kidney swings on a horizontal bar. And I was still in good shape at age 57 or whatever, running, and doing moving jobs. "So," I told my body, "do a kip-up for Ian. Show off for your grandson."
And friend Body said "no thank you, John. It will hurt. It will hurt our shoulder joints, yours and mine, and you will be unhappy."
It had never occurred to me. I gave a little test swing, then a bigger swing, intended to end with a kip. Nothing. I hung there, contemplating it. Didn't happen. "No way," said Bod. "Forget it. Absolutely not." So I dropped off.
That was twenty-four, twenty-five years ago. And even though I still work out (sissy workouts), I've lost a lot of ground physically, especially in the last ten years. Five or six years ago, Dr. Purdy in Spokane WA told me I was on track to reach a hundred. A few months ago, in my new home town of Dublin OH, my new physician, Dr. Apling, told me I was in excellent health.
But the unspoken flip-side was "for your age."
Because I know, and both of them knew when they said it, the medications and supplements I take. That I didn't need, decades earlier. They crept up on me over the last twenty years, and particularly the last ten, as my physiological needs dictated. I definitely do not aspire to reach 100.
But I do have some projects I'd like to finish and see published. The question is, can I? Is it in the cards for me, so to speak?
I'm looking at that, and I'll share what I come up with.
Among other things, we'll very definitely look at mental function.