Thursday 18 September 2008

The Old Grey Mare

she ain't what she used to be

We live in an aging world. Demographers say they are just beginning to understand the broader social, economic and political implications of the coming age wave. By 2010, 26 percent of the population will be older than 65 and by 2025 almost 30% will be older than 65.

Given this, I think we need to change our attitude to aging and to the elderly.

I have been thinking about this since I have been caring for my father during his illness. For some reason, people (even medical professionals) see him in a wheelchair and assume he is frail of mind as well. They speak directly to me about him. They give me a knowing smile as I wheel him in his chair, in much the same way you may smile at a mother wheeling a pram. They often speak to him in a patronising way, half listening to what he is saying. They know what’s best for him without even consulting him. In doing so, he is invisible. So many times I felt like screaming, 'don't you know who this man is and what he has achieved in his life?'

This marked shift of indifference towards him hit me firmly between the eyes when I walked into my father's hospital room one day. The doctor and nurses were trying to make him take a tablet. My father had his fist in the air and was loudly saying, ‘I am not going to take the tablet because it’s making me have hallucinations’. The doctor just shook his head. My father is as sharp as a tack and there is nothing wrong with his mind. The doctor suggested that my father see a psychologist as perhaps there were some undiagnosed issues (meaning dementia). I waged a battle on my father’s behalf and it turns out that he had a severe allergy to the tablet he was given .

I find it tremendously upsetting. Maybe I am more sensitive because my father’s failing health makes me far more conscious of my own mortality. I will be next and while I can try and do the best I can to maintain good health, aging and death are inevitable. No matter how much medical intervention and plastic surgery are out there!

And despite all of the warning signs, becoming old seems to turn up as one of life’s surprises rather than part of the obvious progression. Did we really think old people were born like that? ‘Hang on, I’m too young to be this old!’ you say. It sneaks up on us. You’ve been accustomed to being called Miss then someone calls you Madame. You notice how police officers and sports stars look so young these days. You have a boss who is younger than you for the first time, as are some politicians running the country. Your children have blossomed into beautiful young adults and suddenly all eyes are on them. You are no longer a yummy mummy. Slowly, but surely, we seem to become invisible.

I think two key factors are to blame. One is the way in which we worship youth as the ideal to strive for, even when we’re well into middle age. ‘You look so young!’ is one of the greatest compliments.

We need to accept ourselves and where we are today. Not compare ourselves to air brushed movie stars or people 20 years younger. With so much of our ego identity tied up with our bodies, it is understandable a crisis occurs when our physical power begins to diminish. For women, it ridiculously seems to start from 25 on when we find the first sign of a wrinkle. Men can, and do, stay in denial for much longer.

The other thing that makes aging difficult is our denial of death. Old people and the signs of aging are reminders of death, a fact we would really prefer to pretend didn’t happen.

Ironically, accepting death as part of the deal is one of the things that can enrich our lives and assist us in living well. It is a well known fact that people who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses experience an improved quality of life by knowing they are going to die. They are no longer bothered with trivia, they became less afraid of other people, more willing to take risks, they communicate more deeply with their loved ones and enjoy a greater appreciation of the simple joys. They laugh harder. They are just plain nicer.

These factors that lead to a successful old age are all within our control. They include the ability to hope; to anticipate and plan for a future; to show gratitude and forgiveness; to love and be empathetic towards others; to internalise, or take in, love when it is given; and to want to do things for and with other people and bove all to respect each other.

Why wait?

What are your thoughts on aging and the elderly? When are we officially old? What do you do to turn back the clock or are you accepting of the aging process? Are you planning for it?


  1. I am going to be honest old age scares me. The thought of losing my marbles and my health and having to rely on someone else is not a pleasant thought. I better hurry up and find a man and have babies so I have someone to look after me in my dotage. I mean that in case anyone wonders. I also think we judge elderly people but only perhaps in the same way we judge teenagers too. We all should be less judgemental and more empathetic about everyone around us. This has given me food for thought first about my health, second about the importance of family and third about being able to afford a fantastic 4 star retirement home one day. You are right. We should plan moreso about our future.

  2. Hi Lilly, it's lovely that you are there for your Dad.
    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on aging and agree wholeheartedly especially with the last bit. Thank you.Unfortunately ,old age is compulsory and you have to make the most of it - and that's straight from the horse's (or old nag's)mouth There are many benefits-you don't have to get up early and join the morning rush,when your slippers or electric blanket wear out Age Concern will replace them,the pension comes without any effort,when things get boring you can shut your eyes and pretend to nod off (nobody minds-in fact it's expected )
    I think everyone could regard life as a terminal illness-termination isn't only for the elderly- and live accordingly. I wish I had realised this in my younger days. I spent so much time prosrastinating and wishing time away instead of living in the present and being a more caring and thoughtful person.
    They say that when the end is nigh we regret not what we have done but what we haven't so now it's time to pack it all in before it's too late( Though perhaps I've left it a little late to have a go at that bungee jumping)
    Some people get tired of life and death is a welcome release ( They don't feel too good,their contemporaries have gone,the world is not what it was) I'm lucky to have good health and moblity and when things start to crumble I hope for strength and courage to deal with them.
    In the meantime I'll keep taking the pills.
    Best Wishes !

  3. Hi, Lilly.

    I see old age as beating the hell out of the alternative. :-) I hope to live, to have fun, to amuse my friends and cats, and to live it until it's done.

    I hear what you're saying, though. I'm not fond of the physical changes (visible veins, graying hair, etc) but would I go back to the hormonal, tempestuous passions of my 20s?! Oh, no!!!


  4. I see my parents aging. They take more pills now. I remember watching as my grandmother (Mom's Mom) would fill her weekly pill box. I laughed back then about how much she took and I look sadly on to see my parents filling theirs... and look to see my own with blood pressure and thyroid. Age is a fact. Death is too and both are scary, but I agree with you. If we accept it, which we must, then maybe we can better appreciate and enjoy life as it is. Take life for what it is worth, because there's no turning back the clock.

    I'm so sorry that your father is being treated in that manner. What has happened to "respecting the elderly?" They have been through a lifetime that we can learn from.

  5. What an insightful and thought-provoking post, Lilly.
    Thank you for taking the time to share your very well-thought-out views on this topic that sooner or later will be of top interest to all of us.
    You raise so many interesting questions, not to mention your direct questions at the bottom of your essay.
    Do I sense a post of my own coming on in response to your great post?
    Well, possibly, but right now I've got the early afternoon drags and need a coffee upper and maybe a short nap.
    And then two friends arrive to help me take a bunch of stuff to the landfill.
    So, will let this topic and your questions simmer and brew...and who knows what that will produce.

  6. @ Sarah - yes you got it. Plan for it and chill. It happens.

    @ Barbara - well you are a poster child for doing the whole retirement thing the right way. You only have to look at your blog to see what a full life you have. And its never too late to bungee jump, they say.

    @ Pearl - no I agree I wouldnt want to go back either. I think we just have to keep health as a priority really. Mind you, you have inspired me with your Pilates.

    @ Aleta - I know I have been shcoked with the amount of pills my Dad takes. He has one of those pill boxes too - 6 in the morning, 6 at night. Ohhh. My Mum takes nothing though. Its a reality so get out there an enjoy yourself which you are doing (hurricanes aside of course - hardly any wonder you have high blood pressure with what you have been through). What a great year its going to be for your family with two weddings!!

    @ Jlo - oh I know too many questions that cannot be answered. I think it just hit me that I now see my parents in a different way and it seems to have happened quickly when perhaps that is not the case at all. Its a progression and I jsut need to accept it and get out there and live the best life I can with no regrets. You of course are inspiring me to do that. Hope your rest was a good one!!

  7. what a deep and insightful post, I found you from Barbara Blundell's blog and will add you to my list

  8. Hmmmm.

    You raise many interesting questions, Lily, and many of the thoughts you've expressed have occurred to me as well.

    I was happy to read what you have to say about the aging process.

    I don't see anything positive in the aging process, as I witness the deterioration of my very elderly mother.

    It is a pity that everyone wishes to look young and act young, and that aging adults are occasionally, and perhaps often, frowned upon.....

    I don't think I have anything that is more useful to say on this topic.

  9. Hi Lilly, I am glad you stopped by my blog so I could discover yours! Great post! My dad was recently in the hospital and the doctors treated him the same way, talking to me right in front of him as if he could not understand. The same thing happened to an older friend of mine. It is scary to think that it will be us next. There must be some way to educate the medical profession as well as the general population that most older people are "sharp as a tack" and still have much to contribute in this world.

  10. old age and death can be a scary thought but as a JW, what we learn from the bible is that it doesn't have to be the end of everything and that there is hope in the future.

    Now that my nephews and nieces are grown, I also began to realize that I too am not getting younger. What I'm looking forward is to grow old and see my grandchildren grow up to be respectful,honest and loving adults especially to their elders.

    You're right. People need to see the elderly in a different light- people enriched with experience & wisdom- not lesser individuals but so much more than the younger ones.
    Aside from attention and loving affection, they need to be respected as person.

  11. ‘Hang on, I’m too young to be this old!’

    That's exactly how I feel Lilly. I'm also a bit worried, as I haven't saved and now that prices rise ever more quickly, I find it only possible to keep level, if I'm careful.

    There are a lot of reports about abuse in care homes and I wonder where I will be in 10 yrs time, if I'm 'lucky' enough to make it.

    People are already shifting their attitudes toward me and often look surprised when I out-argue them - as if I'm not supposed to have a brain.

    You are right...I have become an uncomfortable reminder of death to many people.


  12. @ Christine - thanks for dropping by - I went to visit your blog and left you a a message.

    @ Nina - yes it is hard to see our parents getting older and needing help - the roles reverse I guess. Anyway, loved some of your latest offerings - lots of different stuff you are doing now!

    @ Girosoli - you know I think with the huge numbers of people over 65 - it will be 1 in 4 in the next 20 years or so it is going to become apparent. I am just not sure there are going to be the services to cater for the elderly. Anyway, lets enjoy our lives no matter what age we are and just respect and have empathy for whatever issues we deal with. Any age can be hard I guess.

    @ Rachel - you hit it on the head, if we respected everyone no matter what the age then life would be a whole lot better!!

  13. Henry - you just have to keep going I guess and not worry about 10 years time. You are surrounded my kids my daughters age by the looks of things of the photo in one of your last posts - so you can expect that they will think they know better. I remember that age well. And you have years left in your tank. I think it's our brains we need to exercise as well as the bodies somehow! You do both, so you are way ahead of most people!! Besides you may get a lottery win. Thats what I think - we lose and we win and its all a merry-go-round!

  14. Lilly - First of all, the way those "professional" medical personnel treat your father is despicable! Maybe the next time someone is rude in that manner you should tell them "By the way, my father is writing an article for the newspaper about his treatment at this facility, and you are in the article!" LOL Seriously, I am appalled at how some people treat the elderly. And, like your father, so many elderly are very sharp mentally, but people only see their external frailties and make snap judgements about them. And people who take advantage of the elderly are the worst of the worst.

    I look at aging in a more practical manner (at least in my own opinion). I think we have gotten to the point where we are able to sustain life beyond the point where quality of life is equal to or greater than sustainable life. I, for one, would prefer to pass on when my usefulness has been extinguished. I dread the thought of having someone else (including those paid to do so) have to care for me. I see nothing wrong with, if one is content with one's life but no longer able to care for him/herself, letting nature take it's course naturally, without all the machines and medicines meant to keep us alive. I look forward to what lies ahead and I don't want some machine delaying my getting there!

  15. Matt- thanks for your comment. I will take your advice on that and I think you have got a healthy attitude to the aging process. I agree I wouldn't want to be kept alive longer than necessary either. I like your stance on about having something to look forward to on the other side. If we dont have that kind of faith than it would be difficult. Thanks for commenting. It's given me food for thought, as usual.

  16. Lilly, I just did a paper for my class on the lack of medical care there will be for our aging population and it scared me to death to think of my parents without sufficient healthcare resourses once they turn to retirement. Not to mention the fact that I am pretrified of growing old and having no one to take care of me!

  17. Why is it that so many people treat the elderly as over sized children who are beyond understanding. I would have been very upset with that doctor and nurse, and read them the riot act about listening to their patients.

    The only thing that scares me about getting old, is the possibility of having to rely on someone else. I am scared of becoming paralyzed or something of that nature and having to have a care taker. I don't want to be a burden on anyone.

  18. Thanks for stopping by my blog so I could visit yours and read this insightful post. It's a tough thing, mortality.
    I'm approaching 40 and it's been much harder than I thought it was going to be. In my 20s I thought I was just so enlightened that aging would be a welcome next step of my life's journey--hah.
    I do believe in trying to accept my morality as best I can because I think that, that means accepting life. They really are one in the same. That's my logical side. The lady in the mirror wants to believe she can really still pull off late 20s in a pair of skinny jeans. :)

  19. Kristy - the only upside is that the positive thing is our eye sight gets worse as well so we cannot see what we look like in the skinny jeans so its all ok. Thanks for dropping by.

  20. i liked this post. a lot. one of the things i hope i do is manage to age gracefully. it's almost painful to see people who have obviously spent considerable time, money and effort to cling tenaciously to the fleeting body of yesteryear...with the tanning/workouts/surgeries/injections/dyes/makeup and fashion choices they sport. yet there is something so lovely about an older person who is gracefully aging. who takes care of themselves in terms of staying active, keeping their minds alert as much as possible, making a difference in the world around them, sharing their accumulated wisdom with others. That's what I hope I can do. Just be beautiful at every stage...cause it's something that comes from the inside out. Can't be purchased, applied or worn. after all, we should all be so lucky to live to a ripe old age!


Thanks for your comments.