The Body Complains: Difficulties of Aging
Recent events have had me reflecting about our aging bodies. I witnessed a conversation with some of my younger friends who were discussing how old they were when they first noticed their bodies were not as responsive. They were describing when they noticed the first signs of change to their bodies. The signposts of change seemed to be a longer time to recover from a workout or a late party night. Or, perhaps there was a decreased ability to have a big party night. The capacity to do hard physical work diminished and had greater repercussions. For some, that first awareness came when they were 45, for others it was a bit later. In my late 40s I first noticed stiffness if I sat for a long time. I couldn’t just stand and go but had to start slow and shake out the stiffness. At the same time, I developed high blood pressure and considerable discomfort in my hips from a previous fall.
Then, on a recent trip I made to the west coast, all my conversations with my friends and family members were about the aging body. I have written a lot about the brain but have spent very little time discussing the body. All are agreed the body begins to fail us as we age. It becomes less flexible. We have to work harder to maintain the same level of fitness. Things start to go wrong. Body parts work less well. In my last column I quoted Thim Choy as saying his health was now his main concern – so too with my friends on the west coast. One was worried about her memory and had actually visited a neurologist to determine if Alzheimer’s or dementia was creeping in on her. Her diagnosis was normal but still she is concerned about her increasing forgetfulness.
Next was my 80 year old Aunt. She said after turning 80 everything seemed to go wrong with her body. Her hair started falling out, like her mother’s. Her ankles were swollen from edema and she needed additional medication to address this. As well, having avoided diabetes medications for some time through diet and weight loss, she now needed some oral medications to stabilize her blood sugar. She noted that her friends were having health difficulties which limited their capacity to participate with her socially. That is, not just her health but the health of her friends was impacting her social life.
And finally, one of my long time friends revealed she has a severe heart condition coupled with acute arthritis. Consequently in the course of our visit we spend a considerable amount of time waiting for her prescriptions to be filled. Personality wise, she was definitely in the “summing up” phase of her life recognizing that her health conditions were serious and could limit the length of time she had to live.
A survey of health statistics reveals that approximately 80% of people over 65 experience some sort of chronic ongoing health condition. Arthritis in its various forms is the most frequent difficulty. So the issue with aging is not if your body has some complaints but rather how you will manage those complaints both emotionally and physically.
A survey of health statistics reveals that approximately 80% of people over 65 experience some sort of chronic ongoing health condition. Arthritis in its various forms is the most frequent difficulty. So the issue with aging is not if your body has some complaints but rather how you will manage those complaints both emotionally and physically. For example, one study I looked at indicated previously disabled seniors were more likely to describe their health as good (than those not previously disabled). It would seem these individuals have more practice at staying and being positive despite their disability.
So the question about aging is not: does our body age. We know it does. The question is: what do we do about it? What is our attitude towards this change? Or to say it another way, what enables us to retain a mentally positive and physically active life as we age? These are big questions which I will explore in upcoming columns. I will look at both resources available in our community such as seniors’ programs at the new Commonwealth Rec Centre and issues affecting our resilience or our capacity to cope with these changes.