As a younger person, and I’m really thinking 40’s and under, the thoughts of old age never was accompanied by the thought of back and leg pain, white hair, recliner life. It did not include moments of confusion. At no time did I have to think about my hands function and force them to do something. When I though of old age I thought of the picture I had of older grandparents and television images of elderly people and what they did and how they functioned. I had no idea that old age is like the slow-motion videos I’ve seen of a lake freezing over, an iceberg moving; that old age is just another incurable disease.
Monica asks me to open something for her because her arthritis has the fingers of her hands twisted and weak so I give it my best shot and couldn’t do it. I could not get the top off of whatever it was she needed removed. I now have several places on my own body that I am not sure what is going on with it, because it either; does not work like it used to, hurts when I try to use it, or is too weak to do what it used to for any extended period of time. None of these things happened on a day that I can remember (and I’m not trying to be funny here), but just crept up on me to a point where I notice it and wonder then, how long this has been going on?
Mental sharpness is one of the targets of physicians and the general public alike with all the focus on Alzheimer’s and even the digital world has joined the team by developing games to improve mental health. It does not help if you don’t really know something is happening however, until it happens! I don’t know if “something” is or has happened to me: I do know that I think something has but I don’t know what it is? It’s that idea on the tip of your tongue, that name you just can’t remember, the lyrics of a song that plays in your mind without a title. We laugh about those “senior moments” and make jokes but when it really happens it is terrifying.
My first senior moment happened around age 60 when getting off the elevator at the high school where I was teaching, I did not know where I was. I mean total panic that lasted realistically 8 to 10 seconds. I walked off the elevator and had not a clue where I was, what I was supposed to be doing, nor for that matter who I was. I stood there looking down three separate hallways with doors on either side of them trying to figure out what was going on. I finally looked down and saw I was carrying some electronics and slowly the “where” I was going came to me. With that clue the “where” I was and who I was came back. That has not happened to me again as intensely as that incident; but differently, slowly, tiny instances that used to give me a chuckle and now it causes me to wonder.
No I’ve not mentioned this to my doctor. Its a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of old age I don’t want to recognize. I don’t mind being old, I just mind the problem of being old. I have no issue with the hair loss, the wrinkles, even the extra glasses I now need to read. What I cannot understand nor want to recognize is the physical and mental changes that are causing me problems. The extra push to get up, the twinge of pain from my knee, the slow motion of my hands as I use the keyboard. I should have started a video journal a few years ago, documenting the changes and telling about the things I think are happening to me. But there it is again, I’m not sure if they have happened and if they have when? It’s like looking into the mirror and suddenly seeing that age spot on your face you’re not sure was ever there before. If not where did it come from? When did it appear?
Monica’s incident I documented here a few weeks ago is the same and yet not exactly. Her’s was very scary from my viewpoint as it occurred, and her view afterward as she remembers. Was it an age incident? A fluke/flounder in her health and with her many RA and Lupus meds? Not certain but was is certain is it is a very frightening event.
Old age is insidious. The changes that have occurred are the exact opposite of the infant developing and suddenly doing things you don’t know how they learned or where they saw something to imitate. The new muscles they develop you lose. The ability to balance themselves as they learn to walk you forget. The speed at which they learn new things is just the opposite with memory loss: the transparency is the same. Nobody really notices nor can “see” until after it has happened and it is too late. I am not afraid of death. I am afraid of the issues facing me as age turns me into a person I fail to recognize.