I was chatting with my father yesterday (he lives in another province) He’s 90 years old and in pretty good shape. He lives independently in a seniors residence (not assisted living) His age and spinal stenosis have made him physically frail (a good wind could knock him over) but his mind is sharp. He has friends in the same building that provide a fulfilling social life so for 90 he’s doing pretty well. He does however, struggle with the process of aging.
I call him every day just to check in and with each call I note the changes. No longer the strong protector who was my father, he is now more in need of protection, and evidence of his aging is frequent and obvious.
He was struggling with his hearing so my sister arranged for him to get hearing aids. Problem solved, yes? No. He doesn’t wear them because he says they’re hard to get used to, everything echoes. The technician at the hearing institute assured him this was common and it was simply a matter of adjusting the volume and getting used to the new sound but my father doesn’t want to wait it out. He wanted his hearing restored to where it was 25 years ago, immediately, so the hearing aids sit in a drawer, unused.
A few years ago we’d bought him a life alert necklace because he was living alone and we worried for his safety. It’s a remote monitor he would wear around his neck that would allow him to simply push a button should he fall or feel ill and need help. It was linked to my sisters’ email so she could monitor the usage. Once, when he was visiting my mother in long term care he fell asleep in her room and inadvertently pushed the button summoning emergency. He denied it was him and, declaring the monitor faulty, refused to wear it after that. After a time my sister noticed it was not being charged at all so we had to cancel it.
His walk is somewhat unsteady so we bought him a variety of canes for support. He also has a walker, should he need more support, but he refuses to use either because he says they make him look old. (What mirror are you looking in?)
Arthritis has stiffened his joints making it difficult to bend so he cut the bands of the top of his socks so they’d slip on easier.
Now we only find out these things by accident or in general conversation, he doesn’t ask for help or complain about any of these issues. He simply finds his own way of dealing with them and if you question him on it he brushes it aside.
Why is it so hard for us to age gracefully? After 90 years of existence you’ve earned the right to be tired, or unsteady, or hard of hearing. In fact, other than your early childhood years, old age is the only other time you can get away with hearing loss, incontinence, memory lapses, and temperamental outbursts. I would think it’d be a relief to finally relax and just be.
But fight it we do.
Women will continue to apply the hair colour of a 22 year old even though their face clearly speaks otherwise. And men will take the few remaining hairs atop their head and wrap it around to cover the age spots on their scalp. They will all forgo social situations because the refuse to wear hearing aids and therefore can’t take part in conversations. They will refuse physical assistance because a cane or brace or walker makes them look old. (HELLO,,,,,,you ARE old) And you’re supposed to look old, but here’s a comforting thought,,,,,one day all of us will be there, sporting sensible (Velcro) shoes, industrial underwear (Depends), false teeth, and glasses suspended on a beaded necklace. I just hope our generation is a little more accepting of it.