We’ve been thinking recently about men aging and talking with friends about various aspects of the subject. We know we generally focus on ourselves in this forum, but thought we’d shift our lens for a moment for a wider view of our lives, and open the conversation for your thoughts.
Many women our age are widowed, but many still have men in their lives, or remember spouses, partners, fathers, brothers and friends.
Here are some questions that have been raised:
Do personalities prevail, or do they alter with the aging process?
Do men face different issues than women as they age?
How do men spend their time as physical changes effect them?
How do relationships shift in later years?
What issues do caregivers face?
We hope you’ll add more topics and share what you think.
What has been your experience? Okay to write anonymously if you want to write otherwise private thoughts.
We, Jane and Ellen, have been profiled, along with our blog, 70candles.com in the current issue of the new online magazine, Move On. The magazine is focused on women over 60 who are facing life changes and challenges. Check it out through this link, share with your friends, and let us know what you think.
I always liked my hair: It was thick and wavy and adapted easily to every style that was in. But, basically, like teeth until they ache or heels until they blister, hair—until it falls out—is something one simply takes for granted.Recently mine has been falling out or, as the euphemism goes, “thinning.”
From time to time I thought my hair looked a little sparse on top, but I didn’t really pay attention to it until that night at dinner when my husband happened to glance at my head as I bent over to cut into a lamb chop. “My God, you have a bald spot!” he blurted out. When he saw my stricken expression, he said casually, “Oh, it’s only a tiny one; no one will notice.”
That was it: I could no longer ignore the signs of imminent balding. Was it my imagination or was I suddenly growing a high forehead? I wrung my hands over every strand that remained in my comb and every wisp that fell into the sink. I began to look at ads for wigs and experimented with concealing styles. In fact, playing with my fast-diminishing locks became a major activity. I changed my part to the left side since the thinning seemed most noticeable on the right, all the while telling myself that this was not a comb-over. (Right.) I also tried criss-crossing the top layers. Good for Raggedy Ann, not so good for me. Finally, I sprayed brown colorizer on my scalp to make it look like hair, the way a homeowner would spray green paint on his concrete yard to make it look like grass.
These tactics, of course, were merely cosmetic. It was time to get to the root of the problem (you should pardonthe pun). Since desperate times call for desperate measures, I made an appointment with a dermatologist, who prescribed Women’s Rogaine. The instructions say you not only have to rub this foamy substance into your scalp EVERY DAY, you can never stop or your hair will fall out again. Oh, and there is one other teensy-weensy downside: you might grow unwanted hair in places other than your head. Great. Now, not only would my husband and I have matching bald spots, we’d have matching his and hers mustaches, too.
Undaunted, I started using the Rogaine, but my efforts didn’t stop there. I also got a laser comb, which I was supposed to frog walk over my scalp a quarter inch at a time, three times a week. That did not sound too onerous, but it did sound mind numbing. To counteract the boredom and get in a little exercise, too, I began to multi-task by standing on one leg for balance, squeezing a hand-gripper for strength, and climbing up and down steps for endurance. Occasionally, I would go through the mail. Beeeeep, beeeep . . .
I’ve only been in the hair-growth game for five weeks and I’ve been told not to expect signs of progress for at least three to six months. Still, each night I search hopefullyfor the little row of fuzz that will signal a return to the old me. Hair. This woman’s crowning glory, indeed!
Someone once said I ought to call Mel Brooks; he could make a great story of my life.
Growing up in the Midwest as the first daughter to live after my mother lost her first born @ only a couple days old! I later came to realize that perhaps my job was to prove that I would not die like Rita Diane did
I am writing to you because I am approaching 72 in a few weeks and am once again reading (yes, among other things I am a bibliophile): 70 THINGS TO DO WHEN YOU TURN 70.
I wanted to share my story with you as I have been wanting to start a blog on being in the world not of the world. (I have a brand new Apple computer and I don’t even know my password; thus being a technophobe it’s not happening)
I have 6 licenses and degrees
Cosmetology (modeled for Olympic hair competition)
Women’s studies major
Facilitator for Clarity Institute
Reiki And Yoga instructor certifications
Image consultant with AICI CERTIFICATION specializing in Fashion Feng Shui
I have served on a board for survivors of sexual abuse and did an internship at center for homeless in South Bend Indiana
Currently I’m a STEVHEN Leader for STEVHEN ministry
(Oh, and back in the day I met 3 of the 4 BEAtles, and partied with Andy Warhol).
My name is Joyce Henderson; I’m an African-American retired school teacher in the Philadelphia area and I just turned 70 last week. I found out about you guys from a book my son got me called “Things to Do When You Turn 70.” I’ve been retired for 15 years and I started volunteering in places that I was interested in: Coalition Against Hunger, Children’s Hospital, School library, ESL tutor. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. My husband passed away almost 5 years ago and my years of activity along with my church activities helped to ease the pain and loneliness. My husband always tried to surprise me with a party on my 50th birthday and my 60th birthday; but since he wasn’t here this year I planned my own 70th party and it was great! I had a Motown theme; my sisters and I were the Supremes; my guests came dressed in 70’s attire and we danced in the Soul Train line. I’ve been blessed with good health and I look forward to my next great event next year! Each year is a blessing and I feel especially blessed to have family and friends around. Three score and ten is starting out with a bang!
Here’s an article of interest from the-tls.co.uk by Carol Tavris, Age 74
“Age only matters while one is ageing”, said Picasso, at the age of eighty. “Now that I have arrived at a great age, I might as well be twenty.” Well, bully for him. From where I sit, far more people at eighty feel they might as well be seventy-eight. Or ninety-eight. Carl Honoré’s Bolder: Making the most of our longer lives tells us that Michelangelo finished the Pauline chapel at the age of seventy-four, Frank Lloyd Wright finished the Guggenheim Museum in New York at the age of ninety-one, and Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals at the age of seventy-four. Well, bully for them, too. Anyone can continue creating great things all their lives if they are Michelangelo, Lloyd Wright, or Franklin. Besides, their creative work began decades earlier, probably around the age of eight.
A review of books on ageing is inevitably filtered through the age, health and optimism quotient of the reviewer. Thirty years ago I wrote an essay for the New York Times, cheerfully titled “Old Age Is Not What It Used To Be”, full of encouraging news from the newly burgeoning field of gerontology. In those days, “old age” usually referred to people in their sixties and seventies, with some outliers in their eighties and even a few in their nineties. (Bernice Neugarten and other gerontologists had recently begun to speak of the “young old”, who are healthy and mentally competent, and the “old old”, who aren’t.) My essay was populated with thriving old people who were as witty, active, happy, sexually active and intellectually engaged as they had ever been, and by researchers assuring us that we won’t “lose it” so long as we remain witty, active, happy, sexually active and intellectually engaged. All very nice, cynics muttered, but how are we supposed to retain those satisfactions when every joint aches, we have lost a life partner and too many close friends, mental sharpness blurs, hearing declines, the grown-up children have decamped to foreign lands, the identities that provided meaning are gone, and we start to feel like a bump on the log of life?
As the population surges into young old age and old old age, the number of books wrestling with that question has grown from a trickle to a tsunami. Today the field of gerontology is, dare I say, older and wiser and I am older and warier. “Old age” has crept up a decade or two, reflecting the steady rise of people living into their nineties and, the fastest-growing category, into their hundreds. Many are living well, without mental or physical incapacitation, but anywhere between a quarter and a half of the population will show signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia by the age of eighty-five. The cost of care – emotionally and financially – is already immense. Understanding the social, physiological and economic consequences of this massive demographic change has thus become more pressing. So has the need to help people cope psychologically, now that old age can arrive almost without warning. People may go along feeling youthful and vigorous, but pain or infirmity caused by injury, bone deterioration, illness, arthritis, stenosis, or any other condition, can alter that overnight. A seventy-four-year-old friend who has spent a decade hiking in exotic places abruptly developed excruciating back pain, forcing her to curtail her adventures. “I suddenly feel old”, she said
Apart from the science journals and science-fiction novels debating whether is it possible or desirable to prolong the lifespan by fifty or a hundred years, or (might as well go for it) eternally, books designed to help readers navigate the treacheries of ageing fall roughly into three categories: the scientific, the personal and the political.
Books in the first category may provide empirical research on all aspects of the ageing boom, from biology to demographics. Sue Armstrong, the author of Borrowed Time: The science of how and why we age, is an appealing guide through the evidence and the controversies. She is a woman in her late sixties, “still swimming happily in the mainstream of life”, who watched her mother “lose her sight, her hearing, her beloved life partner and most of her friends, and finally her mind, across her ninth and tenth decades of life”. (This also describes my mother, who lived to be ninety-seven.) Armstrong goes right to the crucial issue: “what will life be like for us as we reach these venerable ages? No matter how positive and philosophical one’s general disposition, one cannot ignore the evidence that for too many of us old age is nasty, brutish and long”. A five-year-old child in the UK today can expect to live to be about eighty years old, but, for many, around twenty of those years, she observes, “will likely be dogged by ill health” – a fact that has generated immense research and argument. Is ageing (and its attendant cellular damage and decline in immune function) an inevitable result of normal wear and tear, in which case might it possibly be delayed or repaired, or is it a result of genetic programming, over which we have no control? The controversy is especially pressing today given that, in the words of one gerontologist she quotes, “health care hasn’t slowed the ageing process so much as it has slowed the dying process”.
Armstrong usefully details what ageing consists of at a cellular level and why human lifespans vary so widely. Passions in the search for an “elixir of youth” run high because the payoffs are high: psychologically, of course, but also financially, because the fountain of youth will spew fountains of gold. Can we develop a drug that works as an “anti-ageing” compound, as the immune modulator rapamycin is thought to do? Rapamycin, typically used to reduce the rejection of transplanted organs, was found to significantly improve the heart function and overall health of old mice. Unfortunately, in human beings it can have some serious side effects; its very ability to suppress the immune system and make a transplant successful also makes people more susceptible to infections and inflammation. (Recent research on rapamycin continues, with the aim of solving these problems by manipulating the dose and timing.) Another popular anti-ageing theory touts the benefits of a super-low-calorie diet, a notion born of a study showing that rodents on a severely restricted diet (low calorie but high nutrient) lived more than twice as long as the controls. Armstrong beautifully tells the story of the CRONies (the acronym stands for Calorie Restriction with Optimum Nutrition) – researchers and true believers who subjected themselves to severe caloric restriction in the name of science (and, it must be said, immortality) in spite of “constant, nagging hunger”, the disruption of social life, and other deprivations. Today, Armstrong reports, most of them have eased up: “You don’t have to do this quite so intensively to get the benefits” on health, said one investigator.
Whether the intervention involves drugs or diet, Armstrong shows, excitement is often followed by dismay when the drug has unacceptable side effects or the method doesn’t work in humans as it does in mice. She concludes with a sobering caution about any new drug that promises to prevent or reverse the ravages of time: “we all respond differently to drugs, depending on our personal biology, our genetic background and our environmental exposure”. For the scope of issues it addresses, this book serves as a fine introduction to the research and controversies about how we age.
Michelle Pannor Silver’s Retirement and Its Discontents: Why we won’t stop working, even if we can provides a thoughtful investigation of a specific transition of ageing – retirement “For many people,” Silver begins, “retirement is a much-awaited and enjoyable time in life. This book is not about those people.” It’s also not about people who retire because of health issues or who have financial struggles. Silver’s research focuses on a narrower constituency, five groups of people – doctors, CEOs, elite athletes, professors and homemakers – who were discontented in retirement because they loved what they used to do and because that work was woven into their identities. What happens now that it’s over, and over not by choice but because they felt forced to leave, or because circumstances dictated it? How do they decide what to do next? How do they structure activities, in ways that provide the social connection, fulfilment and meaning that they enjoyed throughout their careers?
These are crucial questions now that people are living longer, in many cases well beyond official “retirement” age. The answers do not necessarily come through travelling, volunteering, learning a language, or taking up art lessons – activities that can certainly be enjoyable but which for many people do not provide meaning, deep satisfaction or a new identity. I recently met a man in his seventies, a radiologist, who, once retired, spent all his time carving wood pieces of exceptional artistry. “When did you begin to develop your skill in this hobby?” I asked, expecting to hear that he was sixty or so. “At sixteen”, he said. “And my hobby was being a radiologist.” In my experience, friends and colleagues who retired with glowing fantasies of learning to play the lute, becoming a woodcarver, or acquiring another skill that takes years to master, often discover that it will take too long to make performing or creating intrinsically enjoyable. Silver’s interviewees concur, leading Silver to explore “the larger structural problems that society must grapple with as individuals confront the mismatch between an idealized retirement and the reality of giving up identity, income and status”: becoming invisible where once they were centres of attention, the person others went to for advice, help and wisdom; feeling unneeded where once they were essential. The heart of the dilemma, she writes, is that retirement, a life without the “burdens” of work, can be a burden itself: “Herein lies the irony of retirement’s lack of boundaries and lauded freedoms, which can feel like a forced rupture from our core identity”. That irony captures the bittersweet feelings that people may have at their retirement parties: “Sure, thanks for your tributes – but now what? Tomorrow you’ll have forgotten me”. (As George S. Kaufman famously noted when he saw his fellow playwright S. N. Behrman in his office the morning after the latter’s farewell party, “Ah, forgotten but not gone, eh?”) While some of the retirees Silver interviewed enjoyed a honeymoon phase – time, at last, for lute playing – most went directly to the disenchantment phase, followed by efforts to forge new identities and satisfactions. Some succeeded. Some still struggle.
By far the largest category of books aimed at the ageing consists of first-person narratives. Readers may choose among an array of companions to light and lighten the way: a spiritual guide, wise elder, psychologist, philosopher, or poet. I favour Mary Oliver (1935–2019), especially her poem “I Worried”, from which I quote:
…Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang.
Oliver just about sums up the themes of many of today’s guides to ageing, which often have the words “flourishing” or “thriving” or other hopeful language in their titles. Among the most popular recent additions are Mary Pipher’s Women Rowing North: Navigating life’s currents and flourishing as we age and Parker Palmer’s On the Brink of Everything: Grace, gravity and getting old. (Pipher’s women are rowing north, but Palmer notes that as we age, everything is moving south: “Energy, reaction time, muscle tone, the body itself – they’re all headed back into the earth, as far south as it goes”.) Carl Honoré has written the perkiest contribution but, at fifty-two, it’s easy for him to be perky: “Denying how old you are, even in jest”, says Honoré, “denies who you are, what you have lived and where you are going. It gives the number a power it does not deserve”. Hear, hear, young man, but what if that power confers the right for your employer to fire you or not hire you at all? Pipher, just turning seventy, is warm, cheerful and optimistic: “If we can keep our wits about us, think clearly, and manage our emotions skilfully, we will experience a joyous time in our lives … if we have good maps and guides, the journey can be transcendent”. Palmer, at eighty, concurs. He likes being old, he tells us, “because the view from the brink is striking, a full panorama of my life – and a bracing breeze awakens me to new ways of understanding my own past, present, and future … I’m not given to waxing romantic about aging and dying. I simply know that the first is a privilege and the second is not up for negotiation”.
These books and many others belong to a genre as old as old age itself. (In his treatise “Hygiene” in about AD 175, Galen, ahead of his time, proposed that ageing was a natural process that could be slowed with proper diet and exercise.) Most of today’s authors convey the message that, while we cannot escape the countless losses, memory lapses and physical insults that accompany ageing, nor escape death, we can choose how to live: “choices made difficult”, Palmer acknowledges, “by a culture that celebrates youth, disparages old age, and discourages us from facing into our mortality”. Instead, we are exhorted to resist those cultural messages, recognizing that love, sex, laughing and learning are human pleasures at every age (levity is the opposite of gravity, says Palmer). Most of all, the authors emphasize the need to reframe our experiences, focusing not on what we have lost, nor on the sorrows, regrets and fears we all experience, but rather on what we can still do and enjoy. Living alone? Your friendship network has diminished? We can “learn to alchemize loneliness into solitude”, advises Pipher, and “reframe the time we spend alone as positive time and find more ways to enjoy ourselves”. Those ways include making a delicious meal, watching movies, reading and using our memories to “visit all of the people in our past”. (Why that wouldn’t make a lonely person feel even lonelier beats me, but this advice reflects the level of Pipher’s psychological sophistication. It’s kind, well-meaning and simplistic.) Nevertheless, it’s certainly true that if we no longer engage in the same work or other activities that gave our lives purpose and meaning, we can find new ones, and the new ones don’t have to be big and momentous. Honoré references the Japanese concept of ikigai, roughly meaning “a reason to get up in the morning”, something people need at all stages of life, though what that reason is will change. It can be tending the garden, walking the dog, working for a cause, doing something useful for someone you love, or a neighbour, or a stranger.
For those who prefer their guides to be less sanguine, I advise William Ian Miller’s Losing It (2011), worth the cover price for the subtitle alone: “In which an aging professor LAMENTS his shrinking BRAIN, which he flatters himself formerly did him Noble Service … A Plaint, tragi-comical, historical, vengeful, sometimes satirical and thankful in six parts, if his Memory does yet serve”. Miller is literate, surly, brutally honest and very funny. Consider this entry in the index under “Life”:
as struggle not to be laughed at, 6 unseemly clinging to, 34, 40–41 when determined happy, 244–245. See also cowardice; Cronus; death; dementia.
Because my own Memory and shrinking BRAIN so often do not serve as once they did, I read Miller at regular intervals.
The third category of books confronts discrimination on the grounds of age. Ashton Applewhite, the author of This Chair Rocks: A manifesto against ageism, focuses on “the last socially sanctioned prejudice” of age bias. Once aware of it, she began to see it everywhere: in ads, in “anti-ageing” products (“anti-living”, she growls), in pressures for facelifts and cosmetic surgery, in casual comments that someone is “too old” for a job, a haircut, a relationship. “Like racism and sexism”, she writes, “ageism is not about how we look. It’s about what people in power want our appearance to mean.” Like Honoré, she thinks the first anti-ageist action we can take is to admit our age; hers is sixty-six. Neither of them want us to be pleased at the pseudo-compliment “you look good for your age”. The correct response is: “Oh yeah? You look great for your age too!” Like Palmer, she is amazed, after interviewing an eighty-eight-year-old artist, that “life could become more fun in your eighties”. Like all writers in this genre, Applewhite wants to shatter ageist prejudices and beliefs, such as the assumption that most old people are depressed, lonely and no longer have sex (everyone seems to want to dispel that idea). Like Silver, she knows that one person’s ideal retirement is not for everyone – she is not about to “take up pole dancing or marathon running”. Nonetheless, she admonishes old people to “step up and step out”, to stop conforming, not to worry about being the oldest person in the room, and to fight age segregation, whether institutional or self-imposed. Applewhite’s spirit is fun and contagious: “Naming and claiming and de-shaming are crucial components of all successful social movements”, she concludes. Along with “Black is beautiful” and “I Am Woman” it’s time to add “We’re old, we’re bold, behold!”
I am not given to chanting, and nor was Diana Athill, whose exquisite memoir Somewhere Towards the End, published in 2008 when she was ninety, is a treasure to re-read. Athill was clear-eyed about her worries and problems. Not for her today’s crop of inspirational observations about the “transcendent journey” of ageing: her closest friend and former lover “has beaten me to physical collapse, so that I have to look after him. And I haven’t got the money to pay for care of any kind”. Her attitude is matter-of-fact: “Whatever happens, I will get through it somehow, so why fuss?” The reason to reframe our pessimistic ways of thinking, in her view, is not that optimism will make us feel better but that pessimism is so boring: it’s not surprising that old people easily slide into a general gloom, she writes, given how much we lose in our later years, “but it is very boring and it makes dreary last years even drearier”. Not for her Applewhite’s argument that all ages can and should intermix; one should never expect young people to want the company of old people, says Athill, nor make the claims on them that one makes with friends of the same age: “Enjoy whatever they are generous enough to offer, and leave it at that”. Athill died recently, after a brief illness, at the age of 101. I was relieved to learn that she did not spend her last years, as she had feared, in a geriatric ward. She had moved into a home for the “active elderly”, telling an interviewer she enjoyed her “life free of worries in a snug little nest”. And that is the ultimate issue: what are societies doing to ensure that the very old can end their lives free of worries in a snug little nest, or are able to “age in place”, at home? The answer to that question will surely go further than psychological nostrums in alleviating feelings of anxiety, loneliness and meaninglessness.
Until we have that security, we have ample advice from writers on how to fight ageism and live with the inevitable changes of body and mind that ageing inflicts. The rumble of voices, male and female, older and younger, differ but converge on the conclusion: acknowledge those infuriating gaps of memory but move on briskly to the joys that life still brings. Contemplating a potted tree fern with its nine fronds, each with a little nub at the base, Athill wrote: “This little nub is the start of a new frond, which grows very slowly to begin with but faster towards the end – so much faster that you can almost see it moving. I was right in thinking that I will never see it being a tree, but I underestimated the pleasure of watching it being a fern. It was worth buying”.
We will all make this journey one way or another, and it’s up to us to console and delight one another as we do, perhaps even repaving the road as we bump along, somewhere towards the end.
I am writing this in the hope that all Seniors will learn that ageism is alive and well. I was sent to the Motor Vehicle Department, by my GP, for a Medical Assessment for no other reason than a stiff neck and being old. It has had a huge impact on my well-being. I tried for several months to get this referral overturned but even with my Physiotherapist’s report in hand, I was unable to accomplish anything.
Before I even had the Assessment, they suspended my license, so I was unable to drive for months. The Assessment is very intrusive. For a simple neck problem I had to have a vision test with a report from my Optometrist, a two-hour physical evaluation for my range of motion, joint movement, strength, sensation, balance, reaction time and mobility, as well as cognitive and visual assessment relating to attention, concentration, memory and divided attention. This was followed by an on-road driving test with an instructor, a physiotherapist as well as an intern physiotherapist, in the car. I had to spend nearly an hour driving through the city and on the freeway.
This referral started a bewildering list of tests that were completely unrelated to my neck, and for all this, I had to pay them over $670.00. This would not have happened to a 25 year old person with a stiff neck. I know I, and many Seniors, cannot afford to hand over that amount of money for something that was not of our making. Needless to say, I’m no longer seeing the Doctor that made this disastrous referral with no thought to my well-being. I finally received a letter informing me that I had passed the Assessment in the top 90% and that my License Renewal Application was being sent. After receiving it, I was told to phone for an appointment for another Education session, for which I must wait another two months and pay more money. For people on a pension, the cost of this Assessment can cause great financial strain. The last ten months have caused me great stress and has had a huge impact on my quality and enjoyment of life.
I turned 70 last November… I also became a widow shortly before I turned 70. It has been quite a year for me. I have both oars in the water now and not sure what the plan will be but, there is a plan!
I work one day a week cleaning a Rectory!
I enjoy cooking, baking, and love eating out but rarely do that now as I did when we were married!
Life is good!