Archive for the ‘aging’ Category

We tried out a new mattress last night, a ten inch-thick memory foam that came in an impossibly small box but that filled the king-size bedstead quite nicely. The Spouse loves his memory foam pillows, but I always found them creepy, sort of human flesh-textured. (Ewww.) Fortunately the new mattress has a quilted cotton cover and a mattress pad, so it just seems soft. It sits a couple of inches lower than our traditional mattress, which had a pillow top on both sides.

The verdict? It was a little warm at times (one of the major complaints with memory foam) but I slept, sort of. We’ll likely keep the mattress, but it won’t solve my problem: For the past several years, I find that I’m just sort of sleeping, about five or so hours a night. It isn’t enough.

During the last few years before his death, my father couldn’t sleep. He’d either listen to all-night AM talk radio in the spare bedroom, all by himself, or lie there and ruminate over the mistakes and disappointments of his life. I was in the next room, and I would hear him muttering to himself, tapping his knuckles on the wall for emphasis. I don’t think it helped his deteriorating heart, and I worry about becoming like him.

I figured my snoozelessness was just another bonus that comes with aging, but according to the NYTimes, it ain’t necessarily so:

[F]or years, sleep scientists thought they knew what was going on: sleep starts to deteriorate in late middle age and steadily erodes from then on. It seemed so obvious that few thought to question the prevailing wisdom.

Now, though, new research is leading many to change their minds. To researchers’ great surprise, it turns out that sleep does not change much from age 60 on. And poor sleep, it turns out, is not because of aging itself, but mostly because of illnesses or the medications used to treat them.

“The more disorders older adults have, the worse they sleep,” said Sonia Ancoli-Israel, a professor of psychiatry and a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Diego. “If you look at older adults who are very healthy, they rarely have sleep problems.”

Hmmmm. I have friends and family who have their sleep interrupted by things like restless legs, sleep apnea, and overactive bladders. I know from personal experience that chronic pain can be exacerbated by a lack of sleep. Mother, who was as healthy as a horse until her 90s and kept to a pretty predictably schedule in most aspects of her life, slept soundly.

So now what? Sleeping pills? I think not. I don’t want to become dependent on anything, and I take enough pills already. I’m inventorying my meds to see if they are contributing to the problem, and I’m working on some suggestions that my counselor at our employee wellness program gave me:

1. Get the television set out of the bedroom. (We already did that during our recent move.) Your bed needs to be reserved for sleeping, otherwise your body seems to think it’s just another piece of furniture and your mind just goes on merrily grinding away.

2. Set a regular sleep pattern, i.e. going to bed and waking up at the same times. Since I’m still working fulltime, I keep to a fairly regular bedtime and wake up schedule, but I can see how it could go all to heck at retirement, sort of like being on vacation, where you’re up sometimes until the wee hours and then crawl out of bed at noon (like being a teenager again, only you now have to “wee” at 3 a.m. or so).

3. Try melatonin, a hormone that is part of the human sleep-wake cycle. This is new to me, but the Spouse has long used it to get over jetlag. He takes it at bedtime and then makes sure he gets some direct sunlight the next morning. It apparently helps reset your internal clock. The National Sleep Foundation and other sites have some good points on the benefits — and limitations — of melatonin.

4. “Practice good sleep hygiene,” said the counselor. Huh? Google to the rescue: The Daily Glow has a fine list, like avoiding caffeine and alcohol after six, creating bedtime rituals, exercising earlier in the day, limiting naps, etc. (Oh, but I do loves me a good nap…)

I’ve used melatonin the past several nights, and I’ve slept a bit better. (Might be just a placebo effect.) But I know it won’t work as a nighttime sleep aid, so I’ll go without it tonight.

Are you getting enough sleep? What works for you?

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Reader, we’ve moved. Literally and figuratively, it turns out.

After a couple of serious falls that landed her in the hospital, my 91-year-old mother-in-law agreed to move to an assisted living facility (where she promptly tripped over her oxygen line, fell, and broke her femur in 20 pieces — but that’s a story for another day). The Spouse and I had talked about buying her very nice condo in a 55+ development when the time came for her to sell, but that time came much quicker than we expected. Both our all-brick rambler and her home had become undervalued in the current economy, and we wondered if we would be able to sell.

Meanwhile, downstairs at our house, our son and daughter-in-law, who had rented out their townhome and remodeled and moved into our basement to start saving for a house with property, were wondering how they could afford anything in today’s market. (Their best prospect? A small two-story no-basement home on a whopping .1 acre of land miles and miles away in a wildfire-plagued area — all for a mere $275,000. Yikes.)

“Would you consider buying our house?” the Spouse asked. They would, and promptly did. Our son was very happy growing up in our neighborhood, and his wife is thrilled to have a space to remodel. She does AH-MAZING things with paint and fabric, and the place is already looking better than it did when we lived there.

Very quickly, it seemed, we went from having them living with us to us living with them, so we speeded up the move, boxing up everything and throwing away ENORMOUS amounts of flotsam and jetsam that had washed up in the basement and in the corners of every closet over the 25 years we lived in that all-brick rambler. Papers, Books. Broken Christmas decorations. A plethora of pillows, most of which had to be tossed because of the dust. Cases of peanut butter and black beans long past their use-by date. Rock-hard bags of sugar. Piles of Apple components, hardware and software for computers we had long since abandoned. You know, the usual kipple. (My constant refrain: “What the frack was I/he keeping this for?”)

I considered (for about a nanosecond) having a yard sale, but I’ve had great luck with placing unwanted items on the front of the lawn with a FREE sign on them. They rarely last the day. It’s my way of stimulating the neighborhood economy: Let somebody else haul them off and sell them if they want. Everybody’s struggling.

The move was completed in a frantic four hours on a Saturday four weeks ago thanks to a very motley crew of our friends, their friends, and family members, all paid in pizza, cookies, water and our undying thanks.

So. Here we are. The dust has settled, the remodeling is nearly complete (new carpet and tile upstairs including a jetted tub in the bathroom, and a new family room and bathroom downstairs). I’ve spackled all the holes in the walls, touched up the white trim, and applied Danish oil to a few water-worn kitchen and bathroom cabinets. The TVs are hooked up, the furniture is mostly in place, the ice maker in the fridge works, and we’ve put a few things on the walls. There are pots of geraniums on the front and back porches. I even have a room of my own downstairs with a futon, desk, bookshelves, wi-fi, TV, and a recumbent exercycle. I’m still looking for a couple of pairs of sandals that went missing during the mayhem, but most things have turned up.

It’s a nice house, open and bright. It has the feel of a place where someone has been happy. No ghosts here. We’re settling in nicely.

So why am I so unsettled?

There’s a clue in my first paragraph: “a 55+ development.” Yeah, we’re 55+, even 60+. The Spouse just retired, and I’m seriously thinking about it. We more than qualify for a little slice of no-upkeep heaven like this. So what’s the big deal?

Our little slice of heaven is a ghetto, and I say that in the nicest possible way. According to the Interwebs, a ghetto is “a part of a city predominantly occupied by a particular group, especially because of social or economic issues.” Ours is a gray ghetto, where most of the residents (who like my mother-in law bought their homes 15 or so years ago when they were in their 60s and 70s) are now in their 70s and 80s and even 90s. We’re among the youngest ones here. And it just feels weird, sort of like moving back in with your parents, only now we’re middle-aged or beyond.

And it makes me feel terrible at the same time. The people we have met here are lovely, gracious and welcoming and friendly in the way that they, “the Greatest Generation” as Tom Brokaw dubbed them, have always been. Perhaps I feel like a fraud. After all, I’m one of those selfish, spoiled, economy-destroying, resource-guzzling Baby Boomers and I don’t deserve to be counted in their class. But maybe I’m just not ready for yet another capitulation to the ravages of time.

This, of course, all adds to my on-going angst about aging. I now alternate from my job where I’m surrounded by dewy-skinned, inexperienced 20-year-olds to my home where I live among survivors of the march of time whose lives, well-lived or not, are etched indelibly on their faces.

Oh, I’m just DISGUSTED with myself. I carp on and on about age discrimination, and here I’m teetering on its very edge. I have much to learn about the hard business of growing older, and I now am surrounded by experienced and willing teachers and examples.

And learn I shall. More to come.

I haven’t yet had to put on a swimsuit. So far, so good…

Hope your summer is going “swimmingly!”

(This post shamelessly ripped off inspired by Fern at The Fur Flies.)

This little bit of good news/bad news from The Salt Lake Tribune caught my eye today:

Carol Masheter, at age 65, is now the oldest woman to have reached the top of the tallest mountains in all seven continents, a feat completed in four years: Denali, Aconagua, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, Vinson Massif, Everest and Kosciuszko.

It’s likely she will keep the record, because those who issue permits for Everest in Tibet have since decided no one over 60 can attempt the climb.

Masheter, who arrived home in Salt Lake City from Australia Wednesday morning, said that attitude makes no sense when held up to death-rate statistics for big mountain climbs. Older people have better survival rates, she said, likely because they have better endurance and judgment.

“Each climber needs to be evaluated on their own merits,” she said.

While I am delighted that a mere woman from my often misogynistic state has achieved such a staggering feat, I am as baffled as she is that the powers-that-be banned the over-60 set from ever receiving a permit to climb the Big Kahuna.

I’m certain the Tibetans are tired of hauling all the thrill seekers, masochists and adrenaline junkies to the base of Everest only to have them litter up the place like New York City after the St. Patrick’s Day parade (only with oxygen tanks, human waste and tarps instead of green bunting, cardboard and glitter) and, yes, DIE in frightening numbers on their way up and down the slope, their corpses left to dry out in the relentless winds and subzero temperatures. Perhaps this senior ban was a cheap and easy way to cut down on some the sheer numbers.

But I find myself surprisingly saddened by it. Even a little kicked in the gut. Somewhere in the back of my mind, on my half-formed Bucket List (you know, that list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket”) was the hope that I might do something nearly impossible someday, like travel in outer space, win a Pulitzer Prize, date George Clooney —  or climb Mount Everest. Of course. It is the ultimate lofty aspiration.

My friend Liz and I try to do something every year that scares us a little, and one year it was summiting our local Everest, although at 12,000 feet above sea level it is less than half as tall as the real thing. And it nearly killed us. I was so oxygen deprived and dehydrated at the end that I was scooting along the spine of the mountain on two legs and a hand, like a chimp. But I made it. And it is a great memory. I look at that mountain every day and know that I beat it.

But now I’ll never be able to “beat” Everest, and my odds of winning that Pulitzer are dwindling as well.  It is the latest in a series of lowered expectations that I have had to make as I move through time. I find myself looking at new, more reachable goals, like finally embarking on a serious study of art history, living in New York City for at least a month, or even learning how to knit — which for someone as impatient and domestically challenged as I am would be a good thing.

What “Everests” are you no longer able to climb, and what are you replacing them with?

Becoming invisible

Posted: January 23, 2012 in aging, beauty, discrimination

As I may have mentioned before, I do try to keep myself up, although it’s becoming a bit more challenging all the time. So a web coupon for a two-for-one microdermabrasion package sounded like just the thing for a post-New Year’s pick-me-up. Both Mother and her sister had serious age spots and other pigmentation issues with their faces, and I didn’t like what I was seeing in the mirror, despite my liberal use of some of the over-the-counter creams. So I did the deal and made the call.

The “spa” where I would receive my treatments was in a nearby town and, like many such services, was attached to a plastic surgeon’s practice. Walking in, I was impressed by the decor and vibe. It was very zen — all blonde wood and stainless steel, water fountains and cushions, with the requisite new age music playing gently in the background. I’ve had such treatments before, but this was probably the most chi-chi place I’d ever visited, and I made a mental note that, if I liked the service and the price was good, I’d probably return.

The receptionists were both occupied, so I stood for a moment and continued to survey the room. The nearest receptionist was young and attractive and pleasant, and she would eventually take me back to the “solarium” where I’d fill out my paper work and wait for my therapist. The other woman at the counter — well, she was my first clue that this would be a memorable experience.

Rail thin, she could have been anywhere from 25 to 50 (that was probably the point) and I have never seen anyone so whose face was so sculpted, all taut skin and protruding cheekbones and unruffled brow, except for her lips, which were double plumped. A generous application of makeup accentuated all the angles.

Now, I don’t think I’m a complete snob about such things, and I will allow that some women can benefit psychologically from “a little work” (like my middle-aged friend whose husband unceremoniously dumped her in the middle of her chemotherapy). This, however, was WAY beyond a little work, and was, for the right potential client, probably great advertising for the nearby plastic surgeon.

No, it wasn’t her appearance that was startling. I stood at the desk for several minutes, chatting with the other receptionist, and at some point, I realized that the well-sculpted woman wouldn’t look at me. No, she wouldn’t even acknowledge I was there. And by the time I left, neither would anyone else. My therapist was very competent, but I had expected at least a half-hour or more of pampering, and she had me out the door in 15 minutes. And, unlike every other day spa I’ve visited, no one tried to sell me anything or get me to return for other services, even though in my paperwork I had marked several procedures that I might be interested in. I was literally hustled in and hustled out.

Surprised, I mused about all this I sat in my car in the parking lot, and I came to two conclusions:

1. I wasn’t their kind of client. They wanted walking advertisements for their services, and no matter how much work I had done, I would never meet their mark.

2. At 60, I was the walking embodiment of a future they — in particular the well-sculpted woman — probably feared with all their souls, a future where they couldn’t depend on their looks to open doors and make their lives easier. If I hadn’t been standing in front of them with a paid-for voucher for services, I think they would have looked right past me.

I’ve never been able to cash in on my looks (which is why I became smart and funny), so I don’t understand that kind of dread. My fears about aging run along the lines of disability and penury. But I’ve never had anyone make me feel that invisible before, and I expect it will happen again. I’m 60, and most of the time I’m pretty okay about that. But I keep running into reminders that a lot of people aren’t okay about it, for themselves and for anyone else.

Are you okay about your age? I certainly hope so.

Well, THERE’S your problem…

Posted: December 22, 2011 in aging, humor

Like writer Jonathan Ames in the NYT today, I have a problem with kipple. No, not kippers. Kipple, which seems to have consumed his only fork:

So, what is kipple, and why did it cause me to lose my fork? I learned about kipple from the Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Here is an exchange between a man named J. R. Isidore and a character named Pris Stratton.

This building, except for my apartment, is completely kipple-ized.

“Kipple-ized?” She did not comprehend.

Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers. … When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more. …

The entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization.

(Be sure to click on the article, because his bedside table looks EXACTLY like my beside table, only mine has drawers. And more books, if that’s possible.)

I thought I was the only one who believed that stuff kipple multiplied, even metastasized when you weren’t looking. I have long suspected my shoes of having  closet orgies to which I am not invited, causing them to reproduce wildly. (“I don’t remember buying these boots. They don’t even FIT.”) And don’t get me started about paper. I’m drowning in it. The pile of printed coupons, year-old birthday cards and insurance itemizations will soon bridge that three-inch gap between my bedside table and bed and smother me in my sleep.

I’m fully aware of the depth of my problem. I’m a sucker for a good book review, and Amazon One-Click is going to be the end of me, THE END OF ME, YOU HEAR? I’m like a junkie pressing the IV button for that next hit of morphine. (READ ALL THE BOOKS!) How can I possible throw away that birthday greeting from my son in Ohio? And it’s as certain as death that the minute I toss out that notice of payment approval from my insurance company for my latest medical mishap that said company will disavow they ever sent it. (But the coupon printouts likely have all expired, so I can probably let go of those. Maybe.)

Don’t worry. You can still visit me at home. The living room is neat, vacuumed and dust-free, and the kitchen (other than the recipe book shelf in the corner) is sparkling. You can use my bathroom without flinching. But I will probably not take you on a tour of the rest of the house, which is where The Spouse and I actually live. (His office is a hard-hat zone, shelves bowing with books and every inch of counter space covered with papers, theater programs and more books. The piles keep rising, like they have yeast in them or something. ) My office currently contains an unused desk and chair, a pillow-strewn IKEA futon, two overtaxed bookshelves, a recumbent bicycle exerciser, more piles of books and four large plastic containers of sweaters, scarves and belts. (Proof of insurance is required for entrance, thank you very much.)

If this sounds like an apology, it isn’t. We’ve lived in this house for nearly 25 years, and we have more than 120 years of living between us. We have baggage. Stuff. Even Kipple. We bought it, collected it, had it FedExed to us. It has meaning. That straw purse with the broken strap  in the corner of my office now filled with dusty green eucalyptus stems was purchased on a trip to Oahu’s North Shore eight years ago. When I look at it, I remember the open-air shop, the Old Hawaii feel of the little town, the taste of fresh pineapple, and the roughness of the black rocks on my bare feet at nearby Shark’s Cove. It evokes something in me. But it’s kipple, broken and unusable, and I’ll throw it out someday. Just not right now, okay?

I’d like to think we’ll get rid of most of the debris field as the years pass. But then I remember going through Mother’s house when she moved on to the retirement community (and eventually the nursing home where she died). Drawers of sewing notions that dated back to when I was a child. Dozens of yellow plastic bags that her newspapers came in. Stacks of cottage cheese cartons, most of them without lids, that she used instead of Tupperware. Canned goods and spices ten years past their use-by dates. Piles of rusted bobby pins. A box of broken jewelry. And drawers full of Christmas/Easter/Mother’s Day/birthday cards as well as photos and drawings from her children and grandchildren. Did it all mean something to her? Apparently. But most of it meant nothing to me. I was confident in my knowledge that my kipple was so much better than her kipple. As my last gift to her, I separated all the potentially sentimental items and put them in boxes for my brothers and literally threw away or gave away everything else.

Which is probably what my children will do when they have to go through my stuff. I mean, my kipple.

Rethinking exercise

Posted: November 14, 2011 in aging, health

Here’s a NYT headline that’s bound to get the attention of any Baby Boomer: Aging Well Through Exercise:

[According to T]he Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who oversaw the study, “They suggest strongly that people don’t have to lose muscle mass and function as they grow older. The changes that we’ve assumed were due to aging and therefore were unstoppable seem actually to be caused by inactivity. And that can be changed.”

The study examined a group of competitive swimmers, runners and cyclists, all 40+. And it was all good news in terms of their muscle mass and fitness levels.

Whether similar benefits are attainable by people who take up exercise when they are middle-aged or older “isn’t yet clear,” [one researcher] says, “although there’s no reason to think that you wouldn’t get similar results no matter when you start.” (Italics mine.)

I’ve always thought certain body changes were inevitable with age, like that loss of muscle mass and the blockiness around the middle torso that has crept up on me, but this kind of information encourages me. Time to dust off the exercise equipment, ladies. I’ve been wanting to find some more reading time, and my recumbent bicycle makes it easy to hold a book or a Kindle. Two problems solved. Maybe this way I can avoid the usual five pounds I gain every holiday season.

Care to join me? I’ll report on my progress.