This pot shot card by Ashleigh Brilliant (who really is brilliant, though quite eccentric, if you aren't familiar with him!) gave me an idea for a kind of periodic update on aging.
I have been recording my mother's dementia, without initially realizing I was doing it, for some time now, ever since Kathy, Peach and I started noticing her memory loss and discussing it at length on our rides home after Cousins Days.
Last night I noticed something I have been noticing for some time, about myself, and I thought it might be a good idea to do a self-evaluation about where I am on the aging spectrum, to have a "baseline" to compare with in later years. In addition to the pot shot, this was also prompted by a program called "Mister Rogers and Me," which Walt mentioned this morning. I commented that I had seen it before and took umbrage at the beginning where "Me" mentioned moving into a new house, going for a walk and seeing "this old man outside of his house." The old guy, he went on to say, was the 70 year old Fred Rogers, and the rest of the show is about Rogers and his relationshiop with "Me."
70 year old "old guy," huh? Well, the body does begin to slow down. I've been dealing with minor aches and pains that slow me down for so long that I don't even notice them any more, though they do worsen, slowly, over time. I think of my grandfather every time I go to the kitchen or the bathroom. I remember his getting out of our car and walking to the house, bent over at a slight degree and walking with arms swinging. I don't know how old he was at the time [probably 70 :)]. But he had a very distinctive gait, and every time I walk that way I think of him. I don't walk that way when out in public, or even in front of Walt, but truth be told, it's the most comfortable way for me to walk when nobody is noticing. It's kind of a lumbering gait, with each step starting out on the heel of the foot, and knees bent slightly as if to absorb the impact. The opposite arm swings forward and the back is sloped.
Of course my back is sloped all the time. I remember as a kid my mother always telling me to stand up straight and not slouch. Now I can't stand up straight if I try. I stand as straight as I can possibly get for photos, with shoulders held back as much as I can, though it is an uncomfortable position for me, and then look at myself in the picture and I am very definitely stooped over, in spite of thinking I am standing straight. I remember being shocked when Dr. G told me there was no way I was 5'7-1/2" which I thought I was my whole life. I'm now more like 5'6" and things I used to reach with ease I can't reach any more. Pictures of Walt and me show me sometimes shorter than he is.
For several years now getting to a standing position takes a few adjustments while the hips and knees click into place. Sometimes it takes seconds, sometimes it takes more seconds than usual (not at all helped by excited dogs jumping on me--I swear one of these days they are going to knock me over into the dog bed!). Sometimes there is a twinge of pain as the clicking into place happens. It's brief and I'm used to it, but it's part of my aging process.
My mother does a lot of complaining about her back problems, but I've had back problems for so long I don't even think about it. It's nothing serious, but it aches to stand up for any length of time, and I often adopt her treatment, which is just to sit down for a bit until the ache leaves and then go on about my business. When I have to stand for any period of time, the ache becomes all I can think about. When I stood with the woman in the parking lot after the dementia meeting the other day, fortunately I had my cane with me because while she talked on and on and on, my back was just screaming and I needed to lean heavily on my cane.
The cane (just succumbed and bought that TV-advertised Hurry Cane so I can fold it up and carry it in my purse) helps greatly with balance and locomotion, though I can get along without it. I realize I can walk faster and steadier using the cane, but when I strike out at (my) top speed, I'm still slower than everybody around me. Walking "together" with someone is something I never do because my companion is always at least four strides ahead of me. I can't keep up (and if I try, I'm so winded I can't talk and don't enjoy the walk).
I used to be a nightowl and I suppose compared to most people my age, I still am, but lately I've been realizing that after a certain period -- usually halfway through The Daily Show -- that my body and brain just don't want to work any more. I can, and frequently do, stay up past midnight, but the brain function just isn't the same and a part of me is screaming to drop whatever project I'm trying to finish (often this journal) and just go to sleep.
Sleep has become a more necessary thing. Both Walt and I usually take a nap at some time during the day. Some days I seem to fall asleep whenever I sit down to watch TV (of course Walt has done that for many years and is famous for his instant naps). But after such a long period of sleep problems -- for decades, really -- I am now sleeping often 7 hours at night, which is huge for me. The dogs are helping because they are really very considerate and though they may come and check to see if I'm still sleeping (and I pretend I am), they tiptoe around here and don't start acting frisky and ready for the day until I finally let them know that I'm awake. Then all hell breaks loose. I love those few minutes when I first wake up and we have my "You're AWAKE" love-in.
My appetite is less now. I almost always give Walt at least 1/3 of my dinner every night because though I dish up what I think I can eat, it turns out I can't. I understand when my mother (and previously Walt's mother) complain about the amount of food served at restaurants. This amazes me because I've had such a big appetite all of my life. Of course I still snack between meals, so I'm not likely to lose much weight, but it surprises me that I can't eat what I used to.
I wasn't going to leave behind this delicious slice of prime rib at the Harris Ranch the other day, but I only ate a few of the French fries, which is very unusual for me. Love those thin fries; just didn't feel like eating them.
My taste buds are also less sensitive than before. Things that I used to love to eat are just "meh" now because the flavor isn't as strong as it used to. It makes it easier to stop eating when my stomach feels full because my mouth isn't getting the same "delicious" signals that it used to.
Both Walt and I are having mild hearing problems. Neither of us can hear the other if we are distracted somewhere else, though if we are paying attention, the hearing is fine. Walt has had his hearing tested and said the doctor says it's OK. I would insist that the doctor is wrong, if it weren't that I'm having the same problems he is.
Most annoying to me of the aging signs I notice is that my typing is not what it used to be. I still type fast, but I make more typos and the worst of them is typing a word I did not mean to type, when my brain is thinking of the correct word. I don't know why that happens, but I may be thinking of "black" and my fingers will type "white." The fingers have taken on a life of their own. It's like I have my own personal ouija board instead of a computer keyboard under my fingers sometimes.
And of course when you have a parent with dementia, those memory lapses are very worrisome. I do word problems all the time, hoping that will help keep the brain cells active, but there are still those times when you are trying to think of a movie star, like Ralph Bellamy, for example. And it just won't come. You think and think and think and finally try to find a movie he was in (sometimes you can't remember any movies he was in too!) and look it up on ImDB (thank GOD for computers!). You get the page, see his name and think "Oh...of course...I knew that") then shut down ImDB and the name is gone again and you have to look it up again. I hate times like that. They don't happen that often and I only assume they will happen more often as I get older.
Doing math in my head is an impossibility now. I need a calculator to add 2 and 2 some days. (4, right?)
I really do have to put on my glasses to find my glasses. It's difficult to focus on anything. I have to put my glasses in the same spot every night or I run the risk of not being able to find them.
At least my teeth are OK! Thank you, Cindy Belgum.