Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Physical challenges

Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Physical challenges

Natalie Gelman

The older we get, the more difficult it becomes to live with physical changes that challenge our daily life. Our bodies take longer to heal, our ability to compensate for limitations diminishes, and we tend to experience fear more. I recall when a woman I knew went through the following:

Judy began to have major pain in her joints. It began in one joint and debilitated her. That pain would diminish and another joint would hurt. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and put on mediation. It didn’t work and it was subsequently determined that there was damage to her spine.

She was advised to begin with epidurals, a series of three. I believe the first one provided some relief and the next two did not. She ended up bedridden and unable to sit up or walk. She was able to get around in a crawling position. She was like this for 10 days and decided to see a surgeon. She had been attempting to avoid surgery, but this was intolerable.

“I am 62 years old and I do not want to be limited to this degree at so young an age,” Judy said.

There is a heightened awareness of body changes in myself and others.

I am conscious of waking up stiffer in the morning. I learned from my dad many years ago to sit on the side of the bed before standing. He did not do so when he passed 60 and often lost his balance. I sit and allow my body to relax before I stand.

I remain dedicated to exercising three times a week, though I do not treasure getting up at 5:30 a.m. to do so. This time of day allows me to get it over with and proceed with the rest of the day without interruption to exercise. I believe that keeping my body moving, stretching and vibrating will diminish the chance of hurting myself should I trip or fall. And I want to be flexible when operating my car; turning around and looking backward when going in reverse is mandatory.

In the past, I did not think about these things.

I watch a friend currently using a walker. She still does not have a diagnosis to explain her tendency to lose her balance. She is undergoing testing. Always active and doing volunteer work, she is now limited and frustrated. This came on unexpectedly.

A man who was in his early sixties was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas 10 years earlier. He was given at most a year to live, but clearly had gone on far past that prediction. He was put on medication by the Cleveland Clinic. They were testing the medication to see if it would keep the cancer from getting worse.

After a few years he discovered he was in the placebo group, even though the spread of cancer in his body had been minimal. He ended up being prescribed a medication that was similar to the one he had tested. The cost was prohibitive, but he was able to afford it. Side effects were commonly present, but he chose to continue the drug. When he got a cold, it was always worse than a typical one because his immunity system had diminished over the years.

“I feel so old," he said when I last spoke to him. "I am now one of the people I used to talk about. All I can talk about are my aches and pains. I don’t like aging.”

Natalie Gelman can be contacted at drnataliegelman@gmail.com. Her web site is drnataliegelman.com.