Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Physical limitations

Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Physical limitations

Natalie Gelman

A woman told me she goes from one pain and physical limitation in her life to another. It has become a theme of aging for her, and she is angry and frustrated about it. When one problem begins to subside, another replaces it. She said that when her partner comments on the beauty of her smile or something she is wearing, she cannot fully feel the pleasure of a compliment as she is in physical pain.

A second woman opted to undergo surgery in her neck to relieve numbness in her body to be able to get around again. She has been told there is over a 90 percent chance the surgery will solve a problem haunting her for months and never fully diagnosed by the doctors she has seen. It will take two weeks to reactivate the damaged nerves in her back before she can walk in a less fragile way. She will move in with her daughter because the woman lives alone and will not be able to drive or be mobile enough to be by herself. She anticipates being back in her own home after the two-week healing period. She will then begin physical therapy.

I have referred to our attitudes contributing in a big way to how we do as we age.

The first woman remains as active as she can be, even in pain. She does not complain and spends little time talking about her physical condition. The second woman is always optimistic and non judgmental. She does not blame doctors for failing to diagnose her for months and she is going into the surgery with the belief it will resolve her limitations. For 78 years, this approach has worked for her.

I saw my cousin with a support on her foot as she is having problems that surgery did not correct. It has impeded her walking. Her family as learned to make adjustments to facilitate her ability to move around and handle steps. She does not talk about or dwell on the problem.

I have been in constant contact with my brother who lives in Michigan (I am in California). A couple of years ago he had two surgeries to remove aneurisms from each knee. He was in rehabilitation for extended periods. A year ago, he fell and fractured his pelvis. Again, he required hospitalization, followed by a lengthy time in a rehab facility. He lives alone and he was concerned about going home. A plan was made to have caretakers at his home. He has someone with him 24 hours a day.

My brother is an example of our heightened vulnerability to physical concerns when situational factors also alter our lifestyle. He and his wife divorced after 44 years of marriage. She took responsibility for most of the decisions and activities around the house. He lacks the ability and interest in learning about how to do most things. So hiring help is imperative.

I found that individuals who are living alone after years in a partnership are heavily challenged by physical limitations that occur as we age.

Natalie Gelman can be contacted at Her website is>