With Age Comes Wisdom (and More)

Be Well Be Happy

There is an old saying that “old age is no place for sissies.” Likewise, Navy SEAL training is no place for sissies, just as running a marathon, climbing a mountain, and playing rugby is not for namby-pambies. But there is one difference – no one chooses to get old. If you live long enough, you will get old. It is inevitable. You can whine about it, curse it, deplore it, or embrace it but there it is – you get old, no matter if you are a milquetoast or a braveheart. There is no line in the sand – “once you’re 65, you’re old” doesn’t exist. Some people still run marathons in their 80s while others are bent and infirm in their 60s. What really constitutes old age?

The average life expectancy in the U.S. is 77 years for men and 82 for women. Sixty-five is the traditional age for retirement, so does that qualify for the moniker “old”? How about the biblical “three score and ten”? I wish I had a nickel for every time an older patient told me, “The golden years aren’t so golden.” Of course, most patients used more colorful language but, after all, this is a family newspaper.

If you have reached 65 to 70 and are in generally good health, meaning you’re not bedridden nor running marathons, then you are familiar with the aches and pains of aging. When you wake up in the morning and your shoulder is stiff and sore, you ask yourself why. Naturally, there is no answer – it's aging. When we were younger, we enjoyed skiing and winter weather. Today, if the temperature is 30, we can’t seem to get warm. Maybe that’s why Florida is so popular.

Most of us adapt to these physical changes, and while we may win a few battles, we will lose the war. Aging involves more than physical symptoms, however. Sorrow and loneliness are often companions of aging. Sorrow from losing friends and family, and perhaps remorse from wrongs and missteps we committed over the years. The National Institute on Aging reports that loneliness among the aging can be just as damaging to their health as high blood pressure and dementia. Loneliness has only been exacerbated by this COVID epidemic, especially to the elderly in nursing homes who were cut off from contact with their families.

Aging can also bring many pleasures. For some, it’s playing golf during the week when they used to be at work, slogging away. For others, it’s knowing that tomorrow you are free to do as you wish – you are not on a set schedule anymore. What is imperative is that younger family members understand that contact with older family members can be an enriching experience both for them and for their elders. Older people are a font of knowledge. They are truly the prototype of “Been there, done that.” As Cicero once said, “Old age by nature is rather talkative.” So let’s be sure that the older generation can pass on what they know to the following generations. Our words may enrich their lives and allow us to live beyond the grave.

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 By Peter Galvin, MG

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