When I was younger I can remember listening to my parents and their friends at dinner. On more than one occasion, the condition of their health or that of their family or friends, would take over the conversation. While they seldom complained, I still considered their discussion beyond boring. I also smugly vowed that I would never become one of those-kind-of-people when I got older. Guess what? Things sure look different from the other side of the timeline now. And after Thom and I have navigated a few health ups and downs during the last couple of years, that particular topic of conversation has gotten far more interesting.
It’s no wonder. According to a survey done by AARP (American Association of Retired People) 75% of us over age 50 take at least one daily prescription medication on a regular basis. Then once you hit 65 and over, AARP claims that over 80% of those surveyed take at least two prescription drugs, with 50% of them taking four or more. Yikes! Obviously that is a lot of people taking a lot of drugs. And while there could be an entirely different discussion about whether we are all being over-medicated, obviously some people are being driven to seek help for a number of issues. And surprise, surprise, I find myself at that doorway.
Rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll just mention that I have been dealing with high blood pressure. It spurted up last year about this time, but I managed to put several practices in place and thought I was doing reasonably well—until now. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised because high blood pressure runs in my family. Both my father and older sister had an ongoing battle with it. Plus, according to WebMD, two out of three adults over 60 have high blood pressure (BP). But like most of us want to believe—I thought I would be the exception.
To make the problem worse, I’m not a person who blindly follows directions. Once the doctor recommended I go on BP medication, I naturally hit the computer and researched every little fact and side effect I could find about it before taking it. And frankly, some of those side effects bothered me more than the condition. My reading also confirmed I was already doing every recommended thing possible to avoid it—so it is likely time to give medication a try. Still, I resist.
I suppose in some ways it is similar to when I realized that my hearing wasn’t that great anymore. Five years ago I took the step and went in for a hearing test. There it was confirmed I did have hearing loss, but it is probably due to genetics rather than older age. So after researching the importance of hearing well for as long as possible, I bought a pair of hearing aids and have been wearing them ever since. As it turned out, I love wearing them because now I hear so much more, and far better, than before. Everything about that choice was advantageous.
So, why do we hesitate when faced with a change in our bodies or our health? From some of the stuff I’m reading, many of us hesitate because of the rampant ageism alive in us and in our culture. Yep. We don’t want to look old. We don’t want to be thought of as old. Face it—we don’t want to be old. If I resist wear hearing aids or glasses, dye my hair, refuse medications and pretend everything is just “fine,” I just might fool myself and hopefully everyone else into thinking I’ve somehow managed to cheat age—to be that one exception.
In case you’re wondering, I think I’m pretty happy at my age. In fact, I’m actually overjoyed to be turning 65 in a little over two months! Medicare is a big part of that of course. But recently I read that one of the hidden signs of ageism is how we have all been shamed into not accepting and/or talking about the physical things happening to us at this age. When I read that, deep down inside I knew I had been as guilty as anyone.
Of course, let me be clear, I’m not talking about sitting around and moaning and complaining about the little details that happen in our bodies as time goes by. No one likes a complainer or someone who goes into the minute details of their condition. If you need someone to support and sympathize, I get that. But an ongoing litany of organ-recitals is not something that interests most of us—especially for any length of time.
What I am talking about is just the frank and honest discussion of what’s happening and how it may or may not be affecting our life. The article about ageism that I refer to mentioned that as we age our health condition does occupy more of our lives so it is completely natural that we talk about it when something new occurs. After all, when you’re going to college, you talk about your school and your teachers, right? When you go to work you talk about your job and coworkers, right? When you have children, you talk about what’s happening with your kids, right? Why should any of us feel shamed into not talking about something that is extremely relevant for us at any particular age?
Unquestionably, there are some of us who sail through life without any health issues whatsoever. Good for them! However, I also know some people who have done everything “right” they possibly can and still find themselves facing health challenges. Can we be as compassionate with them as with someone who was having trouble at work or issues with their children? Or is it possible that we unconsciously want to blame or shame others for not maintaining our ideal version of health, so we alleviate our own fears that the same condition could happen to us?
There is a big push to say our “age ain’t nuthin but a number.” Well, couldn’t you say that “health and body issues ain’t nuthin but a stage?” What I mean by that is I don’t really care what age I am or what health issue I may or may not be going through at any time of my life. What really matters to me is that I stay open, aware, optimistic, loving, engaged, growing, becoming—and those intentions can happen at any age, regardless of any health condition. And trust me, I know that sometimes that isn’t easy—but it sure beats giving up and giving in—or pretending like something isn’t happening.
It could be that positive aging is learning to flow and adapt with the changes in our bodies, our minds and everything around us. How we manage those changes are part of the choices we face each and every day. Do we medicate or not? Only we can decide when the time is right. Let’s just not forget that we are the authors of our life story. And while we may or may not be able to change the circumstances confronting us, the choice about how we will respond and what happens next lies in our hands. Ultimately, the SMART approach is to never forget that we get to make it up.