Growing old … two sides of the coin!

So often these days I hear, “Getting old is not for sissies”.  Personally, I prefer the competing concept, “Growing old is a privilege denied to many”.  But there’s no doubt that there are many perspectives on the subject.  We talk about how 50 is the new 40 and 60 is the new 50, and then we’re surprised and some of us not too happy that 80 isn’t quite the new 70.  Or that there is an end date for us all, regardless of our wealth or fitness level.  My wish is for more people to relax and adopt the second philosophy as they get old(er) – Growing old is a privilege denied to many.  And the fact that you’re just feeling these aches and pains now means that you’ve led a relatively pain-free life for a long time, another privilege denied many.

OA-Funny Categories

The mere fact that we are able to dwell on our attitude about getting older – and, gasp, eventually dying – is because such vast numbers of people are living through this phase of life for the first time in history.  Not only are many of us living far longer, but despite complaints about the aches, pains, and limitations of aging (the getting-old-is-not-for-sissies philosophy), thanks to modern medical advances, those of us blessed to live full lives have far better treatments for aches and pains than used to be the case.

How many of your parents or grandparents (or great grandparents, depending on your age) were offered hip, knee, or shoulder replacements to alleviate severe joint pain?  None.  It didn’t become common until the early 1990s.  Now, however, notwithstanding long waits for the surgery in many parts of Canada at the moment, the magic of joint replacement allows significant numbers of senior citizens have far better quality of life than would otherwise have been possible. Including me!

OA-HipReplacement1

OA-HipHead

How many of your parents or (great) grandparents were able to have minimally-disruptive cataract surgery so that their cloudy vision could be corrected?  Cataract surgery has been around in one form or another for a long time, but the procedures available now allow people’s vision to be improved with very speedy and safe operations.  It’s the rare person over the age of 70 who hasn’t had cataract surgery!

What about bypass surgery for people at risk of heart attack due to blockages?  These weren’t around yet when my Dad died of a heart attack in 1965.  So many people live far longer because of these now-straightforward procedures.

And on it goes.

Did you know that it is estimated that around 100 million people died of the Spanish Flu in the 1918 global pandemic, as opposed to the horrifying enough 3 million people who have died to date from the 2020-21 coronavirus?

Did you know that in the 100 years between those two devastating pandemics the average human life span around the world has doubled?  For the first time in history?  In 1918, babies born in the UK could expect to live into their 40s.  This isn’t too different from the average lifespan of 30-35 that has been recorded throughout history.  For millennia.  Babies born in the UK today, on the other hand, have an average expected life span of more than 80.  In a developing country like India the average life span has risen less than 30 in 1918 to nearly 70.  This extraordinary advance is despite all the foolish things we humans do to kill ourselves, like start wars, smoke, abuse drugs, and shoot each other!

So there are way more people experiencing the joys – and challenges – of growing old than has ever been the case before.  As you can see from this graph which records changes in average life expectancy through to 2015, it’s a privilege granted to more people all the time.

OA-LifeExpectancyGraph1

Of course, we have modern medicine to thank for this quantum leap in average life expectancy.  Heartbreaking numbers of children used to die before the age of 5, dying of childhood diseases that we eventually were able to wipe out or control by improved sanitation and vaccinations.  Smallpox, diphtheria, typhoid, measles, you name it.  And of course once we had antibiotics, all sorts of infections could be managed that used to be a death sentence.  Penicillin was only discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928 and not widely used until the mid to late 1940s .  As well, we only came to realize the dangers of drinking unpasteurized milk at the end of the 19th century.  So, you see, we are living in uncharted territory, having so many of us old folks around.  Old folks who don’t want to think of themselves as old!

In case this topic depresses you, which is not my intention in the slightest, here’s some humour to lighten the mood.

OA-SissiesInternet

OA-BearPeeing

OA-Joints

OA-GrowOldTogether

OA-Privilege1

The choice of how you approach getting old is up to you! 🙂

For further information: NYT Magazine Global Life Span

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29 Responses to Growing old … two sides of the coin!

  1. debscarey says:

    Really enjoyed this post Jane – and most timely as I’ve just had my 64th birthday. Yes, there are (a lot) more aches and pains, and I’ve had a fair bit of surgery in the last 15 years which made up for its complete lack in my early years. I agree with you that attitude is key. My mother – who looks absolutely fabulous (for her age or otherwise) only started to feel old following cataract surgery, as then she could see actually see her few wrinkles 😀

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol, I happen to know from experience that this is a definite downside of cataract surgery, Debs. Cleverly, there’s no mention of that reality in advance!

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    Sad when doing a bit of genealogy and seeing the number of deaths in infancy, many of which they didn’t bother recording or dignifying with a name. And then in urban Britain (as elsewhere) up to the 1950s getting TB was often a life sentence no matter what one’s age. Still I’m not sure keeping us all alive for the sake of it is the best plan either.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      This is something I think younger people don’t realize and people old enough to realize just don’t stop and think about: our society hasn’t been designed for sizeable chunks of the population to live 20-30 years past “normal” retirement age. When 65 was set as a retirement age, and hence pension, very few people reached it. Most people worked until they died until the past few decades, all because of medical advances. For better or worse. It’s up to us individually to try for the “better”!

  3. somekindof50 says:

    Another great post Jane – I have also been speculating on the subject of ageing today!

  4. I don’t welcome the aches and pains but I aim to move through them. If I can dance (have been doing so since age 4) I’m happy. If I/my body can respond to music I’m happy. I always hated the long distance running – not for me, I was a sprinter – but the “keep moving” benefits are similar, and I enjoy walking, aching knees and all. Great post Jane. Good wishes from England 🙂

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Keep on dancing, Joyce. That’s a good promise to make to yourself. Joy in movement. But if the time were to come … if … and you couldn’t, you’d be able to transport yourself to those feelings of dancing, just listening to the music. You’ve already given yourself that gift.

      • Jane that is so true. I can dance even when I’m sitting still (although my toes might be twitching and my body moving). Your comment reminds me of one made by the Tai Chi master Chung Liang Al Huang, whose London workshops we attended & grew from many moons ago. Al said that even if someone appears not to be moving, and they are in the spirit of the moment, they are still doing Tai Chi. Good to be reminded of that – thank you.

  5. OmniRunner says:

    My Dad used to say that aging is about taking fall back positions. A military concept I guess.
    To put the idea into my own words – When you can’t run marathons you run 5 and 10Ks. When you can’t run anymore you walk as much as you can.
    You don’t give up when you can’t do something any longer, you find something else to do.
    Someone once told me that the reason life expectancy has increased is primarily due to children surviving those childhood diseases. When looking at averages, when a few million kids survive into adult hood, that can really move the number.
    I’ve never looked it up but it does make sense.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      We share similar life philosophies. (I’m afraid I’m at the 5K stage now rather than marathons, although I have stubbornly signed on for a 10K for Labour Day.) Since stats indicate that only about 40% of babies born made it to adulthood until all the easily identifiable advances in modern medicine took hold, that has to be the major contributor to the doubling of average life expectancy. Now it’s up to each of us to decide what to do with our potential extra years!

  6. I’ve never come across the Friendly Societies Act, 1871! I’m age 55 so I guess ‘back in olden days’ I qualified as old, yet in 2021 I’m considered young? I prefer the term ‘young at heart’, as calling oneself young at 65 is err lol slightly delusional! But I agree staying physically fit and cognitively healthy is all that matters and if I can still get it up at 70+ 😀 then I’ll be happy………..least I’m honest!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol. I agree with your “slightly delusional” assessment, AS! And I agree with your plans and hopes for the next many years. It’s worked for me so far, much to my amazement. 😊👵🏻

  7. Wonderer says:

    Great post, Jane. In a way, life span expansion does lead to a longer time living with pain for most but a few lucky ones, and we are not really prepared for this. All we are shown by the media are images of happy healthy busy seniors (as in the newspaper shot). The reality is quite different, too many live in pain silently, invisible to the rest of us. Plus our healthcare is not prepared for such a heavy load and unless we change it, it will become even worse. I learned from a friend in Germany that they all pay into the public healthcare and guaranteed long term care via taxes, as we do, but this 7% or so income tax goes directly towards public healthcare/long term care. Plus you can have a private insurance on top of this, so that you can attend a private clinic if you want to and fix your painful joint faster. It is not the topic of the attitude you brought up, but without fixing the healthcare/long term care I think many seniors will continue to live in pain unnecessarily.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for an important point, Wonderer. Our universal healthcare system is definitely challenged by the huge wave of Baby Boomers cresting through into the more challenging phases of aging now. And, because there are so many more procedures and meds that can be applied to assist in their aging process, there is far, far more demand. We need to get a handle on that for sure, although the reality is that once the Boomer wave is past the demographics going forward are far more even across the generations. But as well, the aging need to understand that aging means that your body is aging. Period. There’s no magic elixir that’s going to change your body into a 50-year old again (or younger!). There’s some acceptance that’s needed. I’ll admit that what annoys me about the bandied-about phrase “old age isn’t for sissies” is that there are plenty of people who live their lives with chronic pain and disabilities – their entire lives – and they find ways to deal with it with dignity. When I hear this phrase from people my age who have some aches and pains and can’t do every physical thing they used to be able to do, I think of those who’ve dealt with far worse throughout their lives and nobody else gave it a thought.

      • Wonderer says:

        I agree Jane that many around us have chronic pain and disabilities, and it is not in our western culture to think about those suffering. Instead we prefer to admire and compare themselves to people who look happy, healthy and successful. We use “Lower expectations” phrase like a joke rather than one describing a way to live. We teach young people to be competitive and this continues until they age. Not sure what to do about this although. I guess focus on yourself…

  8. DM says:

    “We grew old together….now what?” that one made me chuckle. 😉 My dad will turn 89 in June (Mom turned 87 in January) They still live on their own, Dad still is allowed to drive locally, so they continue to get out @ least once a day…Observing from a slight distance, I’ve suspect the hardest (one of the harder) things especially for my dad is, what to do to occupy his time. Mostly all he knew how to do, until just a few years ago, was work. He did not take the time to cultivate any hobbies…They are blessed, I am blessed. You are blessed. My cataract procedure did not work. I traded one blur (cataract) for a 2nd blur (massive spider web of floaters in left eye), lost close up vision in right. They’re telling me, it “should” eventually dissolve, I’ll believe it when I see it. ;–) not complaining, @ least not focusing on it. Doesn’t do any good. Kind of like how you started the post…very important to choose what to focus on. I choose thankfulness. Lots and lots to be thankful for. Take care Jane. DM

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh no, DM, I’m so sorry to hear about your unsuccessful cataract surgery. Something doesn’t sound right. I’ll hope extra hard that “they” are right when they say it should correct itself. I hope some glasses can at least help with the close-up vision. In the larger scheme of things, you are an excellent example of being thankful and showing gratitude! 🙂

  9. I have read some of that NYT article. Quite the data! We do indeed have much to be thankful for. Sorry to read that your dad died in 1965 of a heart attack. He must have been young. Sigh.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Yes, my Dad died at 53 and my Mom 9 years later at 57, both from diseases that have far better survival rates now, 50 years later. I think that has a lot to do with my approach to aging. I’m well aware of the alternative.

      • So very sorry! How young they both were. My dad died when he was 54. Too young! I can see how having both parents die young has influenced your approach to aging. I feel exactly the same way as you do.

  10. I agree with you, Jane. Aging is a privilege!

  11. dfolstad58 says:

    loved the whole post. I laughed at the bear in the woods joke, LOL. Funny thing about seniors and marijuana – I think I have heard that CBD is the latest craze for seniors. Funny as I write this – I am not sure if I am a senior. To the young girl at The Bay who didn’t ask for my ID when she gave me the senior’s discount I qualified and not sure if I appreciated her confidence. ha ha Certainly things that women do (like skin care, sunscreen etc) help them to age more gracefully than some hombres like myself. – I like your blog, informative and humour. You put a lot of work into them I can see it. Thank you.- David

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks a lot, David. Lol re the young girl at the Bay. Take all the discounts you can get, regardless of any underlying message. After all, to young girls, everyone over 45 looks like a senior! 😉

  12. As always, you give great context (otherwise known as research!) to your information, Jane. The statistic of the number of people who died from the Spanish Flu is one that I think helps clarify where we are now vs. then. Medical science and technology (i.e. ventilators, antivirals such as Remdesivir, etc.) offer up more than an even chance to survive covid.

    I’m finishing up a biography right now of King George VI, and I was just noting to myself that he died so young (age 56) due to ailments from which he certainly would have survived (or at least lived longer) were he alive today. – Marty

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Marty. Yes, the changes in the world thanks to technology and modern medicine have transformed life in ways that most people no longer even realize. But my mother-in-law saw the introduction of radio into homes – a huge step forward, the first cars, the first antibiotics, 2 world wars, the Spanish Flu, the introduction of TV, airplanes, computers, etc. All in one century after so little changing for centuries before that.

  13. AMWatson207 says:

    Now that’s what I call right thinking.

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