My dear old Granpop often said “Ahhh getting old’s a bugger” and I can hear him saying it still after all these years. Please pardon the vulgarity but that is exactly what he said and to replace “bugger” with something more acceptable would be to lose the strength of feeling in his voice at the time. Of course what he meant by the expression was that getting old wasn’t something he was enjoying at all. As this baby boomer, a so-called New Age man, heads into Old Age I am starting to appreciate the depth of feeling and the essential truth in his words.
The ageing shows up in a frailty of mind and body. It creeps up on you slowly then escalates and the escalation was compounded for me by the mild stroke that I had last year. Suddenly it seems, you can remember clear details of events that happened fifty years ago, but ask me what I had for lunch yesterday, well I’ll have to get back to you on that one. Did I take my medication this morning? Who knows. One day you feel you could go ten rounds with a boxer and the next you feel like you have been ten rounds with a boxer. Now I go to do a sharp turn at home and I have to reach out to the wall for support as I start to feel as if I will topple over. Where once I could jump straight out of the car in one fluid motion now I have to use the frames of the door to lever myself up and out of the car. I have also started to lose trust in my body giving me the signals I expect it to give me. Like stepping on a piece of glass in my bare feet and not noticing it or grabbing a pan on the stove without realising immediately how hot it is.
As I began to realise that my body and I were indeed heading into the dreaded “Old Age” bracket, I firstly accepted that this was not something I could completely control, death was the only full stop to this process. Secondly, I could find ways to cope with things like the failing short-term memory and the unsteadiness on my feet. I was not about to give up just yet.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light –
Dylan Thomas from “Do not go gentle into that good night”
As an old programmer from the 70’s I, of course, turned to the technology available to me right now. I consider myself lucky to be among the first generation that has had things like home computer, smartphones and the internet available to me as I enter “the golden years”. I make sure I carry my iPhone with me wherever I go and I make extensive use of reminders and calendar entries to cope with the failing short-term memory. My wife and I share a Google calendar so we both have any appointments, birthdays etc available to both of us all the time. I also use recurring reminders for all the regular tasks that I have to remember to do at both frequent and less frequent intervals. I prefer reminders rather than alarms because they will remain displayed on all my devices until I close them, they are not exact time critical and alarms require me to interrupt whatever I am doing to turn them off. I only use alarms for time-critical events like when we need to leave for an appointment.
Being a diabetic it is very important for my health that I remember to test my sugar levels during the day and then take the appropriate level of insulin before meals. So I have reminders both morning and afternoon to test my blood sugar levels before breakfast and dinner. Sometimes I see the reminder go off and think “Oh is it that time already?” I also have reminders to take my medication after meals, and another to remind me to give our dog her medications. These reminders will also show on my iMac, my iPad and my watch so I am sure to see them somewhere. But even with all of that, I will still forget and if my wife offers me dinner and I haven’t looked at any of my devices I will go ahead and have dinner without even thinking about doing my blood test first. This shows to me that I would almost certainly overlook many of the things I need to do most of the time if my reminders weren’t in place.
A shopping list is another of my reminder lists and a simple request of Siri to “Add mayonnaise to shopping” means that we might just remember to get the items we do need when we are next in the supermarket. I no longer need to shave every day and I have a reminder set up for every five weeks to remind me to change my razor blade. Why? Well, I figure that when I was working I used to change the blade every week and now that I am only shaving at most once a week then five weeks should be about right. Do you think I could remember when I last changed my blade after five weeks?
Anything I need to remember, I create a reminder. The real discipline required is in making sure I create the reminder when it’s needed and not rely on my ageing memory as in “Of course I’ll remember that”.
My constant companion, the iPhone, also gives me a level of personal security in that if I got into any difficulty when my wife wasn’t around I would hopefully be able to contact her or one of the family for assistance.
I continue to make sure I do my daily walk with our dogs but not as far or for as long as we used to, the little wuppies are over ten now and aren’t up to it. Daisy has a heart condition so we have to take it easier with her in particular. I have never been as fit as I might have been throughout my life so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to suddenly start pushing my body hard at this stage of life. But I have recently returned to a daily practice of qigong, an ancient Chinese method of gentle poses and stretches designed to keep the energy flowing through my body. I have renewed this as part of my five morning rituals that I wrote about recently and after just over a month of regular practice, I have noticed a renewed confidence in my balance already. I am again able to put my pants on without holding on to something for support. I am back to being able to get out of the car with very little effort. I have reduced the incidence of feeling that I am going to fall over if I turn suddenly. I am even feeling more flexible all over.
I have often heard of the many benefits attributed to the regular practice of qigong but the improvement I have noticed has surprised and encouraged me. I may need to skip one or more of my morning “rituals” at times except for qigong, it is a “must do” for me now. I don’t think I am overstating it to say that qigong has quite literally given me my body back. I am so grateful that I gained access to qigong all those years ago as I now feel that between my regular walks and my qigong practice I have a means of combating the encroaching frailty of body.
With the assistance of both the modern tools of technology and the ancient tools of qigong, my ageing process might not be such a bugger.