Journal January 23, 2001

What is it like for me to be 88ish?

An essay by Chalmers Roberts, a retired foreign correspondent for the Washngton Post in the Health Section of the Post on January 23, contains his thoughts on what it is like to be 90.

He begins by noting that the creaks and groans, the pains and padding, were all about him when he became a nonagenarian. His back became painful during his late 80s; the condition was diagnosed as spinal stenosis, a breakdown of padding between the spinal cord bones which resulted in squeezing the nerves and producing pain. There is no cure; relief comes only from chemical injections. His legs have "numbed up"; peripheral neuropathy. No relief is available; his walkng is limited to short distances.

Optimistically, Roberts observes that none of his symptoms have interfered with his ability to drive an automobile!

While writing the essay, Roberts was occasionally affected by mental blocks. He explained the situation as a loss of short term memory related to details such as the names of long time friends. Usually he remembers--eventually.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Roberts fell in her own bedroom during her high 80s and broke her hip. She now has to use a walker but spends much of her time in a wheel chair. Chalmers does most of the cooking although they employ daily household help for about five hours each day. They live a regimented life, following a standard routine program of activities. It includes a good deal of sleep with a regular afternoon nap.

Alas Roberts does not include his wife's perspectives; with a broken hip her views would probably be more gloomy than his own.

A decade ago he wrote a little book entitled "How Did I Get Here So Fast?" In it he defined his philosophies for successful aging as "keeping your heart pumping, your noodle active, and your mood cheery." Now, at 90, he finds those guides still useful but feels that greater tranquility and a slower pace has become essential.

The Post included some interesting Census Bureau statistcs. There are now about 4 million people in the US who are 85 or older. About a third have experienced memory loss to some degree.

Althogh about 65% of 85 year olds consider themselves to be in good health, their statistical life expectancy is only about 3 years. Half will die within 3 years--half will live longer. About one in six, 16%, will die each year. No one is expected to live beyond the age of 120.

Mr. Roberts has described what it is like for him to be 90ish. But what is it like for me to be 88ish?


To be continued.

Adjacent Entries

Journal February 5, 2001:
Journal January 11, 2001: