I have a special guest blogger for this morning’s post, my brother and only sibling, Hilton Jones. On Tuesday, I will celebrate my 88th birthday, and the post below the picture is his “gift” to me and to all my readers. His words are important to all of us, regardless of the numbers we use for our age.
There are many responsible actions and decisions we need to make as we get old. Yes, I said “old,” not “older.” B.F. Skinner, the famous founder of behavioral psychology refused to refer to himself as “older.” He insisted on “old.”
I share this insistence. I’m almost 78, my partner is almost 80, and my sister is almost 88. We’re old. “Older” is just a subtle self-delusion.
Tibetan Buddhist monks sometimes practice meditating in charnel grounds, surrounded by rotting corpses being picked apart by carrion eating birds. It’s useful and clarifying to not kid ourselves about where we really are in respect to the inevitable.
Some of the things to do in light of this situation are legal or medical and there are many articles about these things. Some are happily positive, as in enjoying life to the hilt: within reason, not being too restrictive in dietary pleasures. As my sister’s son said to her recently when she was fretting about her diet, “Mom, you’re not 60 anymore. At 88 I think you can probably eat whatever you want!”
Or, within reason not being too stingy with oneself…as a dear, now deceased, Boston Irish friend was fond of saying, “Shrouds don’t have pockets!” Avoiding dealing with things that are scary only makes things worse; depriving oneself of pleasure within reason is counterproductive and just adds to your misery.
The issue I think the old need to deal with before it becomes a problem is cognitive decline. This cause is near and dear to my heart. My partner has dementia.
If someone resists getting professionally tested for cognitive decline, I suspect that resistance is an indication of a secret recognition of what the person knows to be true but denies out of fear. Sadly, denying something won’t keep it from being true.
What my partner and I did to soften the fear and stigma and overcome our own denial was to go together for testing as part of a community health program about 5 or 6 years ago. It was a program held at various locations around the bay area by the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute (https://health.usf.edu/medicine/byrd).
It was illuminative for both of us. I just barely “passed” the exam, but my partner’s results encouraged further testing by the institute which we did and resulted in the diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment. Part of that testing was medical, radiological, electronic, and road testing of driving. It’s this degree of professional evaluation that’s necessary.
Don’t delude yourself into thinking the results of a “test” you take in Reader’s Digest or Prevention Magazine or some website are of any value whatsoever. Get tested—together—professionally!
Don’t attempt to be your own doctor or lawyer. Don’t attempt to self-medicate with some internet vitamin regimen or over the counter product claiming to increase your memory. Take the meds your doctor prescribes!
As my partner’s disease has progressed, we have lived through the early stages of this journey: denial, anger, agitation, confusion, getting lost when wandering, embarrassment, sadness, further decline.
Now, we’re in a quiescent stage of quiet times together. Now that the isolation of the pandemic is drawing to a close, we’re returning to the simple world activities we enjoy: orchestra concerts and occasionally dining out. I don’t know if we’ll be able to travel again, but perhaps. Part of this stage is not fretting over what’s not possible; rather, enjoying what is right now and keeping the inevitable future at bay as long as possible.
There are many forms of dementia. (Feel yourself saying, “But not me”??? Remember, that could be a sign you’re ignoring what you secretly know to be true.) As far as I know, none of the different forms are curable, BUT, as the neurologist reminds us at every appointment, the goal of therapy is to slow down the inevitable decline.
If you let things go too far, too soon, your legal options are diminished and others will wind up having to make them for you, better to act now while you’re (mostly) of sound mind and body.
But for me, the most important reason to deal with reality is that the earlier you catch the problem, the sooner you can slow the decline, the more time you and your partner, friends, and family will have together. The treatment exists to slow the progress of this miserable disease. Why wouldn’t you want to do that? Pride? Fear?
Take courage and get tested. As Marcus Aurelius said, “You may leave this life at any moment: have this possibility in your mind in all that you do or say or think.” — Meditations. 2.11 (Hammond trans.)
So, on that happy note…Happy Birthday to my big sister!