The Physicalities of Aging

I’ve written before about the joys of getting older: first, about some of the social aspects of withdrawal; then about declining brainpower. I’m not quite sure why these pieces drew the attention of my readers. Maybe it’s the aging process itself that binds us old farts together.

To discuss the more physical aspects of aging is a little more risky. Yet we must face up to our own mortality by confronting the commonplace ways our bodies degenerate—or at least have difficulty performing their accustomed functions. Who wants to hear about another’s constipation? Still, a few personal stories may connect with you.

About three years ago I realized that I wasn’t getting enough exercise. I didn’t want to walk much anymore. The sidewalks in Oaxaca are cracked and broken; I was fearful of taking another fall. And how many times can you enjoy hiking around the very same blocks? I used to like going to the gym, so I bought an elliptical trainer.

This is a great machine for exercising a bunch of muscles, plus some low-impact cardio. You know what’s coming, right? I used it faithfully for a while, then progressively abandoned it. Monotony and apathy will overcome all your good intentions. Well, lately I’ve gotten back on it, and it feels good. Let’s see how long this lasts.

It’s very common that as one ages one’s gums recede and gaps appear between the teeth. This is why you see so many old people using toothpicks after eating. You finish a nice dinner and your companion starts poking away at his/her mouth. Now you’ve begun to do it too. My dentist said, “get a Waterpik,” and he was right. The detritus removed after brushing will simply amaze you.

Years ago, my father had a pretentious gold toothpick in a thin leather case. He would produce this and use it at home or after a fine restaurant meal. We observed this many times. Finally my sister said, “Pop, do you have any idea what’s growing in that case? It’s pretty disgusting.” Naturally, this had no effect.

Older people finally don’t care what others think about such habits. That too is part of the aging process.

I find it harder and harder to cut my toenails. Bending over to get a purchase on the nail clipper gets more difficult as one’s arthritis progresses. And the longer the nails grow, the harder it is to cut them neatly. A male friend of mine, now deceased, gave up on the whole thing and regularly went to a podiatrist for, God bless him, a pedicure. I’m not quite there yet.

It may not be in the best of taste to talk publicly about such commonplace things. Older folks are still rather sanitized and Victorian in talking and dealing with bodily needs and functions. The fact that such behaviors are rarely discussed can only mean that we’re less equipped to deal with them as we inevitably age.