Old age: think­ing out­side the box

Seaway News - - EDITORIAL& OPINIONS - Do not go gen­tle into that good night Rage, rage, against the dy­ing of the light. -Dylan Thomas Get­ting old ain’t for pussies. Arthur Black -Anon

In­deed it ain’t. Get­ting old is a cu­ri­ous jour­ney and the trail signs are some­times con­fus­ing and hard to read. The writer Robert Thomas Allen said, “You don’t grow old grad­u­ally, or on pur­pose, the way you go down­town on a sub­way. It’s more like find­ing your­self stand­ing in the last sta­tion and won­der­ing how you got there.”

And the sta­tions aren’t well marked. I never re­al­ized I was ‘get­ting on’ un­til peo­ple started telling me how good I looked. No­body com­mented on my vi­tal­ity when I was seven­teen, twenty-five or even forty-five, but now that I’m a grey­beard, the air is full of “Hey, you’re look­ing great!” and “Wow! Did you lose some weight?”

I’m pretty sure what they mean is: “Hmm, I see you’re not dead yet.”

You bet I’m not. And I’ve got no plans to ‘ go gen­tle’ ei­ther. I’ve long ad­mired the poem Dylan Thomas wrote for his dy­ing fa­ther and es­pe­cially his ad­vice to ‘rage, rage, against the dy­ing of the light’.

Not that the Welsh­man knew what he was talk­ing about.

Dylan Thomas boozed his way into obliv­ion long be­fore he be­came el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive his old age pen­sion. The man’s last words be­fore he passed out in a heap on the floor of a New York City gin joint were, “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I be­lieve that’s a record.”

Dylan Thomas was just 39, still decades away from any first-hand knowl­edge of the dirty tricks ad­vanc­ing age dis­penses – the stiff joints, the bad sleeps, the, as Leonard Co­hen put it, “aches in the places where I used to play.”

I be­lieve there’s an­other well-known con­se­quence of ag­ing but I can’t re­call it off­hand.

But I do re­call a re­port from the Cana­dian In­sti­tute for Health In­for­ma­tion that came out last month. It in­di­cates al­most half, 45 per­cent, of res­i­dents in nurs­ing homes and sim­i­lar res­i­dences show symp­toms of de­pres­sion.

Imag­ine that. You take old folks out of their homes, away from their fam­i­lies, their pets, their rou­tines and en­sconce them in un­fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings among strangers and care­givers serv­ing in­sti­tu­tional food pre­pared by other strangers and they tend to get a lit­tle down in the mouth? Who could pos­si­bly have fore­seen that?

What’s worse ac­cord­ing to the re­port is that the de­pres­sive symp­toms are fre­quently un­di­ag­nosed and hence left un­treated.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Dr. Marie-France Ri­vard, an Ot­tawa psy­chi­a­trist who spe­cial­izes in ge­ri­atrics, says it’s cru­cial to get our el­ders’ care­givers on­side be­cause, “de­pres­sion is a very treat­able ill­ness and with ap­pro­pri­ate iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and treat­ment, the qual­ity of life of peo­ple can be much im­proved.”

Of course one must al­ways be alert to the dan­ger of too much at­ten­tive­ness. Take my pal Steve. He’s a well-re­spect- ed elder with lots of good friends, but alas, no liv­ing fam­ily. He fi­nally got a lit­tle too old and frail to look af­ter his farm so he sold it and moved into an ex­tended care fa­cil­ity.

And it’s a high end joint. The rooms are warm and roomy, the food is great and the staff is in­cred­i­bly help­ful and de­voted. On his first day there, a nurse sat Steve on his bed and be­gan to ex­plain the fa­cil­i­ties. As she talked she no­ticed that Steve was slowly be­gin­ning to list to one side. The nurse sprang up and gen­tly pushed him up­right. As she was leav­ing the room she hap­pened to look back and there was Steve, sit­ting on the bed but def­i­nitely tee­ter­ing to star­board again. She rushed back and straight­ened him up. Just to be on the safe side she called a nurse’s aide and asked her to stay with Steve in case he started to fall over once more.

Sure enough, five times Steve started to lean; five times the nurse’s aide got him ver­ti­cal again.

I went in to visit Steve that night and asked him how he liked the place.

“It’s not too bad,” Steve al­lowed, “ex­cept they won’t let you fart.”

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