Odd things happen to our bodies us as we get older. Liver spots ‘lentigines’, usually on the back of our hands, appear. They occur when you are over 40 and exposure to the sun can make their brown colour darker. Harmless and painless, say the experts, but we could do without them. Another oddity is our body shape, caused by the tide of fat which coats the stomachs of men and the hips of women.
Wrinkled skin is another major sign of old age. Exposure to sunlight and smoking are thought to accelerate the process. Old people have thinner, less elastic skin than young people because the skin loses the proteins collagen and elastin over time. And the continual flexing of facial muscles leaves deep lines on the face.
Baldness is another treat in store for the elderly. Men’s hair thins before women’s because of the ebb and flow of the hormone testosterone. Women’s hair becomes more sparse after the menopause, when they lose the female hormone oestrogen and gain a little testosterone.
However, men’s hair doesn’t just disappear – often from strategic places – it comes back with a vengeance in the ears and nose.
Bodily changes may include loss of hearing. As the years pass, the minute hairs in our ears which vibrate to produce sound die off. Sadly, we reach our hearing peak at 10 and it’s downhill after that. Similarly there is a condition of the ageing eye where the lens loses elasticity and finds it harder to focus.
The loss of our sensory alertness makes it harder for our brains to function clearly, which can lead to confusion and memory lapses. And then there is the loss of physical strength and the onset of the medical problems associated with wear and tear. By the age of 70, most people have lost a third of their optimum muscle strength, although, if they exercise regularly, that need not be the case.
So, our ageing bodies present us with unwelcome changes. However we are also mind and, even more, we are spirit. Graham Greene when he was 75, said in conversation with John Mortimer, ‘I suppose as you grow old, life becomes easier. Less unhappiness, less despair, less fervour and manic moods. Only the problems of living become more difficult’. But, also perhaps inviting. Inviting us to defy the evidence.
We can meet old age in a positive way and practice an oddness of our own! The delightful and well known poem ‘Warning’ by Jenny Jones proposes a new cult of eccentricity. ‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple….I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves…and say we have no money for butter..’ (Put the first line on Google and you can get the whole poem). Great stuff. This could be the time of our life!