The physical signs of ageing are a problem, but it’s even more of a problem to know who to share them with. The doctor of course. She or he confirms your suspicions (and your research on the inter-net) that you have arteriosclerosis in the knees or rheumatism in your joints, painful feet after walking only a short distance, or whatever, and that it is all to do with getting older. You may go to a nutritionist to be given advice on a change in your diet. Yoga becomes a new therapy as well as a pleasure, though you may resist the philosophy that can go with it. Generational companions can be good listeners: the group of mostly men, whom I meet at cardiac rehabilitation sessions at a local gymnasium, can be understanding repositories of moans and groans!
Then there is your partner, suffering your regular account of aches and pains but needing protection from a too constant recital, which could try their patience. You may talk with people of a similar age. Friends whom we have known for fifty years were recently staying with us and if we were sensible enough not to parade our health audit, there were times when we told each other how it is with us.
Another old friend in reply to a recent enquiry wrote ‘We are as well as can be expected’.
Deciding how and who to share anxiety with about mental deterioration is, however, more complicated. It can be a real conversation stopper, for this is about fear, and even the closest of family and friends shy away from the prospect of your descent into dementia or worse. There has been a lot in the U.K. media recently about the lack of care for older people with mental difficulties, a situation that will get worse as people live longer. At the same time there is a campaign for earlier diagnosis of senile dementia, despite the fact that geriatric care is inadequately supported by social and medical services.
I know of someone with such problems being put on a waiting list for a consultation, with no indication of how long it will be before she is seen. Before she dies?
We need a new form of expert counselling for older people who fear they are losing touch with reality, so that experiences can be examined, understood, lived with and where possible overcome. It is a very bad idea to keep it all to yourself.