Privilege Blog

In Which I Permit Myself A Rant Because We Are Allowed Crabbiness With Age, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:13am

Something I’ve been meaning to get off my chest for a long time: I strongly do not care for most articles about old people. Aging is hard, and also, in my experience, quite beautiful in its own weird way. But mostly it’s not nothing; centenarians in downward dog are rare; 90-year old mathematicians likely get achy feet; dementia, real.

Yeah, maybe old people are too fond of the semicolon etc. but we’ve earned it.

I believe much of what gets written about the aging wants either to let the young believe the process isn’t hard or to create clickbait for those of olds still hoping for insight. I mean, I think I’m ready to declare that anyone who reads knows that we should get 150 minutes of cardiac exercise a week, stretch and weight train twice a week, eat very little saturated fat, moderate or give up alcohol, keep learning things and stay engaged with other human beings. And it’s not our job to reassure the young.

Here are some articles I would like to see:

  • Exactly Why Drinking Less is Good for Your Brain: The Scientific Underpinnings of the Recommendations
  • How Fair is it to Count Vacuuming as Exercise?
  • Learning a New Language at 65 is Just as Good for Your Brain as Stupid Sudoku
  • Your Monthly Update of Any Progress with Alzheimer’s Research, Any, Any at All
  • 10 Shoes that Look Cool and Don’t Hurt (in fact, I think we style bloggers of a certain age do OK with this)
  • UTIs and Kidney Infections: What Are the Warning Signs and Can You Prevent Them?
  • It’s Too Late for Nora Ephron but is There Really a Peptide That Can Save My Neck?

And I want to see these topics in the mainstream press. I crave scientific, incremental truth, with a dash of rueful humor and optimism.

We exist. While I may enjoy my invisibility, my elective freedom from the male gaze, I exist. I don’t plan to climb Everest, or jump out of a proverbial plane, and to my knowledge I will not be running a ground-breaking biochemistry lab in 15 years. But if the concerns of ordinary 16, 25, 28, 49-year olds warrant front page status, so do ours.

Age ordinary! Go as gently as you like into that dark night. Alternatively, rage–as wittily as you can–in slippers.

Every other week in my beginning Spanish class we attempt to say something about what we did the previous week. One of the women who actually can speak a little of the language told us about a group of friends she’s had since college. They convene every year for adventures, and last week they planned for future reunions. On the agenda: eating at great restaurants and talking about their health.

Our health is an adventure. Our time is rewarding. Buckle up.

Also have an awesome weekend because I like you.

50 Responses

  1. Yep, right here with you, sister!
    I don’t know enough about Sudoku to diss it, but it has no appeal at all! But I’ve learned a whole language since I was about 65, and that makes me grin (And I think grinning is also good for my health, mental and probably even physical ;-)
    I saw a lovely article somewhere recently about two women in their 80s — Sandy Hazelip and Ellie Harnby — who travel together. And when they say “travel,” they mean Adventure! They have an IG account> Inspiring!
    Have an awesome weekend yourself — I like you too! ;-)

    1. I do NOT mean that I’ve learned a language wholly! I’ll never even get there with English, never mind any of the other possibilities. But enough to use in many ways that I find useful and satisfying and enjoyable.

    2. Now I’m grinning at this:). Both the two women and at learning a whole language! It’s awesome. Adventures are my favorite, and no jumping from planes required.

    1. Ha! At this point I am so clearly over 60 I don’t mind people making that assumption.

  2. Our daughter in law, the neuroscientist, says that Sudoku is not going to help your brain. So, there’s that.

    Being invisible is interesting and a new kind of life for sure. And you are right about shoes. They are crucial.

    I’m not so sure I want to read articles about aging all the time. The process is challenging enough without focussing on it! I’m ahead of you by a few years and I can offer that age 70 is quite a milestone and not so easy as 60 or 65.

    1. Thank you so much for the neuroscientist’s perspective. That’s what I would like, more expertise where it matters. I agree, I don’t want to read articles about aging all the time. I would like the ones I read to accurately reflect my experience, at least now and again. Thank you also for the honest report on being 70. At this point I have nothing to gain by ignoring reliable information.

  3. I recently wrote a post about aging… triggered by my sister who at age 74 recently went brook-trout fishing for the first time in her life. This is the sister who hates camping, bugs, mud, and small scurrying animals. Most of which would be encountered in the Canadian bush. It was a huge stretch for her to go fishing. She is also the sister who mostly just worked and worked… for decades. Missing out on many, many family and friends outings because of work. For years and years. Then she retired at 71 to look after her husband with Alzheimers, then when he passed away, she went to live with my mum to be her carer. Now Mum has passed away, she is finally navigating the world of retirement. Belatedly. Finally free from responsibility. She has taken up kayaking and she sends me photos of the river back home whenever she’s paddling. I try to be her cheering section of one.
    Anyway after I published the post, I was a bit gobsmacked when someone commented listing all the many, many pursuits their much older relatives had achieved much later in life than my sister. I commented to a friend that some people think aging is a competitive sport. Why can’t we simply cheer each other on?
    I felt the same way when I read that comment as I usually did when I’d read about the ninety-year-old yoga teacher, or the model who is still modelling at ninety. I always wanted to say, why do we air-brush age? My mum would have loved to be able to do yoga at ninety. As it was getting up and moving each morning with her arthritis was like mountain climbing for her.
    Ah… I have no idea where I’m going with this, Lisa. Just that boasting how age has not touched us, or articles and comments about aging that sugarcoat the battles make me cranky too. I’m with you sista. xox

  4. I used to say I wanted to grow old gracefully. At the time I thought it meant look young, have a slender and fit figure from all that cardio, weight training, salmon and supplements…

    Now at 67, I’m realizing growing old gracefully is about *acceptance* of growing old. Now, that takes grace! I’m still raging against the time machine but with less energy…more aches and pains…less rage- more of a “What the f***?”kinda thing.

    Think I’ll go do some squats.

  5. To some extent, old age (or as some call it, being chronologically gifted) is what you make of it. While not denying the reality of arthritis, decreased endurance, some memory lapses, etc etc, – there are some other strengths you can only acquire with age. There’s varied experiences; becoming somewhat unflappable – not everything is worth worrying about; enjoying grandchildren growing up; going back to University or college to study something you would always have liked to, except that earning a living and raising a family precluded it; just enjoying the beauty of life and the fellowship of family and friends, knowing that time is more limited, you have to set priorities, the clock is ticking….My husband and I just celebrated our 73rd birthdays, and we celebrated with ice cream and molten lava cake. For breakfast.

    1. I so enjoy the new strengths. At this point, even more than I regret the new weaknesses. I am guessing that is likely to change, but there are lots of molten-lava-cake-for-breakfast kind of moments.

  6. Thank you, Lisa! I love today’s blog. I agree with Luci – “you’re on to something.” I felt the same way about your piece on camping with your friends. We need more articles and information about women and aging – written by women who have had the privilege of aging.
    Medical information. That’s my latest thing. I still think of myself as 40, but I’m 63. 63 is obviously different from 40 in a number of ways – especially medically.
    For instance, I had no idea about being at a higher risk of blood clots. I’m recovering now from a life threatening one. For six weeks, I thought it was just a strained ligament in my calf. It became more & more painful. My younger physician dismissed it. An orthopedic surgeon (my age) ran x-rays, etc., then sent me to the ER immediately. He saved my life. I wasn’t in any risk category for one – except my age and I had been driving long distances while moving. Much to learn emotionally and physically as we age. Supporting each other is wonderful, too – which is what I find here. Thank you…

    1. I’m so glad you’re OK. So disappointing that a younger doctor dismissed you like that. Supporting each other is wonderful, I agree, and I feel like we will do those who follow us a service by speaking up and asking for what we need rather than what the general machine wants to give us.

  7. 74 here … and hubby celebrating surviving a stroke recently which was totally unexpected as he had no risk factors. When we celebrate his 75th birthday next week, we don’t want a big party as we have already received the greatest gift – life and recovery after two surgeries to unblock a carotid artery and a subsequent hematoma. Yeah, so at our age we learn to be grateful for the simplest things. This what aging is really about…and gaining a sense of our own mortality.

    1. So glad you are celebrating your husband’s birthday next week.

      Yes – same here! Two years ago, I had a completely unexpected TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) which portended several mini-strokes which briefly affected my speech centre (couldn’t get a word out, even though I knew what I wanted to say) and transiently paralyzed my R (dominant) arm – so weak I couldn’t hold a tea cup – and which thankfully were reversed with a prompt ER and emergency inpatient admission, with clotbusters administered as soon as admitted, then sent home with lifelong aspirin afterwards as a small price to pay. The only risk factor was age (I had just turned 71). I was a non-smoking vegetarian who exercised moderately, lived a relatively stress-free life, and was happily married to the same man for over 30 years.

      Please remember FAST – Face, Arm, Speech, TIME TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL. BY AMBULANCE – DON’T DRIVE YOURSELF! The chances of a full-fledged stroke with permanent damage, after an untreated TIA are 10% in the first week afterward. You don’t want to risk an accident by driving yourself to the hospital.

      The more complete acronym is BEFAST: see,Institutes%20of%20Health%20Stroke%20Scale.

      If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone, especially people who are over 65. Please take care of yourselves and of your loved ones, and feel free to email me any questions you might have:
      Dr. Martine Jaworski – – going to my 50th medical school graduation next year – JHU ’74, I wouldn’t have made it, if not for prompt medical treatment.

      PS All hospitals, even smaller community hospitals, have stroke protocols in place, and since time is of the essence (a few hours at the most), it is much better to be treated promptly at a smaller hospital, than to be treated too late at a larger tertiary care centre.
      If it turns out you indeed have a hemorrhagic stroke (which are in the minority – only 1/3 of them, but they require urgent surgery), the treating hospital will evacuate you to the nearest large neurosurgical centre. *

      However, most TIAs and full-fledged strokes (2/3) are due to clots, which can be dissolved medically, ie without surgery, but this must be initiated within a window of a very few hours. So don’t take a chance, and delay going to the ER.

      Men often minimize or deny symptoms – if this is the case for your loved one, ignore them this one time, and call 911 over their objections. They’ll thank you for it later.

      *If one of your risk factors is plaque on the arteries supplying the brain, you will indeed also benefit from interventional vascular surgery, which is typically performed in a larger hospital.

      1. Thank you!!! This is knowledge we should all have, casually, like knowing that we use cold running for a burn rather than butter. And I celebrate your recovery and generosity in sharing your experience.

    2. “This what aging is really about…and gaining a sense of our own mortality.” A sense of mortality with gratitude, rather than shame or disappointment. I am so glad your husband is healthy and please send him a huge birthday wish from the Privilege cohort. I am sure I speak for all.

  8. Yes to your post and to all the comments. I don’t have anything eloquent to say. It’s not easy getting old, on so many levels. Unexpectedly, a new “business” has arisen for me at almost 71, and I’m wrestling with lots of things about it, including that I don’t have the endurance for it, that I used to…as well as the question, is this how I want to spend my waning years, busy and exhausted? It’s a hard decision to make because it forces me to accept my age – something it seems we’re not allowed to do.

    1. Great observation! Energy and commitment levels in the 70s are not necessarily the same as they were in the 40s or even 50s. Is it possible to undertake an activity which is fulfilling and maybe part-time, or might possibly involve mentoring younger people, where you can make a contribution without exhausting yourself? Keep us posted about your thinking and balancing processes!

      1. I’m an artist..painter and potter. It’s the number of commissions which has both excited and satisfied something in me, but also has stressed and exhausted me, trying to keep up. I’m just going to have to slow it down, and sometimes say…no.

    2. This really resonates with me, Kathy! Not that I’m starting a new business, but I’m increasingly aware of making choices about expending my energy—not that I could ever do it all, but I could certainly choose to do much more without paying the price in fatigue. Also, certain hours of the day are much less useful than they used to be! If it doesn’t get done in the morning, it’s going to be tougher to manage with any élan!

      1. The business happened by “accident” – it was never my intention. But hard for an artist to resist. However, I just can’t do all of it and need to slow it way down. And yes, the morning is the best time for me to get things done, including prepping dinner.
        I do like to swim laps in the afternoon (like at 3-4) and feel it sort of washes away the day (hope that makes sense) and is like a “bookend” to close it out, and permission to slow it all down. Not that I’m very productive after lunch either.
        And I think you do have a business – your blog is a business, with creativity, grunt work, deadlines (imposed by you) writing content, etc.

    3. It’s not our job to pretend about age just so that younger people don’t have to worry. It’s just not. Congratulations on your business, and that’s the key word, it’s yours, as are your energy levels and the coming years. Yours to do with as you choose.

  9. I can simply Never EVER get over the miracle of Life growing, of nature Becoming. When at the age of 14, II first saw a cell divide through a microscope in in science class , I truly did feel I’d seen god. Up to that point, I’d never considered a deity or Buddha or higher power, but when those walls within the celll were pulled and folded into themselves and became two, my knees went weak . Watching becoming , witnessing transformation, seeing creation right there, happening. When I grew older my amazement with burgeoning life took the form of adoring little humans, watching them seem to grow right in front of me. I doulaed several babes, then spent decades teaching at a favorite school. I also learned about nature around that time and began the lifelong joy of planting and raising food and beauty and monarchs butterflies. And now I feel that way with granbabes, watching my five becoming more themselves with every breath, sending their roots in mama earth and reaching towards father sky. Anyhow, feeling old is so secondary to that, that witnessing of this sweet Unfolding, here in my 76th year.

    1. Your response to life and growth is authentic, for your and your loved ones, and to me that’s what’s important. Nothing performative about it.

  10. Vacuuming is definitely exercise and learning Spanish is good for your brain. As for alcohol, why not enjoy a drink or two when you feel like it? Bugger the science and defer to commons sense. Health concerns are no joke and it’s imperative that those at risk are kept informed. There are strategies to minimise UTIs and Altzheimer’s and they should be readily available. After a lifetime of contributing to society, our elders need to be cherished, not trivialised. Well done on a great post, Lisa. Keep fighting the good fight.

    1. Thank you:). As long as I can think I’ll probably be having opinions. And I do enjoy a drink or two, but only twice a week, having enjoyed drinking more than was good for me for a few years and feeling the impact.

  11. Hi Lisa! I too would be interested in these articles, even though I’m just starting my journey into the second half of life (if I’m lucky). I am trying to focus on being thankful I’m here and alive and attempting to not focus on the parts of aging that I’d prefer not happen.

    And I wanted to say that I started using Utiva a couple of years ago after having frequent pre-UTI symptoms and mainly avoiding them with cranberry pills and Bio-K (a great probiotic made in Québec but available in the US at Whole Foods, I think, that I always keep in my fridge for upset tummies, UTIs, etc.). Anyhow, taking one Utiva a day (and two if any pre-UTI symptoms, which are pretty rare now whereas they weren’t at all before) has been great. It’s made in Canada.

    And your sudoku comment made me think of this book I read this year called Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting buy Lisa Genova. I’m interested in learning more about the brain and memory because it’s related to an artistic project I’m working on, so I’ve got quite the list of brain books on my to-be-read list. I’m currently reading one called Why We Sleep, which is good. I got more interested in sleep after reading Burnout, which said that getting enough good sleep is the absolute most important thing we can do for our health. So I’ve wanted to learn more about that and am working hard to sleep the right amount each night. I added sleep to my habit tracker, which is helping me keep it in mind. As a night owl who works standard hours for a day job and has lots of freelance work too, sleep is something I’ve been deprioritizing for YEARS. But I’m telling myself when I’m tempted to stay up that an extra hour of sleep tonight will make me more productive for a couple of hours tomorrow. And less sleep now will do the opposite for the following day. I think the benefits are like compounded interest, both short term and long term since sleep has more impact on longevity and quality of life than any other thing we can do for our health, including exercise. And sleep is also easier, haha!

    1. I think it’s a good idea to start planning, loosely, and with optimism, for age. Thanks for the recommendation for UTIVA, I’d never heard of it. Sleep IS so important. As I understand it the current theory is that we clean up our cellular garbage why we sleep, which might even be why we dream. This is the real benefit I’ve found from cutting back on my drinking. Now that I have 5 solid nights a week with no alcohol, the quality of my sleep has improved so much. I still wake once, maybe twice, but I can get right back to sleep which is amazing.

      My attitude, lacking the hour of waking despair from 2-3, is quite sanguine in comparison to prior years;)

  12. I’m going to comment again, because this topic has been on my mind a lot. I think this pretending we’re surely aging and all that goes along with it, stems from the our total fear and non-acceptance of death. Like pretending, we’re not going to die. We are, we all are…and in this society it isn’t talked about openly and freely, which (for me) increases my fear of death. Even the centenarian who can do a handstand, will die…period. It is, what happens.

    1. KSL, thank you. I was dancing around this, and I’m very glad you’ve come out and said it. The more we speak openly, the more we share, the more we understand, the less fear. Being with my mother when she died was life-changing for me. We as a society would benefit so much from less denial.

      1. I think we all want to live our best life, and stay as healthy as possible until the end, but that looks different for each of us. I would be so interested as a follow up to this post, on how being with your mother when she died, changed you.

        1. Ah. I’d have to dive very deep for that. But it might be good for me to have the courage.

  13. For me, living my best life until I die is my motto . Maintaining health is important to uphold quality of life. Medical science is wonderful and partnering with good care is paramount. Partnering with good care is another blog topic. Shortages of primary care MD’s is a big issue. As a woman, I can recommend getting a second opinion if you have any doubts. Advocating for ourselves is key.

  14. Lisa, I loved this article. I was nodding along with everything. I think Sudoku is a complete waste of time. It doesn’t produce anything (same with crosswords, jig saw puzzles)… That’s my opinion. I know people can do what they like, but why “kill time”?

    I’ve been learning Mandarin for a few years. I’m at “upper beginner” level now I estimate. I feel like I’m cracking a code every day I study it.

    Today I heard some great news about a new Alzheimers drug called Lecanemab, or variations of that name. So maybe some progress there.

  15. As someone who is closer to your kids age, I just want to also comment and say I so appreciate everything you’ve written here and all of the accompanying commentary. Someone should get on those articles stat! It’s important to feel seen and appreciated for your value at every age and stage of life.

  16. Oh dear – my response is so different – I dont know what you mean by “feeling old.” All I know is that everyday presents more opportunities and less restrictions because I feel great, I don’t worry about what others think, and I can do whatever I want – old to me is looking into the past and feeling regrets. When I can’t feel anything, can’t see anything, can hear anything and the the past is all I feel I have …., well that’s my idea of being old.

  17. 58 year old mathematician here. My feet have been achy since I was 40. I’ve always been precocious.

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