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What Sort of Senior Will YOU Be?


Senior in a wheel chair

About 10 years ago, I was in Wauchula, Florida to cover a grand re-opening for a remodeled Winn-Dixie grocery store. Wauchula is a small town, so those types of events are a big deal. Since it’s a long drive from Jacksonville, I stayed overnight. I’m having dinner in the hotel’s restaurant/bar and a group of local seniors come in. I’m thinking, oh an early-bird dinner crowd, but they proceed to party like they were in their 20’s, having the time of their lives. Laughing, joking and dancing as if it was New Year’s Eve. I realized that this was a weekly event for them. As I sat and watched from across the room I found myself wishing that my parents, who were roughly the same age, could have as much fun as this bunch.

Meanwhile, up in Jacksonville, my parents were not out dancing with friends. They were experiencing some serious health issues. My father was in the middle of lung cancer treatment and my mother was soon scheduled for another  back surgery for degenerative disks. ‘Going out’ to them meant a Doctor’s appointment or a medical procedure. Both were in pain, and basically lived their lives in a dull existence. Fun and levity were not in their schedules.

I lamented my parents’ situation while I ate the last of my dinner and sipped on a beer, as the party continued in the background. Why did this happen to them? What was the cause that resulted in their way of life verses this group of people the same age, that were enjoying life and still making memories? Was it choices that they made? Was it environmental? Was it just plain luck of the draw?

I could find no answers that night, I’ve thought about this from time to time over the years, and recently since I’ve been involved with Healthy Midlife. I have decided that it was all of the above.

It was choices they made. Let me say that I am not a trained professional, but it’s pretty clear that my mother suffers from depression; or perhaps better to say she has suffered from it at times throughout her life. This state of mind radically alters one’s perspective. Dad, trying to maintain status quo, just went along for the ride. Many times, his desires for what would normally be a fun an exciting undertaking would be squashed by my mother’s negativity, which probably led to him being depressed as well. Hard to say, he didn’t really express himself like we do today. He sucked it up, and provided for his family. It’s not like we didn’t do fun things, but the words “no” and “can’t” was often used after the words “why don’t we..”

It was environmental. Some of the environmental aspects I mentioned in the above paragraph. Other environmental factors took place earlier in their lives. They grew up in the Great Depression, both of them in rural areas. I’m sure nutrition had to be a factor, especially with my mother, she has stated that she didn’t like drinking milk from the dairy cow when she was little. This milk was a vital source of calcium in her diet that she shunned, most likely contributing to her back issues later in life.

Dad was in the US Navy from 1943 to 1963 he was around all sorts of chemicals and materials that we now know are hazardous to work with. He was in the submarine service during WWII. They could experience long hours of breathing air saturated with fumes from battery acid to goodness knows what, while the sub was making an attack run or under attack by depth charge. He was also exposed to unknown levels of radiation during one of the Bikini Atoll atomic tests after the War. In addition, he smoked a pipe and chewed tobacco for years, right up to late ’80’s.

It was ‘luck’ of the draw.  Many people of my parents’ generation experienced nearly the exact same factors during their lives, growing up in similar conditions, making similar choices.  Yet, they did not have the frequency of medical issues that my parents have had to deal with in their senior years. Some have more, dying much younger than my father, he passed in 2007 at age 83. My mother just turned 81 at the time of this writing.

Science and Medicine are just now beginning to crack the codes that determine what we collectively over the years have referred to as ‘luck’. Why can one person smoke like a chimney and not get lung cancer yet another person that never smoked in their lives comes down suddenly with a fatal case? Why does one person develop Alzheimer’s yet another never shows a sign. Perhaps it’s genetic propensity in the DNA? Stem Cells causing mutated cell growth? A factor we have yet to discover? Although great strives in fully understanding the inter-workings of the human body have taken place in the last few years; we still have a long way to go.

In Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi classic, “Time Enough For Love”, medical technology exists that allows a person to walk into a clinic at age 70 and walk out a month later medically rejuvenated to age 25. Perhaps something of the sort is in our future, but until then, we must become more aware of what we are doing to ourselves in our youth and mid-life years, and how it can affect our future health as a senior. We certainly can’t control every factor in our lives but seriously consider in midlife factors like diet, exercise, stress, and work/life balance. What sort of senior will you be? One that knows the hospital staff on a first name basis, or one that is able to dance the night way? That’s a question that only you can truly answer.

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