Aches and Pains in Old Age

I quote from Time Goes By Ronni Bennett’s blog.  A blog I follow religiously because it makes me feel understood in my ageing journey.

“Earlier this week, long-time TGB reader Elizabeth left, in part, this comment:”The culture we live in insists that ‘living to the fullest’ means an incessant pursuit of experiences. One MUST travel in retirement. One MUST attend cultural events. In some circles, one MUST volunteer or be politically active.“The idea of a bucket list is another piece of that pressure to do, do, do. After a lifetime of working and raising a family, I am able to live fully the way I want to…“My paternal grandmother once commented on how annoying she found the recreational staff at her senior residence. They were so worried that she didn’t participate in the (to Grandma) condescending song fests and games. She kept saying that she was finally able to do exactly what she wanted.”Elizabeth is correct. The only old people to whom American culture pays even a small amount of respect are the ones who act like younger adults, 40-year- for example.  …………………………………………………………

Until you’re old, you probably have no idea how chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and dozens of others hamper one’s ability to do the things that were easy at age 40. 

And that doesn’t include plain old tiredness, the fatigue that comes along just because you are old now and your body slows down. People sometimes say it’s too bad there isn’t an instruction book for getting old. 

I think it’s a good thing NOT to have that book, not to have an arbitrary “expert” telling us what we should be doing. Remember, there is no right way to grow old. Do it your way and do it proudly.”

My problem is whether I mention to my family and friends how I feel in my body. It can become boringly repetitive and very unlikely to stimulate sympathy. I find that only a very good friend of the same age is likely to empathise or my wonderful yoga teacher who always enquires before a session : how do you feel in your body?



Time Goes By, Ronni Bennett’s blog
Eclipse Day Reveals Some Personal Changes
Monday, 21 August 2017

Thanks Ronni. This post took me from depression to relief. I can embrace the changes I experienced these last few months.
By a curious coincidence it is the total eclipse of the sun that triggered this consciousness raising.

When at the beginning of the year my American nephew started to organise the family reunion for this year’s eclipse, I decided that I would not travel to the States. This reluctance to suffer the discomfort and frustration of air travel surprised and unsettled me. Since my retirement – over 20 years ago – I have travelled across the globe to birdwatch (my connection to nature) and on two occasions to meet some members of my family and experience together total eclipses of the sun. (Hawaii (1991 , Hungary 1999).

In the last few months I have spontaneously given up activities that were previously important to me and felt more and more inadequate. Reading Ronni’s blog I jumped with joy.
I am OK. I am not depressed. I am normal. I just have to readjust my priorities.
I do not have to get up at the crack of dawn and breathe London’s polluted air to attend a conference or a meeting on Ageing or Film studies. No more exhausting train journeys and stays in uncomfortable B and B to hear academics report on their latest research.
Great !
I do not have to cook when I do not feel like it or feel guilty when I watch rubbish TV. I do not have to march for hours at an agonising pace to protest the state of the world. No more competing with centenarians who run the marathon. No more compelled to volunteer for good causes if I do not feel like it.
No more trying to share my interests or campaigns.
No more worrying about children, grandchildren. great-grandchild. It is time to reverse the mother/daughter relationship.

Yes Ronni I am also slowing down. I also have no patience for discomfort .
I am letting go and will stop wasting time and patience updating soft and hardware. The existing technology is good enough for me to continue researching, enriching my life and have a social life.


words and music Leon Rosselson

WHY I SMILE AT CHILDREN or ageism is alive and well.


I am ‘gutted’ as my grandson would say. For the second time in a month I turn up at the Bank without the necessary documentation that I had prepared carefully on the kitchen table.

When I arrived back home I burst into tears. Not because of the event but because of the thought of what the bank manager and staff would think of me. I am used to these lapses and am learning how to minimising them. I remember how my now deceased friend panicked in these circumstances and on the whole I manage them with serenity. At nearly 82 I have been coping reasonably well with the decline of certain faculties. But a recent experience made me feel worthless.
At a conference coffee break, a recently retired academic knowing that I am a U3A (University of the Third Age)  member announced that she had joined the organisation. She proceeded to describe in the most vicious ageist terms the behaviour of the members of her group. I could not believe my ears when she ascribed mockingly to each one of them the most ageist, prejudiced characteristics that I have come across in my 20 years of being interested in the representation of old women.

It left me speechless trying to understand what was going on and the meaning of this diatribe.

The episode did make a mark on me. If an old woman academic could perceive us old women in this way, talk about us in this way what do other people think when they see my white hair, my sometimes unsteady gait, my forgetfulness?

Maybe that is why, in the tube, in the street I smile at little children who look at me with interest.

THE TERRIBLE 92 – part 2

Advice to myself and carers

There is no fooling ma tante Salma, her senses are all there: with her eagle eyes she will notice any minor change you dare make in her surrounding, any change of expression in your face. Her nose will smell the cucumber being cut in the room next door or the tiniest drop of sweat you may harbour. And I swear she must have a 7th sense that allows her to guess people’s thoughts and their next move within a centimetre of precision.
Her memory is all there and my ears are going to explode with tales of money, success, status, past splendour: les soirees, les brilliants et les toilettes (the evening parties, diamonds and chic clothes) often repeated again and again…
And now what? With all her money, she is pacing round and round in her room and in her head, worrying about the next pipi. Worrying about millions of minor problems, not being able to abdicate her authority on her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren…after all I have done for them
She lives in anticipation of what will happen in the next days with great anxiety.
Are these common features of old age? Or is it the result of living in exile? Past traumas not digested?

After my three weeks’ stint caring for Salma, I made myself some observations about old age .
It is very important to explain to anxious older people when and how things will happen, even if it is not what they want, rather than being vague and letting them build scenarios in their head
We must not think that age diminishes the intellect or the senses and we must treat old people as normal adults
Do not contradict old people, they usually know best but sometimes when they don’t, let it pass, or you may get a tantrum, it is not worth it
It is vital not to forget who the person is and recognise all what they have achieved in their life when they are still alive, not only at their funerals
Old people still need touch, kisses, love and little gifts of the things they like

Reminders for myself:
Do your pelvic floor exercise on the hour every hour
Notice any obsessions that may develop, acknowledge them and try to move on
Ask for help and accept help graciously, don’t forget to say thank you
Do not expect people to communicate with you if I you do not put your hearing aid
Make sure you have a non-judgmental friend or two to whom you can lash out all your woes without being contradicted
What money you have, USE IT! for your comfort and amusement, what are you waiting for?

Someone should devise a course on growing old that is not only about how to eat well, how to stay active and warm, but about the behaviours we can develop, how to deal with psychological changes. The usual response from the near and dear is : ah! she needs antidepressant”, donnez lui un calmant…

My Aunt Salma or The Terrible 92s

I was hoping that this blog would permit some of my friends to contribute to our experiences of ageing. Finally a friend (aged 66) who was asked to look after an aunt for a month’s holiday sent me the following:

My Aunt Salma
My aunt Salma left her home town of Aleppo aged 22 to marry an old millionaire from Cairo, they then settled in Milano. Now aged 92, and a widow for many moons, she has lost her past glory and beauty and is looking more and more like a bird of prey with a hooked nose, piercing cold eyes that notice everything and fingers that have morphed into bluish claws.

She rules the roost with an iron beak, maybe she always did? But now with her faculties in decline and being dependant on others for her basic needs, she has become a tyrant. Who will she pounce on next?

Are these genetic traits that I will inherit? Maybe I am already a tyrant and not aware of it!

Do we all grow old in a similar way? Do we share common characteristics? I wonder…:

The desperate need to be recognised for who we were and what we have achieved

The need for love given without asking

The need for touch and kisses

The frustration when things are not done the way we want them

The over active brain that cannot settle on the moment, because what is there anymore now? And it races 100 miles ahead, worrying and anticipating, rehashing bad deeds that people have done to us recently or in the past

The obsession with our bodies: where is it hurting today? how high is the blood pressure? Why am I peeing so much suddenly?

Lashing out at carers who are not following the proper routine on how to apply the Nivea cream, the order in which to put on garments

Lashing out at family members who do not care to phone or visit regularly or say thank you for all what we have done for them

Blaming everyone else for everything that goes wrong, it is never our fault

Refusing to acknowledge our limitations and making everyone’s life miserable because we won’t use a wheel chair or a stick or pay for a taxi when we can afford hundreds of them

And I want this and I don’t want that or is it the other way around?

This is all very tiring ….

Nothing really that a good dose of Arsenic 200c cannot solve


There are images of old women as fashion setters, there are images of old women weightlifters, images of old women dancing. As a rule very few images of old women activists.

Please look at these portraits.

8th International Conference on Cultural Gerontology.

More than the theatre but not as much as films I love attending lectures given by academics. I appreciate their enthusiasm with the subject and enjoy good performances and communication skills. So where else to go this April but to the 8th International Conference on Cultural Gerontology in Galway.  What a feast it was for me who is often derided for my interest in Ageing.  There was 164 presentations in such diverse categories as Health and The Life Course, Ageing and Care, Arts and Humanities, Ageing in Diverse Cultural Settings, Place and Space, Meaning and Ageing, Theoretical Perspectives, Ageing and Technology, Ageing and Culture, Ageing and the Media, Policy and Ageing, Ageing and Sexuality, Ageing and the Body, Ageing and Aesthetics, Ageing and Ideology, Ageing and Performativity, Age and Ageism, Ageing and Identities, Work and Retirement, Arts and Health, Ageing and Photography/Video, Perceptions of Ageing.

I attended two of the three Plenaries and the performances of the two speakers were great. H. Moody gave a fiery performance in “Gray is Green: Elders and the Care for the Earth”  on the urgent need for our generation to engage in the fight to combat climate change. He argued that this is the main intergenerational project that we as the elders should engage in.  He knew exactly the two extreme positions that people our age tend to:  one of denial and dismissal and the other of despair and the “I am glad I will not be there” feelings.  He suggested to concentrate on some of the successes achieved to empower us to act and campaign.

On a completely different subject, Aagje Swinnen from the Netherlands gave us “Healing Words” and practical demonstration when she reported on poetry intervention in Dementia Care. She was as passionate and engaging about her subject as Moody. I felt grateful that there are some places where people suffering from Alzheimer’s are given some chance to communicate. And that there are people who dedicate themselves to this purpose.

Of the other 164 or so presentations  there were many I would have liked to attend. Some timings clashed and I wanted to have a day off to visit this part of Ireland which is so picturesque. I attended 12 presentations but will only report on three of them that I was particularly interested in as a lay person.

I often think that in the public arena the campaigns, projects and workshops about ‘positive ageing’ often ignore the  inevitability of disability. I have been to conferences for old people and community projects where accessibility and sound was very poor. I was delighted to hear Leni Marshall on this subject and can do no better that quote from her abstract :  “Conscious Aging is aging with an awareness of age studies and an activist response, with an understanding of individual identity as adaptable, capable of remaining intact even as it changes…. Combining conscious aging with a similar understanding about disability and ableism leads to a new awareness – that is, to conscious ageility”.

I met Pamela Gravagne whose book “The Becoming of Age”  on films I so admired. She tackled a completely different subject, one that bothers me when I read newspaper reports about brain imaging and the latest findings, lavishly illustrated with coloured pictures. Her talk “The (MIs)measure of Age: The constructions of Difference from Phrenology to Neurosciences” delighted me.  I kept thinking : yes , yes during her talk. She said how some neuroscientific findings often show in images the decrease in size of ‘older’ brains and justify a negative perception of old people. Having worked in a neurophysiology lab I know very well that brain function is highly plastic and depends, on physiology but also on environment and experience. I also know that imaging signals are often difficult to interpret and open to bias.  I felt I was justified in my scepticism of the general press reports .

Finally I attended the session on Ageing and Sexualities. I wanted to learn the results of Rhiannon Jones “The Experiences, Meanings, and Challenges of Older Women’s Sexualities”. Years ago I was one of her subjects and was interviewed on the phone on two occasions. I liked her approach of asking me how I thought the research should be carried out and how I felt about sex and sexual practices. I was delighted to hear that she used a wide definition of sexuality. I can only agree fully with her conclusion that “the fluidity and diversity of experiences that the older women participants narrated with this  study not only make a generalised statement about sexuality with the context of ageing impossible but also undesirable. “

This is a meagre report on a fascinating conference. There was such a lot to satisfy the interest of anybody old or young. Given the invisibility of old women in the public sphere I was excited to see that there is such a lot going on. It is a whole culture out there that most of us know little about and I fully agree with Leni Marshall. I feel I need to be aware of ageing and disability studies in order to achieve conscious ageing and consequent activism.

I enjoyed being there. Very conscious of the pressures that the participants were under, giving papers, making contacts, and worrying about funding and jobs. I had no idea how I was perceived. With the confidence that I have acquired through the responses to my film blog and the support of my film group, I felt free. So free that I decided to miss the last day and went sightseeing. But as an aside, even in this environment of 400 delegates engaged in ageing studies I was dumbfounded when one of the participants, aged 65, that I occasionally see at conferences exclaimed: “Oh you are here. You look tired, shall I get you a chair? ” . I assure you that I was full of beans, relaxed,  and not at all in need of assistance.