When I’m 64

I received a phone call in the early morning hours last week.  When I tapped to answer, I immediately heard the song playing, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”  (My sister and BIL think they are so funny – smile.)  When the Beatles sang that song, they were young heartthrobs, and I am sure that being 64 sounded really old to them.   It used to sound old to me too… until now.  Age happens, but we determine how we are going to respond to it.

I have noticed that as people age, they often fall into some really annoying habits.  Habits that make other people not want to be around them.  This contributes to the ageism attitude that plagues our society. While I don’t think that these traits are a necessary byproduct of aging, I think that they are all too easy to fall into.   So, as I get older, I am trying not to default to these bad habits.  I already catch myself doing several of them, so it takes a conscious effort to avoid it. 

With tongue-in-cheek, I am going to refer to these common pitfalls of aging as “old person syndrome.”  A syndrome is a diagnosis that does not have a specific lab marker or scan to diagnosis it.  It is a group of symptoms that occur together that determines a specific condition, while the direct cause is not necessarily understood.  In this case, it is a group of behaviors or symptoms, that give older people a bad rap and cause others to avoid us. Below are six symptoms of this condition.  Of course, there are way more than six symptoms, so please share some that you see, experience or just plain drive you crazy, in the comments section below. Being a nurse, it only seemed right to follow-up with a recommended treatment for these symptoms as well. 

The sky is falling.  The world is going to hell in a handbasket.  All young people are rude. Doesn’t anybody work anymore?  Don’t kids go to school anymore? The government and healthcare are corrupt and broken (well, that one might be true).  You get the point.  One morning over coffee, I asked Mr. U to help me come up with some grumpy old people statements. The ones above were just a few of them. Matter of fact, it was all too easy to come up with a whole slew of them; many of which we have said ourselves. That is concerning in and of itself.  I loved the movie Grumpy Old Men.  But it made us laugh because we could relate.  We usually don’t think something is funny unless there is a sliver of truth to it.

Treatment for symptom #1: Spend time every day identifying three things that you are grateful for. Research suggests that this simple practice helps people feel more positive and happier.

In the last couple of years, I have met way too many people around my age who only talk about themselves.  After a 15-minute conversation with them, I know every trip they have been on for the past ten years, every job they held since they were 20 years old, and the ages of all their children and where they live.  I doubt they even recognized that I might have children too or have traveled to some of the same places they mentioned.   There is no give and take in these conversations.  And I use that term loosely because these aren’t really conversations.  They are more like a verbal autobiography.  Part of this I bring on myself because I am curious about people and ask lots of questions.  I enjoy hearing about other peoples’ lives…to a point.  But I also want to take part in the conversation.  Friendships develop out of a sharing of mutual interest and thoughts.  After a conversation like this with someone, I have no desire to talk with them again. 

The treatment for symptom #2:  The best way to avoid falling into symptom #2 is to follow Dale Carnegie’s famous quote.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Dale Carnegie

The fact is our physical bodies decline as we age. Many of us in our 60’s and beyond will have some chronic health condition and/or have had previous surgeries. The national Library of Medicine reports that more than 74% of adults aged 60-74 use prescription medications. That is a lot of fodder to talk about. I met up with some friends recently and I noticed that we spent the first 20 minutes discussing health issues. It is normal. It is our reality at this point in life. It is helpful to hear other people’s experiences and to compare notes. And it can be therapeutic. But it is a slippery slope. The conversation can easily become all you talk about the entire time. Fortunately, my friends are also engaged in life and after discussing health concerns, we quickly moved on to other topics.

Treatment for symptom #3: If you find a conversation spiraling down into a healthcare saga, try changing the subject or joking about how this is all we talk about at our age and then gently move the conversation in another direction. Have some questions in your back pocket that you can use to trigger a new discussion.

Kenny Chesney has a moving song about playing football in high school, called The Boys of Fall. In it there is a line that refers to the men in town having coffee together the next morning and dissecting the game. The line is, “the old men will always think they know it all.” I think this has also been referred to as “armchair quarterbacks.” But it doesn’t just happen with sports, and it doesn’t just happen with men. Why is it, as we get older, we seem to feel this need to bestow our wisdom on everyone? Yes, we have learned a lot over time. Yes, we are smart and experienced, but people don’t want to hear about it and younger people definitely do not want us telling them what to do. Unfortunately, sometimes you just have to experience life for yourself to learn. And that is O.K. Perhaps even necessary.

Treatment for symptom #4: Ask astute, thoughtful, questions. Asking someone insightful questions can help them to think through a situation and come to a wise decision on their own. And on the rare occasion that someone asks for our opinions, be grateful and share some of that hard earned wisdom with them. Just stop when their eyes start to glaze over or roll up into their heads.

We are retired for goodness sake.  We have more time than most of the young people who are busy working and raising a family.  The other day, an older person (yes, even older than me) cut in front of me at the grocery store.  Seriously?  I am as bad as the next person about being in a hurry, so I am consciously trying to remember that I have time enough.  I had a chance to practice this last week.  I was in a long line at the Post Office (of course, it is December) and the lady behind me was straddling a sleeping toddler on her hip while juggling a couple boxes to mail.  She seemed very surprised, and appreciative, when I told her to go ahead of me in line.  A simple kindness.  It felt so good to do that I might just seek out other opportunities to do it again. 

The treatment for symptom #5:  Allow yourself plenty of time to get things done and then slow down and be conscious of others around you who probably have a better reason to be in a hurry.   

A few of the older men in my family, who shall not be named, have a habit of this. We all got to the point that, if someone launched into a story that we heard too many times, we would put our fingers up (no, not the middle finger) to let them know how many times we had heard the story already. The more fingers, the more times you have heard the story. Sometimes you need your toes too. It has become a fun way to say, already heard that one…a lot. However, the rule was, if you could adequately embellish the story or add a new twist, then you could repeat it.

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Mark Twain

Treatment for symptom #6: If it is a group of people you spend a lot of time with, chances are they have heard it before. As a group, agree that you can let each other know how many times you have heard a story by raising your fingers to let them know not to repeat it again. Better yet, get out there and start creating some new stories to tell!

Is old person syndrome inevitable?

Ageism is a very real discrimination/judgement that exists in our current society. We can complain about ageism, or we can take steps to mitigate it by not contributing to the stereotype. We will get older.  As the sayings goes, it beats the alternative.  However, getting older does not mean that we have to develop old person syndrome.   I know first-hand that old person syndrome is not a necessary part of aging, because my dad does not have it and he is 96 years old.  He still asks other people about their lives, only tells his great stories when prompted to do so, and he stays engaged and interested in life. He continues to be kind and thoughtful of others. He has definitely avoided old person syndrome. He is my role model of how to age gracefully.

While I do not look forward to birthdays with anticipation anymore, there is one thing I do look forward to on my birthday every year.  My wonderful sister and BIL host a birthday dinner for me and my immediate family.  (Don’t worry, I return the favor on her birthday.) We had such a lovely evening that it almost made it fun to turn 64…almost.

4 comments on “When I’m 64

  1. I loved helping you celebrate your birthday because you are the kind of person you want to celebrate. You are thoughtful, engaging, inspiring and fun to be around. 🥰 Lucky for you, “Old Age Syndrome” hasn’t hit you yet!🙃 Just a side note, you only have one more year before you are considered elderly like me.🫣

    Your post is undeniable true about Old Age Syndrome, but my only concern is, what does that leave me to talk about?🤣 I think we do need to share our concerns and struggles with each other, it is an important part of living life together. However, after a conversation, both individuals need to ask themselves, are we leaving with a positive feeling or a not so positive one. That question makes me think about how I want to approach future interactions.

    Always love your photos!

    1. Hi Janie –

      Wow – thank you for the kind words! I totally agree that it is important to share our concerns and struggles. It helps us get through them. I absolutely love your question that we can ask ourselves at the end of an interaction. It is the perfect litmus test for how we are affecting others, as well as ourselves. Sometimes it might even be that we feel positive after a conversation because we have bared our soul and someone understood us. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  2. Ha Ha Happy late birthday! I am glad that you were woken up with the Beatles. What a wonderful way to start the day.

    1. Thanks Kara. Yes, I guess there are worse songs I could wake up to. “Dead man’s curve” comes to mind!

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