15 Signs You’re Getting Old

By Marvin Druger       Email: mdruger@syr.edu

Although many of us would like to deny it, our body ages. We try to do everything we did in our younger days, but we soon realize that this is impossible. Like others, I have experienced the signs of aging that are the subject of this article.

1. We start getting up earlier to make sure that the day is fully used. As youngsters, we slept late. As older adults, we get up as early as we can. Life is short and sleeping too much takes away from precious conscious time in life.

2. People open doors for us and are eager to offer help. I was about 20 feet away from the door of a store. A young lady saw me coming and she opened the door and held it open until I got there. On another occasion, I was in a store pushing a cart loaded with gardening supplies when a middle-aged lady said, “Do you need any help?” Of course, I refused her offer, and I later excused the episode by convincing myself that she was just trying to pick me up.

3. People are protective of older people. Whenever someone sees me doing some vigorous physical activity, the person says, “You shouldn’t do that. You might fall and break your hip.” Older people do tend to fall. I have fallen several times, but because I was daydreaming and tripped over some object. I have not yet broken my hip, but I’m cautious about that event happening. The fall may not be disastrous, but the problem is that we can’t get up.

4. Family conflicts diminish. As we reach older age, our children and relatives are much more protective and attentive to our needs. Family love emerges in full force. Almost every day, I get a phone call from my daughter and two sons to check on how I’m doing. At first, I was annoyed by these calls. Now, I look forward to them.

5. Mirrors are our enemies. We wonder why and how our face changed so much over time. Our skin isn’t what it used to be and our smiling expression has turned to a perpetual frown. A hairdresser asked me, “How shall I cut your hair?” I replied, “Just make me handsome.” Her response was, “Then I’ve already done my job.” I gave her a big tip and I spent the rest of the day telling people about that remark. When someone meets an older person, it’s very common for them to say, “Gee, you look terrific!” How am I supposed to look? Recently, I have met several people whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. My thought was, “I thought you were dead!” (But I kept that thought to myself).

6. Health becomes an obsession. We exercise with the unfounded hope that the exercise will cure us of old age. It was discouraging to see that the chart for heart rate on the reclining bicycle at the health club ends at 65. Whenever I saw a potential new member at the club, I commented “If you join, you start looking like me.” That comment probably resulted in many individuals not joining the club.

7. We get senior discounts. A sure sign of older age is the senior discount. We know we are older when the storekeeper gives us the discount without even asking our age. I am thrilled when I buy a sixpack of beer at the grocery and the cashier asks to see my ID as proof of age. I don’t even drink beer, but I buy it to be proofed and feel young again.

8. We become grouchy as we age. Somehow, life owes me more than I’ve experienced. As life goes on, I am more aware that it must end sometime in the future. Story Musgrave, the former astronaut, gave a talk at a memorial ceremony for my late wife at Syracuse University. After dinner, I asked, “Story, what’s your next big project?” He replied, “I’m preparing to die.” I laughed, but I’m not laughing now.

9. We become more outspoken. We tend to say what we think and don’t worry about political correctness. In younger days, we might think more carefully about what we think, in fear of offending someone. Now, who cares what I say? I’ll just say what I think. When I published my “Diary of Love,” (available at the Syracuse University bookstore) my daughter said, “That’s too personal.” That’s the strength of the book. It reveals personal thoughts about love and tells how intense it can be.

10. Strength and physical abilities decline. I used to jog at a reasonable rate and my fastest time for running a mile was 6:01. A fellow jogger commented, “Wow. Marv did a 6:01 mile.” An ex-friend replied, “How long did it take him?” Running is no longer on my agenda. I found that my legs no longer respond to the commands from my brain to move faster.

11. Health issues arise as we get older. My belief is that, as we age, we are bound to get something that we don’t want. Many health issues can be effectively dealt with, and I have numerous older friends who have had open heart surgery, knee and hip replacements, arthritis, cancers, etc. Yet, they are still vertical and they move on in life. Taking pills becomes commonplace as we age. It amazes us to see how such tiny pills can have such dramatic effects. One older friend had several kinds of cancer. Miraculously, he was cured. The doctors removed all his drugs, except Prozac, an anti-depressant. He asked, “How come I still have to take Prozac?” The doctor replied, “Everyone your age takes Prozac.”

12. Surgeries and body repairs such as knee and hip replacements, cataract surgery, heart surgery and other body repairs become common. About 20 years ago, I had a twisted colon that required emergency surgery. A few years ago, I began having intestinal problems. Nobody could figure out what was wrong. I was in the hospital for more tests when a former student dropped in to say hello. He is now a prominent colorectal surgeon. He suggested that my problem might be scar tissue formation from my surgery 20 years earlier. He performed a five-hour surgery to remove the scar tissue and he kept me alive. I am now in the recovery stage which is very slow. I tell everyone, “I taught this doctor how to dissect a frog, and now he dissected me.”

13. Friends of older people disappear. At my age, most people I know are either retired, terminally ill or dead. We have to survive and cope with death of loved ones. We constantly talk about our latest ailments and who died recently.

14. Bodily functions and sexuality declines. Many older men develop prostate problems. A joke that I heard tells about a 90-year-old man who was approached by a lady of the night. She purred, “I can give you super sex.” The old man thought for a moment and replied, “I’ll take the soup!”

15. Wisdom increases. Our many past experiences have provided us with a vast reservoir of knowledge. We know what works and what doesn’t. The problem is that few people want to listen to our advice. It is important to consider the past when planning the future.

The best sign of old age is that we are still here. Although dementia is not uncommon in old people, some older people retain mental capabilities until the end. When I visited a nursing home, I observed a number of individuals with sharp minds, but decaying bodies. Those with sharp minds still retained their sense of humor and wit. I imagined what they might be thinking: “What the hell am I doing here? It all went by too quickly. I should have gone on that special trip while I was physically able to do so.”

So, let’s live life fully and do as much as we can while we can. There are good memories, but there are also positive things ahead for all of us who are still here.