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Lessons in Getting Older

By Rod Moser, PA, PhD

card game

I just had my 62nd birthday. With people living well into their 90’s or longer anymore, being 62 is not considered “old” (except of course, from a teenager’s perspective), but still, I’ve found that I’ve become more sensitive to age-related issues. But recently, I spoke to a group that made me feel like a child again.

I gave a talk this week on medical quackery at a large nursing home / assisted-care facility in my town. About 20 ultra-seniors started filing in to the lecture area. I am guessing that the average age exceeded 80. They were at least twenty years older than me. They were mobile; most using some high-tech walkers. Over half of the people had hearing issues, so I was asked to speak loudly and clearly. I insisted that the audience move to the front. One fellow in the back was already sleeping and I hadn’t even started yet. The others were making a serious dent in the tray of homemade chocolate chip cookies that were provided.

The collaborative brains in that room impressed me. Their bodies may have been slow, but their minds were sharp as tacks. I witnessed many of them recalling childhood memories of diseases we now prevent with immunizations – memories of being quarantined with measles or scarlet fever. One person was a polio survivor and talked about being in an iron lung in a room with dozens of other polio victims. Most of the people in this room were just children when the first antibiotics were used. Medical advances that we take for granted – MRI machines, potent antibiotics, heart/liver transplants, artificial joints, high-tech hearing aids, and cancer treatments – were not even imagined when they were younger.

Quackery – medical fraud – was supposed to be my topic for the day, but when I solicited questions from the floor, they wanted to talk about arthritis, hip / knee replacements, and how to deal with their vast array of prescribed medications. Several of the people in the group were using an assortment of “natural” medications that they saw advertised in magazines or on television. We talked about placebos and modern Snake Oil salesmen. We talked about the time when doctors made house calls and medical care was affordable.

When someone talks about the wisdom of the elderly, I experienced it here. I could have talked with them all day. I came as the lecturer, but I was really the audience.

I was truly enriched by this experience and promised to come back again. For the first time in a long while, I was made to feel younger and more optimistic. They have definitely coped well with getting older, and I can do it, too.


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