As people are inclined to say: not a lot improves as you get older, it’s just better than the alternative
1 you feel cold
Younger people can never understand why older people wear so much clothing. And I’m not talking about younger people as in the mid-winter bare shoulder-ware adopted by mid-winter clubbers in Newcastle but more your average young person who wears less in summer than in winter and all round less than older people at the same time.
You do it because you feel the cold and it seems that everything is stacked up against you. Your blood pressure is lower which means your blood doesn’t flow as quickly, your metabolic rate is down so you generate less warmth and the fat layer beneath the skin thins so you loose heat. Furthermore many of us have other medical conditions and are on medications which contribute. For my part I’m on blood thinning medication.
It’s not really a problem because, as the Russians are reputed to say ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing’. That means I wear more woolens, I wear a hat or cap and a scarf when I go out, I wear more layers and, at last, I wear those stylish gilets which I’ve bought. It’s not a problem.
What’s puzzling though is that it’s not consistent. Some times I have cold hands, but never cold feet, but not very often. And then I have cold thighs. It’s never anything uncomfortable but I just need to be wary.
2 you need more sleep (which for me means you don’t get up so early)
If you classify people as being larks or nightingales according to when they’re at their most effective I’ve always been a lark. Getting up in time for work has never been an issue and I’ve always been good at getting things done in the morning. Most of the time that’s not such a big deal but it helped when I worked in London for a year or so and used to catch an 0745 train from Cambridge, and ensured that I could handle the frequent early starts when I’ve had to catch early morning flights out of Zurich when I worked for Dow and more recently out of Luton and Stansted with Ryanair and easyJet.
I say I’ve never had a problem with early starts but there are always exceptions. In 1967 I overslept on the day of my Geology exam at the end of my first year at Uni. It wasn’t so bad that I missed the exam but I clearly had less time to convince the examiners that I was proficient in the subject. It was my weakest subject and I can’t have done that badly because overall I scored enough to merit a highly decent result.
The only other time was in maybe 1987 when I was due to catch an 0800 flight from Zurich. That was in the days before heavy security so that with no checked baggage you could get to the airport just 30 minutes before departure and still make your flight. I would probably have aimed to get there by 0700 which meant leaving home at 0630 with my alarm set at 0600. I don’t know what time I woke up but I do remember running along the finger dock some time after 0730 carrying a suitcase and a briefcase thinking about business colleague Max Friedli dying of a heart attack whilst cross country skiing a week or so previously. I made the flight.
Nowadays I sleep beyond 0800 and an 0730 start which I need for my weekly Cardio Zoom class is hard work. And I generally top up my sleep inventory with a few minutes shuteye after lunch. I need more sleep!
3 you know what you don’t know
It’s an acknowledged fact that as you age your short term memory deteriorates whilst your long term recall remains pretty good. It’s true but it is nuanced.
I’ve always had deadspots in terms of names I can’t recall. Just a few but I’ve known what they are and I’ve often developed a trick of overcoming the problem. For example, for some reason for a long time I could’t remember the name of the popular soprano Lesley Garrett. Don’t know why but my brain just refused to deliver it when it was needed. Then I remembered that we had her CD ‘soprano in red’ and that gave me the link. Whenever I needed the name I thought ‘soprano in red’ and somehow my brain delivered it.
That’s the case now but in spades. I frequently can’t recall a name but I know that I have the data somewhere in my brain. It’s what Donald Rumsfeld would refer to as an unknown known. All I have to do is work out where the data is stored; this generally involves building a picture of everything else I know which is related to it. Then it sort of gets ambushed and out it pops.
It’s not that my brain is functioning any less well. It’s just got a problem with data retrieval. It’s still perfectly good at crosswords and sudoku. It just needs the linkages in what I imagine is a vast relational database to be refreshed.
4 you can’t multitask
I remember infuriating my father by doing my homework whilst watching the TV. He reckoned you couldn’t do two things, especially two which involved a certain amount of brain activity, at the same time. Well I could and I continued the habit and although at Uni it wasn’t the TV it was the radio I was still processing a little parallel input whilst I was studying.
It’s not the same as background music of course. When you have this on it’s just that, background. It’s not providing a parallel flow of information. To some extent the music is just a part of the ambient conditions which make it more amenable to get on with a specific task.
No more. I routinely read the paper whilst I eat my breakfast and I listen to Radio 4 at the same time, generally it’s the Today program. But I don’t. The radio may be on but I’m not actually listening to it so that if challenged I’m unable to tell you what I’ve heard.
It’s even the same with background music. If I’m working on my computer for example I generally prefer not to have any music on. It seems that it does get in the way so I work in silence.
I guess there’s another side to this and that’s the ability to synchronise activity involving different parts of your body. I’m lousy at taking selfies (see the photo) because I insist on looking at my image on the screen with fierce concentration when I’m taking the photo. For the life of me I can’t relax my expression and look at the camera instead.
5 you’re forever stiff and not in a good way
When you get up in the morning it takes time for your body to loosen up and if there’s a need to bend down later in the day it takes time and you make sure that you’ve got the means to straighten up again. Tying a shoelace for example is not just a matter of kneel down, tie it and stand up again. It’s more often than not find a place to sit or a raised platform for you to rest your foot on, then tie it and slowly return to the vertical.
Exercise just seems to make matters worse. I have a fairly regular exercise routine, the gym or a run every other day or so and find the days in between are increasingly days of a little more stiffness than usual.
The corollary is that you ache a little more than you used to and that it takes time for such aches to ease.
There’s more to add of course: increasing impatience with devices which don’t behave as you expect, everyday frustration with customer service people and a general sense of disillusion with and a feeling that the world as we know it is going to the dogs. However these are to some extent positive. They are evidence of an active brain which has not lost its critical faculties, albeit ones which are becoming increasingly, well, critical.