an elderly graduate aging and parkinson's disease

My PhD From The School of Getting Old

As I come ever closer to my 80th birthday, I feel I’ve gotten a PhD from the School of Getting Old. Through just getting older and managing several serious chronic illnesses, I’ve learned a lot about successful and not so successful aging. Definitely a roller coaster ride! Some of my knowledge has been acquired deliberately and some from the trial and error/hit or miss method. I think there are some elements worth noting.

Here’s the “Cliffs Notes” version.

My bonafides

Approaching 80 ... 2 months, 13 days to go.

My Idios (for some reason, my illnesses are all labeled “idiopathic”):

  • Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy (severe)
  • Idiopathic CKD Stage IV
  • Idiopathic Parkinson’s Stage 3
  • Idiopathic high and low blood pressure

14 prescriptions. Some of the most expensive urine in the land.

How I’m living well with all “that”

Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power. I try to educate myself as much as I possibly can about aging and my health issues. Fear of the unknown is almost always greater than fear of the known. Knowledge helps keep surprises to a minimum and helps me be in control and an active participant in my life and care.

Get a hobby!

A euphemism for stay as active as I can. Old age and illnesses often leave people unable to pursue hobbies from earlier in life. That should not be an excuse to join the couch potato league.

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Can’t play eighteen holes anymore? Try a par three course. Think about the aspects you enjoyed in your past hobbies and find new activities that have the same aspects. Can’t hike any more?  Walk groomed trails. Can’t walk like you used to? Try hiking sticks or other aides. My tremors caused me to stop making furniture. Turns out it was the planning and investigation I missed.  Oddly, ancestry research hit those planning and investigation buttons. I rediscovered writing and participate in several blogs.

Use or lose your gray matter!

As I age, neural pathways get “rusty”. Cognitive decline happens to all of us related to age and illness. Slowing cognitive decline and finding new pathways are my goals. I do brain exercises aimed to increase neuroplasticity. Parkinson’s changes neural pathways so movement is difficult. My physical therapy goal is to create new pathways to make movement more natural and safer.

Exercise, exercise, exercise!

I know it’s a Parkinson’s mantra but it applies to almost all illnesses and just good old aging. The CDC has guidelines for the amount of strength and cardio exercise one should strive for. I do Parkinson’s Power Up classes, work with a Physical Therapist and Physical Trainer and use an exercise bike. I didn’t start with that level but chasing muscle mass loss, balance, strength and range of motion has gotten me there.

Lose the “shoulda/woulda/couldas”

Dwelling on the past and actions one wishes had been different is a sure way to negative thinking and even depression. The past can’t be changed but the past is useful for changing the future.

Join the “I fired my doctor club”

Doctors are not gods! Unfortunately, a few think they are.  Some diseases, like Parkinson’s, are not 15 minute appointments. If a doctor won’t spend time listening, won’t answer your questions, or is disrespectful, fire them, literally or figuratively, and find a doctor who does listen, answers your questions, and treats you as an active participant in your care. Of course, there’s a flip side to this. Don’t be that patient who shows up at an appointment unprepared, doesn’t answer the doctor’s questions truthfully and succinctly, and doesn’t take medications as prescribed.

Plan your doctor appointments

Always take someone with you to your appointments. Use them to help keep things on track and make sure your questions are answered and write down important instructions from the doctor. Time pressure and anxiety associated with appointments can make you not bring up something of importance. Write down the questions you have to have answered.  Make a list of symptoms that have changed or worsened

Learn and practice coping skills

Life as a senior emeritus tosses curves and even spitballs.  Throw in a chronic disease or four and finding and using coping skills that work for you becomes of paramount importance. Relaxation techniques can help get you through rough times.  Learning to stay as busy mentally and physically as you can is a coping skill! Mindfulness meditation can improve your physical and mental health.

Sometimes, it’s all about attitude

One important observation I’ve made over time is that my attitude is more important than my symptoms in determining whether I have a bad day or a good day. My symptoms might be negligible but a negative attitude equals a bad day. I might be encountering my full array of symptoms but a positive attitude means a good day. I form a positive attitude by focusing on the good things in my life, using coping skills to avoid or terminate negative thinking, and planning future good activities.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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