Sunday, February 27, 2011


How old is old? When you are 30, 55, 62, 65. . .dare I say 85? Well, I’ve never met an 85 year old who didn’t know they were old. What do 85 year olds know that we don’t? That after an accumulation of time, impairments (loss of hearing and vision the most likely) and cultural bias, they know that time has passed.

I have a dear friend whose career was consulting with specialty medical practices around the United States on how to improve their business. One might think the job entailed how to bill more while doing less, or maximize billing, or promote the latest medication or procedure, but this was not what he spent his time doing. He spent his time reminding the personnel in the physicians’ offices - including the M.D.’s - who the patient was. I had the opportunity to observe him at a very large ophthalmology practice located in a well to do senior retirement community. A critical stumbling block to patient use of the practice was that the forms were all printed with small 8 point type size. True, every question was on the page but of course the ophthalmology patient had a tough time reading and then completing it. My friend the consultant knew to look at this, as he’d found this many times before.

The rate of hearing loss in those of us over the age of 65 is one in three (1). And the likelihood is that we will need services - social, medical, or legal - is undoubtedly 100%. But almost no one is expected to accommodate this loss of hearing. I walked into a nursing home’s therapy department a few weeks ago and saw one of the clinicians talking to their patient using a microphone. That was unusual. The patient wore a headset, and offered those who spoke to him a microphone. He couldn’t hear without it, but could hear fine with it. Simple, cheap, let’s order them for everyone!

We are getting older. And we will achieve the status of being old. But the duration of old age seems so much longer because the world keeps behaving as if we are aging in the opposite direction – as if our vision is more acute as our medical needs become more complicated, and as if our hearing gets sharper in new and noisy surroundings.

Failure to accommodate for one’s capabilities seems likely to continue unless, of course, those of us in our young adult and middle years begin to observe how one’s time is spent differently. In other words, experience a moment in time from another’s point of view. Otherwise, life gets old fairly quickly.

(1) Surveillance for Sensory Impairment, Activity Limitation, and Health-Related Quality of Life Among Older Adults -- United States, 1993-1997, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Vincent A. Campbell, Ph.D., John E. Crews, D.P.A., David G. Moriarty, Matthew M. Zack, M.D., M.P.H., Donald K. Blackman, Ph.D.

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