By Ralph Josephsohn
The Boulder Daily Camera and its Longmont Times-Call and Broomfield Enterprise brethren recently included several full pages and a 42-page brochure entitled “Aging at Altitude.”
I assumed Aging at Altitude touted the benefits of getting high on a psychedelic cloud of recreational cannabis while drifting off into superannuation.
Aging at Altitude turned out to be a sober listing of financial planning, living accommodations and other resources and support services tailored to fit those slipping into old fogyhood.
This article is written from the perspective of a wizened clunker chugging along after 80 years over the bumpy road of life.
The span of human life is calibrated by a multitude of factors. Some are genetically predetermined. Some are predictable, others fickle as the caprice of fate. Multitudes are ravaged by disease, mutilated by carnage or victimized by violence.
In any event, every heart is a throbbing metronome that inevitably will tick a final tock. This writing does not delve into the contentious debate over when life begins, or the theology of a spiritual hereafter. It contemplates corporeal life from womb to tomb.
A newborn is metaphorically comparable to a brand-spanking-new car rolling off a birthing assembly line. Some suffer defects during assembly. Others are damaged after delivery. Some components will rust with cancer.
Break-in periods range from infancy to adolescence. Models are designed as snazzy sports cars, long-distance haulers, commuters and family transporters. All have respiratory airbags and computerized safety gizmos. A diet of energy-efficient consumables that do not pollute the environment is deemed healthiest.
The human carriage can wrap up more miles if it receives periodic checkups, regular and preventive maintenance, such as inoculations geared to deter pathogens from contaminating the carriage. The journey through life requires road maps and planning to reach desired destinations. Pit stops are essential to avoid overheating.
In the event of a mishap causing dislocations or dents, a licensed body shop should be consulted. After beaucoup mileage, cartilage shock absorbers, hip and shoulder joints, may have to be replaced, a speedometer pacemaker installed and the spinal drive shaft fused. Headlight lenses may require refocusing, ear horns may need amplification.
German poet Heinrich Heine described death as the cool night. Death was a release after eight agonizing years lingering paralyzed on a “mattress-grave.” His intellectual prowess didn’t wane during the ordeal. Heine continued to masterfully compose reams of poetry to the very end.
An opposite, possibly far more insidious, aspect of aging is dementia not associated with “normal” aging. To fathom this condition, analogy to driving cross-country provides an apt simile. A snowstorm is encountered. It progressively intensifies into a blinding blizzard. There is no reference point indicating where the driver has been, or is going.
The scariest aspect of a mental blizzard is an acute awareness of being hopelessly lost. Emotions sputter with depression and groan in desperation when confronting a progressively irreversible loss of mentality. Although the journey through life’s travels traverses many landscapes, some with smooth roads and fair skies, others with jarring bumps and gales of adversity, the ultimate destination is the cool night of a salvage yard.
Advances in health care have measurably prolonged life expectancy. Age-related malaise intensifies exponentially as the rubicon of life expectancy reaches new limits. In 1776 it was 35 years. In 1900 it was elevated to 49 years. In 2022 life expectancy hovers at 80 years.
Physical and intellectual decline typically triggered by age remained largely dormant before the significant elevation of life expectancy in the 20th century. The higher the elevation and steeper the precipitous descent down an extended slope of life, the greater the chance of infirmities and injuries.
Tinkering with Mother Nature’s biological timetable by manipulating longevity must be coordinated with medical and social advances to accommodate and keep up with the quality of life prolonged. Taking into account the many age-related physical, psychological and neurological problems encountered during advanced age, these manifestations present daunting challenges begging for comprehensive solutions.
Suitable senior living and geriatric care facilities must be available and affordable. Adequate, sustainable and fully funded Social Security benefits for an increasingly aging population are indispensable.
Unintended consequences of prolonging life may overwhelm the benefits, irrespective of good intentions.
Ralph Josephsohn lives and muses about life in Longmont.