By Ralph Josephsohn
The Boulder Daily Camera and its brethren Longmont Times-Call and Broomfield Enterprise recently included several full pages and a 42-page pamphlet called “Aging at Altitude.”
I assumed Aging at Altitude touted the benefits of getting high on a psychedelic cloud of recreational cannabis while sinking into retirement.
Aging at Altitude has proven to be a sobering list of financial planning, housing, and other supportive resources and services for those slipping into the old fog.
This article is written from the perspective of a shriveled jalopy who drags after 80 on the bumpy road of life.
The length of human life is calibrated by a multitude of factors. Some are genetically predetermined. Some are predictable, others fickle like the whim of fate. Multitudes are ravaged by disease, maimed by carnage or victimized by violence.
In any case, each heart is a throbbing metronome that will inevitably make its final tick. This writing does not delve into the contentious debate about when life begins, or the theology of a spiritual afterlife. He contemplates bodily life from the womb to the grave.
A newborn baby is metaphorically comparable to a brand new car rolling off a birthing assembly line. Some suffer from defects during assembly. Others are damaged after delivery. Some components will rust with cancer.
The break-in periods range from early childhood to adolescence. The models are designed as stylish sports cars, long-distance haulers, commuters and family haulers. All have respiratory airbags and computerized safety gadgets. A diet consisting of energy-efficient consumables that do not pollute the environment is considered the healthiest.
The human cart can travel more miles if it receives periodic checks, regular and preventative maintenance, such as inoculations to deter pathogens from contaminating the cart. The journey through life requires road maps and planning to reach desired destinations. Pit stops are essential to avoid overheating.
In the event of an accident causing dislocations or dents, an authorized body shop should be consulted. After long mileage, the cartilaginous shock absorbers, hip and shoulder joints may need to be replaced, a pacemaker fitted and the spinal drive shaft fused. Headlight lenses may need refocusing, ear horns may need amplification.
The German poet Heinrich Heine described death as the cool night. Death was a release after eight agonizing years spent paralyzed on a “mattress-grave”. His intellectual prowess did not falter during the ordeal. Heine continued to masterfully compose reams of poetry until the very end.
An opposite, perhaps far more insidious, aspect of aging is dementia not associated with “normal” aging. To probe this condition, the analogy with off-road driving provides an apt comparison. A snowstorm is encountered. It gradually intensifies into a blinding blizzard. There is no reference point indicating where the driver has been or is going.
The most frightening aspect of a mental blizzard is a keen awareness of being hopelessly lost. Emotions crackle with depression and groan in despair at a progressively irreversible loss of mentality. Although the journey through life’s journeys passes through many landscapes, some with smooth roads and beautiful skies, others with jarring bumps and winds of adversity, the ultimate destination is the cool night of a recovery site.
Advances in health care have significantly extended life expectancy. Age-related malaise escalates exponentially as the rubicon of life expectancy reaches new limits. In 1776 it was 35 years. In 1900, it was raised to 49. In 2022, life expectancy hovers around 80 years.
The physical and intellectual decline usually triggered by age lay largely dormant before the significant rise in life expectancy in the 20th century. The higher the altitude and the steeper the descent down a long slope of life, the greater the risk of infirmities and injuries.
Tinkering with Mother Nature’s biological calendar by manipulating longevity must be coordinated with medical and social advancements to adapt and maintain extended quality of life. Given the many age-related physical, psychological and neurological problems encountered in old age, these manifestations present significant challenges that require comprehensive solutions.
Appropriate seniors’ residences and geriatric care facilities must be available and affordable. Adequate, sustainable and fully funded social security benefits for an increasingly aging population are essential.
The unintended consequences of life extension can negate the benefits, regardless of good intentions.
Ralph Josephsohn lives and reflects on life in Longmont.