THE CASE OF THE SHRINKING WOMAN
By NANCY PATRICK
I grew up as a big girl. I reached my height of 5’ 7” when I was a twelve-year-old sixth grader. I always stood on the back row for group pictures. As a young girl, my size bothered me, but as an adult, I enjoyed my height and came to realize the normality of my size.
Then, something unanticipated happened: osteoporosis—a diagnosis “mature” women dread. Although men can also have osteoporosis, this bone density decreasing condition tends to target women. In my early 60s, my scan revealed osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis. As I near my 70th birthday, a new scan has revealed that I now have the condition that thins and weakens my bones and makes me prone to broken bones.
My diagnosis indicated that my type of osteoporosis, a genetic one, derives from my mother. That means broken hips and vertebrae from falls will likely become part of my future. My own mother broke multiple bones during her 70s and 80s. She fell from a treadmill and broke both shoulders in one accident. Later, she fell on two separate occasions, breaking a hip both times. She also shrank considerably in old age.
Although my own lifestyle includes a healthy diet and exercise, I could not escape my mother’s DNA. I expect to have some mishaps during the next years of my life, but I hope I do not let my osteoporosis in my bones infect my soul. I observed my mother’s emotional and spiritual shrinking along with her physical loss of height. That can easily happen as people feel bad, avoid crowds, curtail social activities, resign volunteer positions, and stay home in an attempt to remain safe. The attempt to protect their bodies can lead to unintentional harm to their quality of life.
Adjusting to age’s limitations presents some real challenges. For example, during our middle years (30-60), we busied ourselves with educations, careers, families, homes, cars, vacations, and accumulations. In the busyness of life, worries about aging, health, and retirement seemed far away. Although we observed our own parents age and deal with those issues, we somehow managed to postpone our own sense of mortality.
If fortunate enough to live long, healthy lives, at some time we must all face the repercussions of aging. For some couples, one spouse ages much better than the other. In those cases, one may become caregiver to the other one. Sometimes both partners face physical and mental challenges at the same time.
Unless we guard against isolation, we can find our lives shrinking along with our statures. One way to aid our continued participation involves ensuring we have transportation to important activities. Most churches provide vans or buses to transport those who can no longer drive, but if they do not, many friends in Sunday school classes or other organizations will provide rides.
Senior centers in cities with parks and recreation departments provide a wonderful way to keep seniors active. These centers provide transportation to and from the facilities, exercise programs, gyms, games, arts and crafts, computer labs, libraries, billiard tables, and nourishing meals for lunch. In Abilene, some of the seniors have formed their own bridge or Bunco teams as well as simply congregating with a group of friends to visit.
The exercising of our bodies strengthens our bones and muscles. Senior exercise programs focus on stretching, strength, flexibility, and balance. These classes provide a wonderful venue for meeting people and socializing. Leaders of these classes, trained in appropriate levels of activity for the participants, set goals of mobility and safety as foremost. Participants can sit or stand. People can do what their abilities allow and omit exercises too hard for them.
Not only does physical exercise remain important to a healthy life for seniors, but also mental sharpness needs extra attention. All of us know someone who suffers from dementia of one type or another. Many of us fear most the loss of mental acuity. Table games, crossword puzzles, number games, and crafts can provide mental exercises for our brains. I even practice my times tables, counting to 100 by 2s, 3s, and so forth. Counting backward provides good exercise, but I haven’t mastered that one at all.
Another important aspect of keeping ourselves in society involves volunteerism. Obviously, many activities require youthful vitality; however, many needs exist in which seniors excel. Sometimes reading to someone who has vision loss can bless both people immensely.
Volunteering as a foster grandparent fills a yearning for both children and the adults who volunteer. The seniority allows us time that we did not have while pursuing our careers and nurturing our families.
Whatever we do, we need to guard against osteoporosis of the soul. Inactivity, loneliness, and depression challenge healthy living. The doctor cannot order a scan of your soul; however, you probably know if your’s needs exercising. Don’t allow inactivity, depression, and loneliness to shrink your soul.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.