Last night our 90-year-old neighbour went "walkabout." She is tall and thin and elegant in tailored suits that would not be out of place on a European estate in the 1930s. She speaks several languages, is well-read and has travelled widely.
Over the past few years her short-term memory has all but disappeared. But her skinny frame is still sturdy, and she could walk for England. She covers a lot of ground, often gets lost, and has been brought home any number of times by kindly strangers.
Nearby is an old folk’s home, where residents in various stages of dementia and disability are lovingly cared for by some of the most pleasant and patient people I’ve ever met. It may not be long before our neighbour has to move into a care home. She may not mind, but her husband is dreading that day.
He’s an old-school European guy who made a good living with his hands. He’s independant, proud and stubborn. English isn’t his first language, and he struggles sometimes. He gets furious when she goes walkabout, but he simply, physically, can’t go chasing after her. He has a dodgy heart, and the stress of all this isn’t healthy for him.
His fear is that, if she goes into a care home, he won’t be far behind. He’s facing a loss of independance, a shrinking of horizons and, ultimately, death.
Welcome to Geezerville. Population rising. Rapidly. More than five million people in this country are over 60 years old – that’s 15% of the population. Pretty soon there will be more people over 65 than under 15.
Compared with our aged neighbours, I’m a relatively robust 63. Sure, arthritis sometimes makes my hands clumsy, and my left knee is now made of titanium and space-age plastic. I have tinnitus – a constant ringing in my ears like a high-pitched dial tone, because I’m going deaf. I get up every couple of hours at night to pee. And I am not the skinny kid I was at 20.
But I can still ride a bike and canoe and golf and even have sex without embrassing myself too badly. Growing old ain’t pretty. Hair grows in your ears. People mumble. Everything goes too fast. And pain is often a constant. It’s one of the many things that make old people cranky. But as Red Green says, we’re all in this together. So this isn’t so much a survival guide as a companion on the road to Geezerville. Enjoy the journey.