Should I do less as I am getting older?

Question from Patient

I am an 74 year old lady and I used to love going on holiday but lately my friends (who are similar age to me, and some even a little younger) don’t want to go any more.   They say they’re getting too old for it.  I’m therefore wondering if I should take it easy too?  My daughter says at my age that I should be winding down.   She now does all the shopping for me and if I ever need anything I have family who will help out.    Although I have a great family, I’m wondering whether their good intention of helping me is actually making my mobility worse?   I have a few aches and pains in my joints – who doesn’t.   But I’m not in massive pain – the odd paracetamol does the trick.  It’s been two years since I last went on holiday and during that time, I’ve noticed I am doing less and less and my weight is creeping up.  My daughter has even bought me one of those electric recliner chairs to make it easier to get up (even though I didn’t have problems before).  Is this age creeping in and should I do as my daughter says – to wind down?   With regards Mary.

Doctor’s Reply

Dear Mary,
If I have understood you correctly, what you are saying is that generally you don’t have too much trouble with your health and that your joints ache slightly now and then.  You used to be active until others started to do things for you and now you are finding mobility more difficult.  If your mobility is difficult because you are in significant pain, then go and see the GP to get checked out.  However, it sounds like that is not the case with you.   But instead your joints are starting to stiffen up and you are now doing less and and feeling more old.
There is a famous saying that I would like to quote here – ‘you are as young as you feel’.   In other words, DO NOT PAY TOO MUCH ATTENTION TO YOUR AGE.   Do what you want to do in life, providing you can do it.  The sad thing here is that it seems like the people that love you are making you feel older than you feel inside.   It’s not uncommon to hear this sort of story.  For instance, as a GP, I often get sons and daughters asking me to do a home visit (as opposed to coming into the surgery) on  their elderly parent just because they have reached 80 years of age.  And yet I have patients who are in their 90s who come to see me at my surgery without any difficulty (and they say it make a refreshing change to get out of the house).
What I can tell you is this.   If you stop using your joints, they will stiffen up and become weak.  And then your mobility goes down.   Actually – that applies to anyone, not just the older generation.   Look at the footballer who breaks their leg and gets put in a cast… when the cast comes off, the footballer can’t just get back into the game.  They have to have months of intense physiotherapy to get them going again.
It sounds to me that others have taken over parts of your life (primarily because they love you and they show that love by doing things for you).  Whilst their intention is good, unfortunately the medical outcome is bad.  Them taking over and doing things for you means your joints don’t get used like they use to.  Your joints then start to become weak and lazy and over time you mobility goes down as a result.   You’ve already said that you used to be a very active lady but in the last two years since your family has taken over, your mobility has gone down.  That makes me think that your mobility problem is probably not because of old age but because you are not using your joints any more.   It is a terrible shame.
However, the good news is that you can build it all back up again – but you need to do it gradually.
  • old person dancingTake the control back.
  • Gradually start doing things again – like going to the local shop for your milk or bread and perhaps after a couple of weeks after doing something a bit extra.  Get your family/friend to go with you.
  • If you feel apprehensive or scared of falling, go and see your GP who can refer you to a physiotherapist to get your joints moving again.
  • Once your mobility is back, hopefully that will help you lose weight which in turn will help your mobility further.
  • And when your up and about like you used to be – start doing those things you used to do in life that you enjoyed – like shopping, dancing and even your holidays.  Perhaps volunteer at a local charity shop.  Remember, it is these nourishing activities which help define our lives.
  • Did you know that all of this will also help strengthen your bones and hopefully stop you from developing that painful but common condition called osteoporosis (where your bones become weak and can break easily).
  • And finally, get rid of that chair!  If you can get up out of a chair okay, why have it?
I am going to leave you with an interesting set of statistics and let you make up your own mind.
  • Only 10 percent of people over the age of 70 will end up becoming fraile.  That means a whopping 90 percent DON’T.
  • Even at age 85 and over, only 25 % of people become fraile.  That means an incredible 75% DON’T.
  • You decide – do you want to become sedentary, stay indoors all day and become fraile? Or  would you rather keep active because you value freedom?
 Regards x