I’m elderly. I’m elderly. If I say it enough times, will it be easier to accept? But, is 66 really elderly? Is this something that I should accept (right now)? Am I elderly? Or can I still claim that I am “of a certain age”?
These questions have been ricocheting around the insides of my brain since the end of last week when I had my annual physical exam. (Confession: my last “annual” exam was over four years ago.) Pre-registration was a mighty affair — there were about five pages of questions and fact sheets; even though I entered the clinic with a spring in my step because I’d been feeling pretty fine of late, the “me” who left forty-five minutes later did so with sagging shoulders and spirits and minus the spring in my step. More than anything, I’m curious to know if my contemporaries have recently faced this new line of interrogation. I’m told that the protocol shifts once someone reaches 65 years old.
I was prepared for the softball question — do I feel safe in my home? but beyond that, whoa!, things got real very quickly. I answered questions about whether I use a handrail when climbing or descending my staircases (sometimes), is there a “grab” rail in my shower (no, not the kind that would sustain my weight), do I have scatter rugs (no, but the edge of one of my area rugs is curled up in one corner), nightlights (yes, but they’re currently not plugged in), moveable objects between my bed and the bathroom (do dogs count?), do I have difficulty walking, getting up after sitting for any length of time (define “difficulty”), do I own a space heater (yes, but I lied and said I don’t), do I smoke (no, but this questionnaire is having me consider it), how much alcohol do I consume (when you say “glass of wine”, how big do you mean)? And, finally, the “mini-cog test”: I was asked to draw a clock showing “forty-five minutes after ten o’clock”. Wouldn’t it vex you that they didn’t ask it in the normal way: draw a clock showing “ten forty-five”? No one says, “Meet me at Loretta’s at forty-five minutes after ten o’clock”.
The mini-cog test, I learn, is to test for early signs of dementia. Dementia is obviously a big concern once someone surpasses the golden age of 65. I know this because the nurse practitioner dedicated a chunk of our time to discussing the importance of having a living will, in which I would make clear to my family whether or not I would want, for example, to be left on life support (long-term) if I were irredeemably suffering full-blown dementia. Better to have that mapped out before it becomes an emotionally-charged issue.
I was careful to appear hale and hearty, mainly because I had read that you don’t typically incur a co-pay for well-visits, but if a diagnosis should arise or medication is changed or newly-prescribed, you may have to pay a co-pay. Honestly, though, I was feeling hale and hearty. . . until the living will discussion.
In sum, it was a lot to take in, even for someone who does every imaginable screening that is medically possible. (I was even apologetic for going nine months between my last two dental check-ups.) So, does anyone know if the protocol changes again when we reach 70 years old? What questions will they add then? As much as I appreciate my doctor wanting to understand me completely, as someone who worked for decades in the field of education, I also understand how questionnaires work — some of the questions exist simply to plant ideas; one might claim that there’s a certain degree of propaganda built into them. Call me cynical, but I can’t help but wonder how it helps my doctor to know that, at age 66, of sound mind, I own a space heater. (What, is she going to call me up nightly and ask if I remembered to turn it off?) It’s a really great little appliance, by the way, with a realistic flame that appears to lovingly lick the fake logs. Should I be worried, though? About forgetting to turn it off, I mean? This dementia thing has really gotten to me.