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Paradox of Old Age?

Dear Hannah,

It is happening all around me! As a woman in her late 70’s I find that visits to the ER (Emergency Room) of a hospital are very common amongst my friends. A pacemaker acts up, medication mix-ups cause problems, tripping on the sidewalk—whatever the issue, it seems that the ER is the place to go. Can you give me some advice concerning ER’s, all I know is what I see in television series.

– Reality Check Please

Dear Reality Check,

You are on the right track. Preparedness is the key to better and quicker positive results when an emergency occurs. First, to ensure the most informed assessment, take with you a list of your medications, allergies, illnesses and doctors. Prepare this now and keep it in your handbag or in the freezer (easily accessible). If you are severely ill, call an ambulance. You may not be safe to drive; paramedics can begin life-saving treatment en route; an ambulance can usually get there faster; and the ambulance will know the best place to go—in many large cities, certain centres are deemed the stroke centre or the heart centre. Life-threatening problems are seen first, so even painful problems can wait.

The ER is often a very busy place. So, ask your doctor now what off-hours coverage their office has; many share an on-call system whereby off-hours and holidays are covered by a doctor. This could save you from many hours in the ER.

Come with or meet an advocate there if you can. Communication is key, if you have a question or concern, then ask or say something. Your advocate can keep track of who you saw and what was said and done (Dr. Zachary Levine, How to Navigate the ER, Zoomer Magazine, Oct. 2017).

Dear Hannah,

I heard an expression the other day which puzzled me, “The Paradox of Old Age”. As an 84 year-old man, I have had my share of problems, a bout of cancer, my eye sight is getting worse, I may lose my driver’s license and my two children and grandchildren live far away. It seems to me that old age is full of problems and my life will only become more limited and less satisfying.

– Paradox of Old Age?

Dear Paradox of Old Age,

First a definition: A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel of truth or reason. The word “paradox” comes from the Greek “paradoxos” meaning contrary to expectation, or strange.

If I said to you, “Want to be happy? Think like an old person,” you would shake your head. Absolutely not! Researchers are finding out that some very old people choose not to focus on their declining abilities but on things that they can still do and that they find rewarding. Older people are reporting higher levels of contentment or well-being than teenagers and young adults. Super seniors are spending their energy on the things they can still do that bring them satisfaction, not on what they had lost to age.

John Leland ( writes of many case studies of old people and their commitment to this attitude. These people see life through its continuities, not its disruptions. One elderly lady says “I like the life here much better than young times, young times we only have time to study and make money. Now, we seldom talk about bad things. We keep ourselves happier. Try your best to keep your mood up. No arguments, and we can talk with each other without any difficulties.” So dear sir, the paradox is in linking old age and happiness! I suggest reading John Leland’s book based on his “85 and Up” series – Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old. You too could change your attitude towards old age, you could accomplish new achievements, you could find new pleasures, and you could think like these old people and be happy. That is indeed a paradox.

PS. Please read our review of Marc Agronin’s book The End of Old Age for further guidance in leading a purposeful and happy old age.


Update on the issue of the Shingles Vaccine

Not only do I advise you to get the shingles vaccine, but now I am insisting that you get the new shingles vaccine, Shingrix, which has been proven to be more effective at preventing this disease than the first shingles vaccine, Zostavax. The Centre for Disease Control (USA) recommends Shingrix for all adults over age 50. The committee also recommended Shingrix for adults who’ve previously gotten Zostavax. Shingrix racked up a 97 percent effectiveness rate in adults over age 50 and, in a separate study of people over age 70, prevented 90 percent of shingles in those 70 to well past age 80.

Recommended readings:

Jane Brody, Why You Should Get the New Shingles Vaccine, New York Times, April 9, 2018.
Paula Span, No Excuses, People: Get the New Shingles Vaccine, New York Times, Nov. 10, 2017


Hannah, M. Sc. Counselling