“The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.” — Frank Lloyd Wright
Aging is inevitable. Our youth begins to slowly disappear as soon as we are born. In the later decades of life, it almost seems we become a completely different person.
For some people who have focused almost entirely on the youthful aspects of life, becoming older is a dismal decline. For others that are focused on this moment in time, it is simply a different season in life.
What is your personal attitude about aging? Are you embracing the unavoidable changes or are you frustrated that life is not following your preferred pace?
The oldest patient I have had the pleasure to treat was 104 the last time I saw him. He first came in at age 99. He told me then, “Doctor, my only complaint is that I have some back pain. But I guess it is normal for someone my age to have back pain.”
“No sir!” I replied. “It is normal for someone your age to have been dead for a long time, so you are far above normal for your age.”
He laughed and we began a relationship that I still cherish today, many years after his passing. If I could glean what the secret to long life is by observing this gentleman, I would conclude it is a gentleness of spirit. He was the kindest, most thoughtful man I think I have ever met. He was bright, articulate and witty. I enjoyed our conversations immensely.
I often tell friends and family members my fondest wish is to die in my sleep at age 103 after serving patients for a full day at the office.
We all have ideas of how we would like our life to play out. None of us would prefer living our final decades in pain and disability. Yet, pain and disability are so common among those over 50 that our culture has come to consider this a normal status.
Common is not the same as normal. Nearsightedness is common. Yet we don’t throw up our hands and say, “learn to live with it.” We use glasses, contact lenses or more recently corrective eye surgery to eliminate near sightedness.
It is time to reimagine aging. It is possible to “Learn to live without pain.” We must stop simply accepting that pain and disability are a result of the calendar pages turning.
I say this because so many patients have come into my office over the past 30 years with the thought firmly planted in their head that they will never really be rid of their pain. Sometimes a well-meaning health care professional has told them that. Sometimes it is a matter of watching their friends or family members grow older enduring pain and disability. Many people simply accept that experience is the norm.
Yet, every day of the week we work with patients who have been told that their pain will be a permanent part of their life — and find ways to resolve it.
Being realistic, we don’t have a cure for every person’s pain. There are some patients that have severe conditions that will result in chronic pain. For some patients we can reduce pain, but not completely eliminate it. However, for many of the 10,000 patients we have seen over the past 30 years, real relief for their pain has become a reality.
A patient was asking me this morning as he left what he should do or not do regarding his home activities. I explained that the general concept for his recovery is “movement = good, strain = bad.” That is a similar to the concept of learning to live well during aging.
Movement, joint function, flexibility, strength and balance are likely the most important aspects of lessening pain as we age. Our natural tendency is to become more sedentary as we age. That tendency contributes to more pain and disability, less strength, balance problems and less flexibility.
In order to maintain our abilities and avoid disability, it is necessary to stay active. We much continually engage in movement and activities that require some physical effort, but are not so strenuous as to cause injury.
Many readers will recognize that a dilemma exists in this concept. “I know I need to move more and be more active to reduce my pain, but my pain makes it hard for me to do that!”
That is where is can be invaluable to work with a healthcare expert that can actually help you solve painful conditions to help you gradually become more active.
One of the most meaningful milestones in our patients is when they begin to recognize that their pain is decreasing and their ability is increasing. They begin to start sentences with the words, “I can …” rather than “I can’t … .” That is a huge transformation that changes lives.
Make it a priority today to look for ways to be more active and “learn to live without the pain,” rather than with the pain.
Dr. Mark Kestner is a chiropractor in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at mkestner@DrKestner.com