The insidious refrain of “I’m getting old”

Eric Ho
Table of Contents
Duomo from Campanile di Giotto, Florence

I had stamped on his foot. I was annoyed because the performance was only a few days away, and “we” were still making mistakes. 

Ed had miscounted. Again. The score had the bass voice silent at that moment.

It was only our school Christmas Carol service, but my sledgehammer nudge to encourage Ed to sing from the same hymn sheet was a lesson in how NOT to win friends and influence people.

I’m getting old!

There’s a song most of us sing when it comes to getting older. Have you sung this one?

“I’m so forgetful nowadays” or 

“Yeh, Alzheimer’s runs in the family” or 

“It won’t be too long before I’m in a care home”.

It’s a pretty dismal song lacking in hope, and yet we sing these refrains regularly. We hear our siblings, our parents, and our friends singing these familiar lyrics, too.

20 years ago, I barely heard people talk about getting old. Yes, it was a function of my being younger. But over that time, there’s been an inexorable rise in the number of chronic diseases that keep us singing the same refrains. And with it, the chorus of doctors rooted in conventional medicine explaining away our symptoms with a dismissive “it’s just old age”. 

Many of us have some fear of getting old: we see ourselves descending the same path that those close to us have followed before.  Into a care home, into hospital, into several years of taking medications to “battle” against this disease or that one.

Perhaps, we find comfort in these refrains that distract us from the discordant reality of old age as it edges closer and closer to the now for each one of us?

Sing a different song

Duomo from Campanile di Giotto, Florence

Yet we have more control over how we age than we might think.

It is possible to slow down, stop, and even reverse Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 Diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis.

If I’d heard this 20 years ago, I would have raised an incredulous eyebrow. Perhaps two.

My own experience opened my eyes and ears to a new, hopeful refrain. 

For endless summers, I would sit with one hand writing the answer to my end-of-year exams and the other rubbing my eyes, unable to resist the itchiness that those hay fever-heavy months caused. When I adopted the same foundations that help treat Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and MS, I was able to enjoy my summers (and even my exams) without feeling like a zombie. 

I haven’t taken any hay fever medicines since. That’s the refrain of the Functional Medicine approach: getting to the root cause of the dis-ease rather than relying on a drugs-first approach.

Our genes are not our destiny

What song do you want to sing?

Cape Town from Signal Hill

It’s challenging to hear new music for the first time, to navigate a different tonal landscape, to adjust your voice in the choir to recreate the comforting feeling you had when singing your more familiar songs.

It’s like when you’re at the Proms and the conductor has chosen to showcase a newly-commissioned piece: most of the audience is keen for it to be over so they can get to the music that they actually came for. 

Even if you plucked up the courage to try ad-libbing a new song, you might find a 13-year-old Eric stamping on your foot.

We were lucky at school to have a choirmaster who chose music that challenged us: harmonising all the voices in a Saint-Saëns Ave Maria or getting lost in the spine-tingling magic of Allegri’s Miserere.

All the lyrics that are in the traditional hymn book of ageing don’t have to be your musical score when you’re older; they’re just an inevitable pattern of thinking when we stick to our comforting, familiar hymns.

Over to you!

What might exploring a different conductor lead to in your old age? 

What different harmonies might you try?

What new song do you want to sing?

For a taster of the score for a new song you could sing, I invite you to take a look at this article I wrote about how to achieve success without the burnout.

About this article

This article is one I’ve been working on as part of Write of Passage, the writing course I’m taking. For five weeks – and possibly more – I’m experimenting with sharing articles here that answer the questions that I’m thinking about.

They’re mostly answers – or at least my thoughts that are designed to provoke answers in you – to questions about your brain and brain health so you’re on the path to success that feels effortless.

I’m publishing these on Wednesdays.



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