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Is Old Age an Illness?

Updated: Apr 25, 2022

Blaming a health condition only on age can cause us to overlook and ignore the real reason causing the condition. There are many changes that happen to us as we grew older that may cause a change in the way we feel and affect our health, but many of these changes can be overcome with diet, lifestyle changes and if necessary, medications.

Sandy and Puzzle

Hearing Loss

A few months ago our dog Sandy started showing signs of hearing loss. She would not notice if someone came to the door, and I could walk down the stairs and even step over her without her noticing me. Luckily our cat Puzzle, who did hear me, would react with a high pitch meow that Sandy could hear. Both animals would then ask for breakfast together. We all thought that Sandy's hearing loss was part of normal aging since she was 13 and a half years old.

2 weeks ago Sandy’s hearing become totally nonexistent. She no longer heard the cat nor loud noises. She was totally deaf. We took her to the vet who warned us that her deafness is most probably due to her age, but he checked her ears. Sandy had a fungus in both ears – which is not a cause of hearing loss, but there could be an inner ear infection.

After a few days of ear cleansings and antibiotics Sandy is hearing again!

Our very happy Vet after seeing Sandy's hearing improvement

It is so exciting. Not only is Sandy hearing the cat and our calls to her, but she now greets us again at the door. Most amazing is Sandy is barking again. When she didn’t hear she didn’t bark.

We now understand that the “normal hearing loss” Sandy had for half a year, was not due to her age. Had Sandy been 3 years old, we would have immediately checked her ears.

Old Age as a Negative Label

I often have clients who tell me, that their doctor said the reason for their physical or medical condition was due to their age and they should accept the condition. My advice is to ask the doctor what they would recommend if someone who was 25 had the same condition.

Blaming age for a condition is ageist. Everyone ages differently and we cannot all be lumped together under one label. Labeling causes a loss of individualism and blaming a condition on “old age,” implies that everyone gets the same condition at a certain age. Labeling creates a stigma which is probably the reason the anti-aging industry in the US alone is worth 24.6 billion dollars! Labels can also make older people expect to be unhealthy and subconsciously weaken and/or become ill when they reach a certain age.

When a Person Becomes an Illness

One of the difficult parts of my work with people who have been diagnosed with dementia is not working with people who are confused and/or have memory loss, because I enjoy getting to know each person I work with. The difficulty is when others no longer see the person, but only see the illness.

An individual becomes a “they” as in “do they all get angry?” Or “they” becomes a “stage 5” (from the listing of the stages of Alzheimer’s or Dementia)

It is dehumanizing to view people as illnesses, and it is heartbreaking to see this happen so often. Please remember that people who have memory loss still have feelings and they still have the essence of who they are.

Just like a doctor may blame age for many of our health conditions, sadly Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia can be the blame for almost every health or behavioral change. In perhaps one of the worst cases, one family was told that the pain their loved one felt was not really pain, it was part of the deterioration of their brain due to the dementia and therefore there was no need to find the cause or give medication to help.

If you or your loved one or your pet have a physical or behavioral change, please try to find the reason before blaming age for an illness. We can all have health and mood issues even if we are older and even if we have memory loss.

To celebrate old age - I'm dedicating this post to our cat Puzzle, who turned 18 this month! I think she has reached this golden age by making sure she gets exactly what she needs - whether she demands wet food in the hot summer months or Sandy's soft mattress to sleep on.

Sandy trying to get her mattress back from Puzzle



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