Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Old Age
New topic 2019-04-09 16:04:33 description

Observations About Old Age--From a Participant

As I write this, I am 94 years old. That doesn't set any records, but it currently gets me help with theater seats and silverware dropped on the floor. My mother lived to be 103 (102 might have been better) and many people expect to be 90, someday. It is the latter who don't know what is ahead of them, and may be curious.

Let's start with pot-bellies, which are usually caused by osteoporosis of the spine, but not exclusively so, which leads to excessive curvature of the back, in turn causing protrusion of the belly. Until pot belly becomes advanced, it is usually not noticed, except by tailors and dressmakers. But osteoporosis is more common among women, who ordinarily are more conscious of their appearance. Therefore, the exceptions are more striking: some women have unusually straight backs in spite of advanced osteoporosis. It's rather attractive, the condition seems to be inherited, and is by no means painless. My mother-i-law had this variant, as do a few of my more attractive acquaintances. Mother lived to be 96 but had numerous broken bones for slight cause. This all probably means something, but as yet we mostly don't understand it.

Naturally, my attention has been more focused on the male variant, which seems to affect the gastroenterological tract (GI for short). My wife, who was a radiologist, informed me that the descending colon is mostly empty, most of the time. Therefore, it tends to fill with gas (methane) when you lie in bed for hours at a time. And when you roll over, especially toward the morning, you squash the belly, forcing the gas to travel, and announces it is morning by releasing flatus (farts, in Anglo-Saxon expression.) You can also imagine why most bowel movements take place after breakfast. You, males, can also understand why appearance-conscious young women tend to favor wasp-waists, while older women who have had pregnancies have relaxed abdominal muscles and tend to favor waste-concealing jackets and ballooning skirts. They have pot bellies, too, but they know how to hide them.

Originally published: Tuesday, April 09, 2019; most-recently modified: Wednesday, May 01, 2019