Ann on Aging
February, 2005 - Issue #5
"To sleep, perchance to dream, ay, that's the rub." Sleep has been the topic of many poems and plays throughout the ages, as the dear Bard said so aptly in "Hamlet." And sleep seems to be the one thing most of us do not get enough of.

My family and friends have been convinced over the past months that my mind is aging much more rapidly than my body since I can't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, let alone what happened last week. I recently read a book I had read a year ago and didn't realize it until the end. That's about the time I called my trusted physician Dr. T. (Joseph Terrazzino) and insisted I needed my life back. He listened as I sobbed out my symptoms: forgetfulness, no motivation, insomnia, depression, inability to focus, and weight gain. "Sleep apnea," he said, "You may have sleep apnea," and wrote out a referral to a sleep specialist.

The overnight sleep study was bizarre. I arrived with my blankie and pillow, was wired from stem to stern and told to sleep. You've got to be kidding! Well, to shorten this all too long epic, I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea (my numbers were off the scale, over achiever that I am), and am now wearing a c-pap to sleep in. No, it's not a fancy teddy from Victoria's Secret, but a bizarre machine that forces air into your nose as you sleep; the whole apparatus is held in place with elastic bands. The look is unique, a cross between Darth Vader and Jacques Cousteau. The proof was in the wearing and the first night I wore it I couldn't decide between pajamas or a wet suit and fins.

There is a reason behind this sad tale, and that is to make you aware of this all too often undiagnosed disease that can have very serious health consequences if not treated, including increased risk of heart disease and stroke. It is estimated that over 15 million people have sleep apnea and while it is more common in men, it increases in women after age 50. One in four women over 65 has sleep apnea, which is characterized by snoring, interrupted breathing during sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Sleep apnea is caused by a blockage in your windpipe either by tonsils, uvula, or even relaxed throat muscles. Now I understand. As we get older, everything gets weak and either falls or doesn't work; bladder, boobs, buns, men's unmentionables, and now, throat muscles. Doesn't that just warm the cockles of your aging, drooping heart?

There is hope, however. In addition to wearing a kinky little c-pap, I am now more motivated to exercise and my metabolism is speeding up (leading hopefully to weight loss). I guess it all comes down to exercise and healthy eating. I say this with tongue in cheek and homemade toffee in mouth. Naive that I am, I thought our later years would be on cruise control. We made it through our toddler, adolescent and teen years, no easy feat considering most of us boomers were in college in the late sixties and early seventies. This was an incredibly challenging time for us and the world. We were liberated. We smoked pot, burned our bras, went to peace rallies, Woodstock, saw our friends go off to Vietnam and not come back. We grew up in a generation unlike any before us. And, after weathering this, marriage, child-rearing and climbing to the top of the corporate ladder, these should be the easy years. I sure feel cheated, don't you? Somehow I have this feeling that when I go in search of Golden Pond it will have shrunk into a Love Canal. Interesting, isn't it, that there are thousands of books available on child rearing, the best careers to develop, areas to raise your families, and how to be successful. I have yet to see many realistic books about aging. Tell me, would you pick up a book titled, "You've had the Best - Now Suffer Through the Rest?" How about, "I'm Sorry I burned My Bra, Because Now I Really Need It!" We're constantly bombarded by television ads for Levitra, Viagra, Detrol (gotta go, gotta go), Depends and Ensure. Sadder even is the fact that there are not "old" people in the ads. They are like you and me, and that dear friends is really scary. In fact, it can be down right depressing. It wasn't too long ago that the guys all carried condoms in their wallets. Wow, if you were a guy that was so cool! Check your guy's wallet now - you may find Viagra tucked inside. Back then, girls giggled. Now many of us women can't laugh too hard because we really do pee our pants.

I always thought we just had two choices, make the best of it, or just continue whining. I now know we have three, and I choose the third, I'll make the best of it and whine all the way. The choice is yours, so take your time, and sleep on it if you wish.

P.S. Join us each day for our walking club. I guarantee you'll sleep better! You can e-mail Ann at
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