Alex Beam

Growing older, not better


Tom Brady is ageless.

The rest of us, not so much.

Mother Time tapped me on the shoulder recently, in the form of an Important Birthday. Put it this way: I am now as old as Julius Caesar would have been had he lived to see his son appointed the last Pharaoh of Egypt. You do the math.


Aging ain’t fun, but, in anticipation of this moment, I have been collecting some of its more delectable depredations.

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Real Life Example I: Last summer I was standing in a field with my twenty-something son, who remarked, “Those cicadas are deafening.” I couldn’t hear a thing, although I could hear the sounds of cars a half-mile away.

This is because, as The Scientific American has explained, “As we age, our ability to hear high-pitched frequencies wanes.” This is called sloping loss, or ski-slope loss, because of the way the shortfall registers on an audiogram. I have since had my hearing checked, and, in a nutshell, Lindsey Vonn could have a heck of a run on my results.

Get a hearing aid? Are you kidding? Those are for old people!

Real Life Example II: During a recent haircut, my barber jammed his electronic clipper deep into my ear. “You know, after 50, the hair just comes sprouting out of there,” he said.


Yuck! But that’s not the half of it. Starting around age 50, gravity starts to compress your spine at the rate of four-tenths of an inch every decade. It’s not that Grandma looks like a gnome, she is a gnome!

The American Association of Retired Persons recently reminded its members that ears and noses grow and droop as you age, but the upbeat oldsters’ pressure group emphasized the positive: “Such cartilage growth [in the ear and nose] may have evolved to enable people to track and funnel sounds and smells as they age.”

Or, in my case, not.

The AARP is a fountain of good news about the Golden Years: “Part of your brain circuitry starts to burn out with age;” “Bladder tissue contracts and expands less efficiently as you get older;” “metabolism typically slows up to 5 percent per decade;” “You may have trouble seeing” — okay, we get the point.

By contrast, they are very bullish about oldsters’ sex lives: Compared with seniors surveyed in previous decades, “70-year-old men and women were much more likely to be sexually active, to report being in a happy relationship and to have a positive attitude toward sex.” And they aver, without much evidence, that “we’re pretty happy.”


Not me. Dyspeptic then; dyspeptic now; dyspeptic forever.

My health plan loves to send me cheery news like this: “6 Ways Your Body Gets Better With Age.” Here’s one: “Your Skin Gets Better — In Some Ways.” Oh, really? Yes! Less chance of acne. “And as for wrinkles,” my plan explains, “from a dermatologist’s point of view, they can actually be a boon.” According to Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Julie Karen, “If you need to have surgery, such as for skin cancer, it’s easier to hide a scar under a wrinkle.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Alison Gopnik, a grandmother, recently published “The Cognitive Advantages of Growing Older.” Her point seems to be that people my age aren’t as mentally agile as we used to be. So-called fluid intelligence — reasoning and problem-solving ability — “decline[s] precipitously in older age,” she writes. But our store of knowledge, “how much we actually know,’’ remains more or less intact throughout or lives.

I should be heartened, but I’m not. My conclusion is that I’ll take forever to solve the crossword, and bore young people with my never-changing repertory of purportedly revealing experiences.

So be it. But I wish I could hear those cicadas again.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.