Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Grandfather

My Papa turns 91 in one month. Everyone describes their grandfather as "the oak". When I was in junior high I wrote a short story about him called "Bringing down the oak", which I think I lifted from a Wall Flowers title.
He is not the most loving or the most important or the most wise member of the family. He is not the pillar or the tent pole. Nothing will collapse with him. But he is the oldest. He is the link to history. I feel that link strongly. He was born in 1918, not one month after WWI ended. He was raised by his grandparents. He was told stores about his great-grandfather Daniel Boone Stover, who was captured by the Confederates, and who escaped. It was a great story that he was told and made to live through by the telling of the story. And he told the story to me and made me live it also.
Papa is not dying. But he is loosing himself. My stepmother calls it phase I dementia. In this state, you still recognize your relatives. You still are aware of what is going on. You are aware that you are looseing your mind. You have a breif window to come to terms with that. Phase II is not so nice. Legally, it is also the point beyond which a relative can do anything to acquire legal status over finances, bank accounts, wills, etc.--if that stuff has not already been taken care of.
I talked with him recently. He said he has been having bad dreams. I kept talking about the fact that he was bothered by bad creams. I asked him what happened in these dreams. He said that there are people who he does not know, and he is traveling places he does not want to go. That's all the detail I got out of him. This from the man who doesn't leave his house to visit relatives on Christmas, who has never flown in an airplane. If I believed in the spirit world I might have gotten chills as he described this to me.
The brain unravels. Entropy dictates that is must. Thought, self, memory, imagination, soul--it cannot last forever in its solid, recognizable state anymore than than any form of energy can. I concede God may exist, but an afterlife. Entropy seems to forbid it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What does age measure?

When I frist heard about these "real age" tests I thought it was just another Internet hoax to get you to visit a webpage.

I was home last week for by dad's birthday. He is 67. He recently took one of those online "real age" questionares, and was thrilled to learn that he is actually 47 and 1/2 years old. Over the summer he had to go to the hospital for a kidney stone and when the nurse asked for his age he replied 47 and 1/2 years old. To my dad's great pride, the nurse believed him said the chart needed correction. Fortunately his wife was there to pop his bubble.

My dad has always prided himself on his health. He still skis and sails as actively as he ever did. In West Virginia, people tend to age hard due to obesity, smoking, drinking, hard labor jobs, probably some mine polution in the mix as well. So he tells everyone about his new, younger age.

Just before his birthday, he bumped into a high school buddy who walked with a cane and wore a pace maker. The guy complimented my dad on how good he looks. My dad told him about the "real age" results. The guy looked at him and said, "I took the same test. It said I was 88."

Entropy Law applies as much to our bodies as to any physical thing. I havent researched any scientific studies that have measured entropy's effects on the body, but we see the precepts in action in everyone: the more we push our bodies to do greater quantities of work, at greater speeds, with less rest, the sooner the body will no longer be functional as a conduit for energy, i.e. death. Stress is a little understood bodily function, but it must be the telltale sign of sped-up entropy in our bodies.

The other lesson entropy has for our health is that there is only so much medicine and technology can accomplish to prolong a vital life, or life in any capacity. The body will break down--reversed or stopped aging is impossible if entropy means anything. Will more advanced technology be able to slow aging down significanlty? I doubt this as much as I doubt advanced technology will permit our society's energy expenditures to remain as high as they are now without polution or other negative effects. There is no free lunch.

The trick to a vital life into the 100s is to start slowing entropy's passage through your body as early as possible. There is no magic to this: eat well, excercise, avoid wear-and-tear on the body, avoid drugs (which must act as entropy speeding agents).

What does our age tell us then, other than how long we've been around? Not much. The guy with the pace maker is 67, just like my dad, but what good it that when he is living the life of my grandfather? Maybe these "real age" tests are on to something.