Some activities are bound to be more difficult as we get older. Recently, there was an article on Sixty and Me about older women finding cycling difficult. Until about seven years ago, living at the seaside, I swam every day between April and October. Even on working days, I parked at the seafront before going home and swam between groynes at length.
During my life, I have had four dogs and actively engaged in walking them two or three times a day. In 1995, I took early retirement from teaching and suffering from stress and anxiety and was recommended a yoga class. I continued with yoga until around 2017 and only gave up when getting up from, and down to, the floor became difficult.
My balance having suffered the results of severe arthritis in hips and knees, my lovely yoga teacher would give me a chair. Interestingly, my first appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon included being asked to touch my toes.
Laughing I folded myself double and placed my palms flat on the floor at which point he said, ‘well there’s nothing much wrong with you’. My supple body, the result of 22 years of yoga, was disguising the fact I had seriously advanced osteoarthritis.
Furthermore, I have always done all my own decorating, gardening, self-assembly of flat packs and upcycling items from the local tip. My partner and I enjoyed touring holidays in Scotland, France and Italy, and we explored castles and chalets in The Loire, walked round the Isle of Capri and visited many venues at the Edinburgh Festival.
In the month of March that I became 70, we visited Auschwitz and walked the whole extent of this enormous complex. Around this time, a friend asked why I was limping, something I wasn’t aware of. Investigations followed but operations were not possible for health reasons.
About four years ago, the arthritis spread to my hands, a worry for a writer. However, my teaching career included assessing dyslexic students in colleges and universities, and I therefore knew about voice recognition (VR) technology.
While our students were recommended the latest version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, for my writing, the most up-to-date software was not essential. I obtained version 11 on eBay for £35, installed it on my computer and haven’t looked back since.
One tip: Before trying someone else’s VR, be aware you train the software to respond to your voice. You cannot use someone else’s VR.
About three years ago, I began struggling with shopping. I lived halfway up the hill and on the first floor of a Victorian building. Even if I used the car, I couldn’t then carry bags upstairs. My partner lived in a separate flat at the top of the building. During the pandemic, we shared online deliveries, him carrying the bags up the stairs.
Life was, however, getting more difficult. Three to four years ago, I bought a cheap second-hand mobility scooter. I began to tootle around my home town and a common conversation began with, ‘I haven’t seen you for ages…’
This scooter completely changed my life, although, amazingly, some people are disdainful. I was also encouraged to apply for a blue badge, giving me access to a disabled parking space in car parks. This is something else some are reluctant to apply for. But my aim has always been to live a normal life.
Eventually, I sold my flat on the first floor and moved nearer to family in a retirement block with a lift and a manager. There is parking for mobility scooters and charging points. My move has enabled me to go further afield with daily trips along the seafront.
I have two wheelie walkers, one with a seat and one with a pocket for transporting items to and from the car or scooter. A new acquisition is a lightweight scooter for car journeys and aeroplanes. I have also recently bought a larger car with a view to having a hoist for my scooter, which means I can travel further afield and will be indispensable on road trips. (Please note that for people on benefits this equipment can be obtained through charities and social services.)
Occasionally, I’m reminded of a friend who, seeing me on my scooter, gave a pitying look and said, “How depressing,” to which I answered, “Not at all. I can now lead a normal life,” adding “my brain still works!” She was not convinced.
If you are tempted to feel the same, please read articles in the Saturday Times by Melanie Reid a paraplegic since her horse-riding accident.
I am writing this to encourage anyone finding their mobility decreasing. If walking is becoming painful and stairs well-nigh impossible, moving house may be necessary. Since relocating, I made new friends my own age. I am frequently at the cinema and theatre. Although attending a yoga class is not always possible, I can recommend a book, Chair Yoga by Christina D’Arrogo.
Recently, I obtained disability benefit and now have reduced ticket prices at theatres and cinemas. I am also starting a Master’s in Creative Writing at my local university and have applied for the Disabled Students Allowance.
I swim at a local health club on off-peak membership two to three times a week which compensates for my physical inactivity. I am constantly campaigning for disabled access to venues. A Facebook advertisement for one venue appeared several times and every time I commented, “Have you resolved the disabled access yet?”
I’m delighted to say that after three or four replies, my last comment received the answer that “We now have a scooter, just phone and we will book it for you.” If a restaurant or pub doesn’t have a disabled toilet, I always mention that in my online review of the place, and never return.
I am not one of those people.
And . . .
I hope this article means you won’t be either.
Have you found your mobility is impaired as you have grown older? If so, how are you coping? If you are disabled, how do you keep yourself active and fit? Can you join the campaign to get equal access for disabled people to all venues? If you are able-bodied, please ask about facilities. Do you have experience of physical disability within your family or friendship group?