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carole freeman The Globe and Mail

Looking back over the past 20 years, my golden age has slowly turned into a Band-Aid age. This is a friendly warning for all the up-and-coming baby boomers who are about to join the seniors. You definitely need a useful extended health plan, a dental plan, semi-private hospital insurance and a respectful relationship with members of the medical profession.

How did it all happen? In my 60s, having just retired from teaching in special education, I was full of vigour. I threw myself into my volunteer work. I decided to improve my French, did ikebana, took in the arts at the National Arts Centre, enjoyed horseback riding and entertained during the party season.

Eventually I took on the computer, or rather it took me on, which made me realize I had to keep my brain sharp even if I was at times frustrated. Computers, they keep you humble; it demands a degree of discipline.

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But all in all it was a golden time. Mind you, a few glitches turned up, but my stiff hip was replaced as well as the knee a year later. Rehab was challenging, for the knee especially. In the end I could return to all my activities.

The use of Band-Aids started in my 70s. I seemed to slow down - everything was taking longer. The magnifying glass, besides the spectacles, became quite useful to read theatre programs and directions on bottles (Band-Aid 1).

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The menus I chose to cook became less nerve-racking. None of this "is the sauce going to curdle?" or "is the dessert going to collapse?" I became conscious of time and energy. The new hip and knee complained if I stood too long peeling vegetables. It was listen to your body time, so sensible shoes when entertaining became de rigueur (Band-Aid 2). I told myself to stick to foolproof dishes and prepare well in advance - put the soup in the freezer, and offer meringues, strawberries, cream and yogurt to create your own dessert.

As the years went by, the aging process continued. The eyesight and the hearing diminished. The joints got stiffer despite the daily walk or exercise class. The toes complained more and needed little supports (Band-Aid 3). The chiropodist had to be visited (No. 4). The tensor stockings to support the legs and improve circulation were added (No. 5). The cataract was removed (No. 6). The words "excuse me" were used more frequently as hearing declined.

I began to wonder when another Band-Aid would be introduced. But I felt well and people told me I looked good. I found less time to read and decided to reduce my volunteer work. I did my regular exercise classes two to three times a week and walked four to five times a week, even if they all took a bit longer. Actually, the walks took the same amount of time but the distance somehow got shorter.

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The French classes with a private conversation group kept my brain going. The computer became less of a trauma, and looking up information on the Internet and sending e-mails became a daily routine and was fun.

Then I hit the 80 mark. Celebrations went well, a family reunion was enjoyed and I received the usual, "You look very well."

But I had trouble following some conversations and even plays in the theatre. I said the words "excuse me" too often. So I gave myself the push and asked for Band-Aid 7, a hearing aid. I am happy to use it to hear soft-speaking friends, lectures at a conference and the odd TV show.

The next concern was poor sleep. I felt sleep deprived and said to myself, "Okay, sleeping through the night is passé." My doctor decided I needed a sleep-clinic test.

Three months later I went for a "sleepover" at a clinic. The experience was quite a challenge for the technicians besides me. I was wide awake for most of the night. Being wired up so they could monitor my sleep was tricky, particularly when I needed a bathroom break.

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Another three months later I had my second chat with the sleep-clinic physician. I had difficulty believing that it wasn't my twitching legs that caused my sleep deprivation, but sleep apnea. A second test was booked.

This time I was set up with a mask and wires. The result left no doubt in anyone's mind that I needed the mask to keep breathing correctly at night. So a sleep-apnea machine became Band-Aid 8. I learned to cope and now wear it nightly after finally getting used to all the rigmarole. Slowly I noticed the benefits - deeper sleep, fewer bathroom breaks at night, less twitching legs and more energy.

I am thankful for all the care and patience the medical profession has had with me. Fortunately, in the past five years, government insurance and my extended health plan paid most of the major bills.

People tell me I look well rested and have not changed a bit. I don't tell friends about the Band-Aids I use, though. I smile and thank them for the compliment. I feel pretty good at 81, and hoping it stays that way. I think eight Band-Aids are enough.

Lelia Sponsel lives in Ottawa.

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