Gerontology and What They Didn’t Teach You in PA School

July 11, 2017

By Rachel Jarman, PA-C

Rachel Jarman, PA-C
Rachel Jarman, PA-C

My PA program did a series of lectures on gerontology. We learned what to anticipate as our patients age… what was normal and what was not. At the time, I never expected to apply any of the teachings to MYSELF. These changes of aging occur in old people, something I was never going to become. Sigh. Well, they only touched on the big things. It turns out that there are one million changes that occur long before a person is eligible for discounted suppers at the local Denny’s. And they also did not cover in any of my lectures how adding motherhood on top of everything else increases the rate of aging exponentially. So this is just a public service announcement for anyone who wishes to know the TRUTH about what it is like to turn 30 and beyond. And for those of you already rocking your 40s, 50s and beyond, I salute you! It is no small feat to carry on through each decade with your shoulders back and mind intact. Here are 10 things that PA school didn’t teach me about getting old.

  1. Halitosis- No matter how much brushing, flossing, or rinsing that happens at night, your morning breath will bring tears to your partner’s eyes. Yes, gangrene is a distant second to your morning breath after you hit 35.
  2. Comedones- While I once thought this was the worst for teenagers, my life experience taught me that acne is not reserved for prepubescents. It can actually develop much later in life. Great!
  3. Aches and Pains- I literally have a stiff hip every morning. I stretch, I limp, and eventually my gait returns to normal after about 3 hours of warming up.
  4. Embarrassing jokes- This is a real symptom of aging. My humor makes my children cringe. They will actually give me a blank stare after I enjoyed a sidesplitting laugh session. I can’t pinpoint the exact time when I started telling “Dad” jokes but they should be called “Parental” jokes.
  5. Apathy- I literally don’t care what people think. At the last AAPA conference in Vegas, I was wearing a cotton Kimono from my room, through the lavish lobby, to the pool. Bad hair, don’t care. The younger folk had on stilettos with half-thong swimsuits, full hair and makeup on fleek, and more power to them! I do not let the social situation dictate my attire. This is actually a plus about aging. You kind of earned the stripes to do what you want.
  6. Hypertrichosis- Remember the bikini line that was always to stay tidy? That line has spread down to my inner knees. Shaving time increases significantly.
  7. Existential Crisis- I always thought that philosophy and pondering life was a thing for my early 20’s. Nope! The meaning of life and the other great questions seem to become more prominent. This can be a distraction from other important things, like getting your children to the bus stop on time.
  8. Fashion- Um, has anyone else noticed those teenyboppers wearing my rolled up jeans from 1987? Rude! Growing up, my parents would say “We wore that back in the 60s!” I’d laugh and give them a sympathetic look. Now I feel personally affronted every time I see a neon pair of sunglasses or a scrunchy. The nerve!
  9. Nostalgia- Old people like to talk about stories from their past. Fondness for the past is an early symptom of aging and I will not apologize for starting a sentence with “remember when?”
  10. Appreciation- I think that I appreciate and am grateful for my opportunities and loved ones more now than I ever have. This is one symptom of aging that I will cultivate and hope that I overflow with gratitude by the time I hit 40!

This is obviously a VERY abbreviated list.  Getting older has its moments. The goal is to do it gracefully with kindness. What things surprised you about aging? What should we add to PA programs to make sure their lectures are complete? Let me know!

Rachel Jarman, PA-C, is Supervising Physician Assistant at HealthPartners and president of PA Trek Coaching in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Contact Rachel at [email protected].