In my 20s, if I thought about my body at all, it was about my hips and my bum, to wish that they were a bit narrower, a bit higher. My body was an entirely aesthetic concern, its functionality was so much second nature to me that it deserved barely a second thought: it ran, it cycled and swam, dropped me down to the ground to scoop up a dropped wallet or pick up a baby, balanced me with ease on the most precarious of ledges. But my late 30s signaled the coming storm in a brutal way. A ripped cartilage put me out of running-swimming-cycling action for six weeks and I was shocked at the speed with which I gave up doing things. A trip to the shops was a pain, so I drank tea without milk. I couldn’t be bothered to go out to the pub, so I stayed in. I chose to work from home, I receded. And I simultaneously developed, to my surprise, a grudging empathy for my aging mother’s lack of desire to travel beyond the safety of her home.
Over the past four years, whilst developing our production The Lounge with theatre company Inspector Sands, I have been researching older age - talking to a wide spectrum of people who work with, or live with, old age; people in the bracket of ‘younger old’ (those over the age of retirement) and ‘older old’ (those over 85-years-old), gerontologists, geriatricians, health practitioners who interview people in their oldest age and in the last year of their lives, epidemiologists, researchers into ‘health trajectories’; and those who work at the cutting edge of technology for older age.
And of all the fascinating conversations I have had, what has stuck with me personally is the need to look after those two parts of my body I rarely thought of before. Health in old age is complex, a web of interrelated concerns - our decline is rarely attributed to one isolated disease or accident. But balance is key. The first fall is a harbinger - if an older person falls, they are likely to fall again - and the fall is what takes most people out of independent living and into care.
I am not a medic, I am drawing on the story I am left with after multiple conversations. Our feet are messengers, telling us what we need to know in order to keep our balance, and, together with our stomach muscles, allow us to adjust that balance. Maintaining these little considered parts of my anatomy may be the saving grace of my old age. Either that, or I should take classes in falling, and fall, like a baby over and over again into my old age - each time, falling better. Lu Kemp, director of The Lounge
The Lounge opens at Soho Theatre, Tuesday 25 April – Saturday 20 May 2017.