three aged women with restless legs syndrome standing together surrounded by blooming purple flowers

Aging With RLS: The Lady in the Purple Hat

We’re all getting older. This is a shared human experience - whether we want it or not. Caring for my grandmother as she gently floated to the magnificent age of 98 and two thirds, I became aware that older people seem to be more exaggerated versions of their younger selves.

If they were generous, the generosity blossomed. If they were bitter, the bitterness thrived. But the same was true for physical ailments - creaky knees needed more oiling, labouring lungs needed more inflation. I believe the same is true for restless legs syndrome (RLS). Aging does us no favours when it comes to twitchy legs.

Aging with RLS

There is a beautiful piece of prose called “The Lady in the Purple Hat” by Erma Bombeck, which eloquently describes the evolution of body image and aging in women. But I think with a little bit of over-generalisation, it can be adapted for RLS – for men and women alike.

Age 3: We wriggle and jiggle without an ounce of awareness that anything is amiss. Everyone just wafts around us and life is a mystery.

Age 8: We notice the wiggling and jiggling from infancy seems to be lasting a little longer than our peers and “just keep still” is a daily moniker. Everyone else is busy and life is fun.

Age 15: We wonder why we’re so different from all our friends. How come they can chill out when they’re all watching Netflix and eating ice cream and we can’t relax? Everyone doesn’t like me and life is a drama.

Age 20: We’re so busy studying, working, finding partners, looking for shared connections, and staying up all night to watch the sunrise come in, that we don’t have time to focus on yet another bodily sensation. Everyone is here for a good time and life is exciting.

Age 30: We see our friends and family relaxing at the end of the day and wonder why we have an incessant need to just keep moving no matter what. Daily exercise and stretching become essential and life is busy.

Age 40: We feel exhausted and worn out by the daily marathon and start to wonder, “Will it ever end?” The world is filled with commitments and cares and life is frustrating.

Age 50: We go in search of the truth and start to experiment with solutions that might bring about a sense of comfort at the end of the day. The world is a funny old place and life is a journey.

Age 60: We learn the ins and outs of all the ailments that afflict us and how to manage the signs and symptoms each day. We’re a day older than we used to be, a day younger than we’re going to be and life is good.

Age 70: We wonder if this is a manageable condition and what we can do about containing the consequences of the restlessness. We’re grateful for every breath we have and life is a gift.

Age 80: We find acceptance in the way things are and just go along the restlessness by taking a nap any hour of the day that respite is an option. We accept each moment as it comes and life is peaceful.

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