6 Obnoxious Old People Habits (Explained by Science)
How many times have you gotten behind some large sedan going 30 mph on the highway, only to notice it's being driven by someone born during the Great Depression? Do you stop to say, "One day, that'll be me!"
Because it will. Science is busy understanding why old people are the way they are, and they've come up explanations for things like...
Some elderly types have a kickass sense of fashion while others stopped buying clothes just after Lyndon Johnson left office. But regardless of fashion sense, most elderly men seem entirely unaware that their waists don't move up and down their torsos like some kind of wrinkled slide whistle. Thus they wind up with their belt somewhere around Superman logo height. Why?
As you get older, your body goes through changes even more awesome than the ones you experienced in puberty, which is to say everything puberty gave you falls the fuck apart. Muscle and organ tissue in your body may begin to atrophy and you can start to lose bone density as well. This in turn reshapes you into the Play-Dohy thing the grandkids want to exploit for money at every major holiday.
He used to be 6'7".
One of those changes sees your body fat increase by as much as 30 percent around your abdomen (imagine carrying around a large dog all the time, wrapped around your midsection like an amorphous cummerbund of waist obscuring crap). Suddenly the place you used to jack your pants up to is simply not there anymore and you can't tuck your shirt in quite right. So most elderly men go with the next best option and pull the pants up a little over that hump and do them up there.
At the same time that you're developing your brand new pant-suspending gut, your ass vanishes along with your hips. You lose all body definition that lends itself to pants resting at the waist, leaving you a stick figure of pale, liverspotty flesh.
Combine both of those with the fact you can lose up to three inches in height as you age, meaning your old pants drag on the floor unless you pull them up higher, and suddenly you have a trifecta of factors that will draw your belt to your nipples as if they contained electromagnets.
Smelling Like Yesteryear
If you've ever been trapped in close quarters with a not-altogether-there senior, some place like the back of a Prius, an elevator or a changing room (who are we to judge?), then you may have noticed that olfactory treat resembling a hint of urine and mothballs with maybe some Old Spice and perogies thrown in for good measure.
While it's possible your grandfather has misread the recipe for meth and is trying to set up a lab, it's also possible he's fallen victim to the fearsome one-two punch of scent markers that prey on our elderly like ravenous stink hounds falling on weak members of the pack.
Accounting for the urine smell isn't entirely difficult. Reports say upwards of 53 percent of elderly people suffer some incontinence as a result of losing bladder elasticity with age, which in turn means you simply can't hold as much as you used to. As the detrusor muscle--the muscle that lets you write your name so neatly in all those snow banks--also begins to fail, so to does your ability to hold in your musky morning dew. The result is, sadly, the occasional splatter across the inside of your old guy slacks.
So don't worry; that 'urine smell' is just urine.
The other ingredient to our crusty old fella bouquet is much more exotic and potentially comes as a result of the psychology of being ancient. For whatever reason, the older you get the more you never want to throw shit out. Hoarding is actually a serious issue for a number of elderly people. They have a difficult time understanding that those stacks of newspapers from 1963 really aren't going to become anymore useful and are taking up valuable space that could be used to store Hummel figurines or pictures of people who are dead.
The issue with hoarding crap or just storing everything you've ever bought since the 70s is that shit gets musty and gross. The natural weapon against this, if you think like someone in their 80s, is to scatter mothballs about like fairy dust. Behold the solution to one problem and the cause of another. Suddenly everything grandma owns smells like it's been hidden in trunk since the Depression, only opened so that grandpa can add a tiny sparkle of whiz for zest.
Old people are pissed off and want you to know it. They yell at you to get off their lawn and get a damned haircut when you're across the street, wearing a hat. They seem to constantly be venting hundreds of years of pent up, decrepit rage.
But the reason goes beyond, "Being old sucks and they're mad about it." Most misdirected oldster rage comes from fear that results from their vestigial "fight or flight" mechanism. Nothing makes a person more fearful than seeing their bodily functions slowly shut down before their eyes, and there isn't exactly a way to escape from it. So "fight" is all that's left.
I'd kick my own ass if it hadn't disappeared five years ago.
It doesn't help that today's old-folks were raised at a time when it wasn't considered cool to talk about your problems in any kind of constructive way. You sucked it up and lived with it. If you committed suicide, they would literally call you a candy-ass in the obituary. Well, if you "suck it up" for 80 years it eventually just overflows onto everyone who walks past your house.
So despite how thrilling retirement sounds when you're 24 and planning on spending every waking moment of it drunk and naked in a kiddie pool; for elderly folks who wake up seven times a night to go to the bathroom, hobble around with arthritis and spend half their social security on food for a cat that pisses on all their clothes (see #5), retirement can be a long, drawn out frustration of building tension with no release and no control.
Though, even the source we linked above acknowledges that in some cases they were dicks before they got old.
So you're a kid, and your decrepit Great Aunt shows up in her nearly purple hair and a massive floral-print dress. As her support hose bunches around her ankles like the wrinkly legs of an elephant and she complains about another bout with the rheumatism, she'll arch her crackly back, lean forward to plant a kiss on your chubby, scared shitless cheek, and spread her massive maw, painted in classic Whore Red, to reveal quite the same shade smeared across her dentures as though this morning she had opted to have lipstick for breakfast rather than simply apply it as is customary.
What you may not have known at the time is that Granny Red Tooth wasn't necessarily insane or trying to start a new fashion trend, but is instead suffering from any number of neurological disorders characterized by shakes and spasms making it remarkably difficult for her to manage the application of that insanely inappropriate shade near her choppers.
According to research, over 10 percent of people over 65 suffer some manner of shaking. That means tasks as simple as the application of make up, eating with a fork or even throwing a ninja star accurately can be more of a chore than you'd think.
Combine that with eyesight problems beyond what can be fixed with a simple pair of old lady glasses, and it's easy to imagine how you can leave the bathroom looking like a bizarre combination of the Joker, and someone who just ate the Joker.
You may have noticed that grandpa always had a pocketful of butterscotch candy. No, it wasn't so he could entice bag boys at the local supermarket to reach into his pants. Indeed, there's a reason the vast, slow moving, creaky army of elderly people insist on keeping that massive lead crystal bowl of ribbon candy until it has melded into one giant, sugary art installation on the coffee table.
As you age, the sense of smell and taste tend to fall by the wayside, giving up on your rickety frame and jumping ship before they go down with you. Smell goes much more quickly than taste, but since the two are so closely linked, and by virtue of the fact that smells interact with receptor cells to help you fully understand the actual taste of what you just ate, when they leave you all you have left is a basic understanding of the taste of sweet, salty, sour and bitter.
Elderly people tend to choose sweet as the taste of choice, since it's the most pleasant, and also because scientific evidence indicates old people with pants full of salt licks are often assaulted by deer and left confused and disheveled at local malls.
Driving at Walking Speed
It's interesting to note that old people driving skills bare a striking resemblance to objects approaching the speed of light. Physics tells us that the closer you get to the speed of light, the slower time goes until, presumably, time would hit a dead stop. Likewise, the older people get, the closer their driving speed gets to being slow as shit. We can theorize that the oldest human in the world, if placed behind the wheel of a car, would somehow be able to burn an entire tank of gas whilst going absolutely nowhere.
This sad state of affairs is actually caused by a delightful stew of decrepitude faced by all of us as we age. From the top down, elderly drivers get to experience a variety of ills like glaucoma and macular degeneration which cause eyesight to degrade; thus limiting their ability to gauge what's coming on the road ahead. Hearing loss further kicks you in your old guy crotch by taking out another sense necessary for drivers to be fully aware of what's going on.
Ignoring the road would be dangerous if they were actually moving.
But worst of all, the rest of the human body follows suit. Age takes its toll on the muscles and nervous system, causing a lack of flexibility and slower reaction times. Knowing your reactions are slower makes it seem like the outside world is going terrifyingly fast.
Thus your grandfather is now deathly afraid to go above 30 mph, knowing he can't see or hear what's ahead or behind him and can't get out of the way fast enough even if he could.
So when you're late for work and get stuck behind one of these guys, and swear out loud that you'll never be a slow driving, high pants-wearing, hard candy-sucking Yoda, just remember: at your age, that's what they said, too.
"I'm you! From the fuuuture!"
For more rational explanations for irrational behavior check out 5 Douchebag Behaviors Explained by Science. Or find out about what scientists have to say about your junk in 6 Sex Myths as Explained by Science.
And visit the Cracked.com Top Picks before you get too old and crotchety to care.