The Duke of Edinburgh plans to retire from his royal duties this autumn, Buckingham Palace announced Thursday morning, ending a night of speculation and worry that the palace was about to share news of far more gravitas.
So yes, at age 95, Prince Philip is retiring. He spent 110 days of the past year attending official royal events, which makes him the fifth-busiest member of the royal family, according to Court Circular listings and as reported by the BBC. And he will continue to support the queen. But as far as making appearances on his own, well, he’s stepping back.
He has no health issues beyond those associated with being a man his age, the palace said, prompting the BBC to reprint what he said on the occasion of his 90th birthday: It’s “better to get out before you reach your sell-by date.”
He’s always been quick to quip ― when a man at a royal lunch Thursday said to him, “I’m sorry to hear you’re standing down,” the duke replied, “Well, I can’t stand up much.” Precisely.
Of course we all age differently. But there are a few truths about being 95 that science and research can impart ― all realities that make slowing down sound pretty sensible.
About that standing thing
A person’s ability to transition from sitting to standing becomes critical as they age. Losing balance can lead to falls, which are the No. 1 cause of injuries and death among the elderly, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every second of every day, an older adult in the United States falls.
Balancing is also important ― and can be an indicator of stroke risk. Researchers at the Center for Genomic Medicine at Kyoto University in Japan asked about 1,400 people (average age 67) to stand with one leg raised and their eyes open for up to 60 seconds. Everyone got two tries, and the best times were used for analysis. Then they used MRIs to assess disease in the small blood vessels of the participants’ brains.
The researchers found that the inability to balance on one leg for more than 20 seconds was linked to having had tiny strokes or small bleeds in the brain.
You don’t taste food as well as you once did
Lots of royal duties involve food: entertaining heads of state, attending major events, throwing parties at palaces. By age 60, most people have lost half of their 10,000 taste buds. Of the four taste sensations — sweet, salty, sour and bitter — sweet and salty are pretty much the first to go, which is why many older people over-salt their food trying to make it taste better.
But don’t just blame taste buds, because the real culprit is likely the nose, according to the National Institutes of Health.
A person’s sense of smell generally declines when he or she is over 60. By the time they reach 80, about a third have issues smelling. Smell that declines with age is called presbyosmia and is not preventable or reversible. The number of sensor cells that detect smell routinely die out and, in younger people, are replaced. in older people, the replacement process does not work as well.
Now of course, for thousands of years, kings and queens have relied on food tasters to protect them from culinary harm. The Telegraph reported last year that Queen Elizabeth regularly turns the tables on this practice and would personally try the lunches prepared for her bodyguards to make sure they were up to her quality standards.
Prince Philip’s favorite dish is Gaelic steaks ― fillet steak in a creamy mushroom and whisky sauce. “He would have it on the menu every day if he had his way,” said Darren McGrady, his former personal chef, who also used to add a quarter-teaspoon of Marmite to the sauce. The duke also drinks beer with his meals rather than wine, even at official banquets.
We don’t know how his taste buds are faring, but his taste in food is still great.
Hearing does fail
Hearing loss can begin as early as someone’s 20s, but tends to be a slow decline and not really noticeable until your 50s. One in every three adults experiences hearing loss by age 65. By age 75, it’s one in two.
The duke was first spotted wearing hearing aids in public in 2014. The point was made that his need for hearing assistance was unsurprising at his age, particularly because he still makes regular appearances at events where he engages in conversation with dignitaries, politicians and members of the public.
“He has done remarkably well to be doing what he does for so long and not need them,” said Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine since 1999, said at the time. “Over the years it has been apparent when he has been out with the Queen that he has not been fully au fait with things going on around him and she has had to tell him. I think his hearing has been impaired for some time so it is just a way of improving his quality of life.”
Much was made of the fact that the duke wears the same kind of hearing devices that are available to the British public through their publicly funded National Health Service.
Older Americans with hearing loss wouldn’t be quite so lucky. With very few exceptions, Medicare doesn’t cover hearing exams, hearing aids or exams for fitting hearing aids.
Fatigue goes hand in hand with aging, but it’s been hard to say why. Some research suggests that feeling more tired as we age is a symptom of illness, medications or the obvious lack of a good night’s sleep. Fatigue is rarely seen as a standalone event without something underlying it.
While Prince Philip may be cutting back on attending events, he will maintain several positions as a patron, member or president of almost 800 organizations and will continue to be associated with them, Buckingham Palace said. That’s good, because as the National Institute on Aging reports, active participation in hobbies and social pursuits lowers the risk for dementia, increases lifespan and results in being happier.