RECOMMENDED NEW YEAR’S READINGS
Perhaps because a new year is just beginning, I’m coming across a flurry of stimulating new articles on agile aging. Here’s a sampling for your possible interest and follow-through.
Jacob Epstein reviewed “Elderhood” by Louise Aronson in the Wall Street Journal:
….This is a serious, useful and important book. According to a study cited by Dr. Aronson, life, so to say, begins at 60. “Data from the United States and Western Europe confirm that most people are around sixty before they achieve levels of well-being comparable to those of twenty-year-olds, and rates climb thereafter.” Arriving at 60 and beyond presumably brings freedom from worry, lessened depression and anger, a firmer sense of one’s self and what one values, greater contentment and happiness….
“Elderhood” is a book with an argument. The argument is that older people are misunderstood and thereby often mistreated by the medical profession. Most physicians, reliant on science and determined to cure even to the exclusion of their patients’ well-being, fall back on surgery or drugs. Too often surgery and hospitalization, Dr. Aronson argues, are not the answer for older patients; and drugs that might be effective on younger adults can have deleterious effects on the elderly. Health professionals tend to concentrate on the body exclusively, when among thee aged one’s situation in life and past experiences can be crucial…
Some of the cards determining the length of one’s life are dealt at birth, but far from all. Nurture in the matter of longevity, according to Dr. Aronson, frequently looms quite as large as nature. “How and when we age, and how we experience that aging, also depends on our environment, coping mechanisms, health, behavior, wealth, gender, geography and luck.”
When asked for the recipe for a good old age, Dr. Aronson provides a list of four items: “good genes, good luck, enough money and one good kid, usually a daughter.” Not at all a bad list, though I’d alter it slightly by putting “luck” first and last on the list, both times in boldface italics.
Joseph Epstein, “‘Elderhood’ Review: The Way We Age Now,” Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2020
Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin riffs against conventional wisdom on memory loss:
I am 62 years old as I write this. Like many of my friends, I forget names that I used to be able to conjure up effortlessly. When packing my suitcase for a trip, I walk to the hall closet and by the time I get there, I don’t remember what I came for. And yet my long-term memories are fully intact…This is widely understood to be a classic problem of aging. But as a neuroscientist, I know that the problem is not necessarily age-related….
Short-term memory contains the contents of your thoughts right now, including what you intend to do in the next few seconds…It’s easily disturbed or disrupted…Our ability to automatically restore the contents of the short-term memory declines slightly with every decade after 30. But age is not the major factor so commonly assumed….In the absence of brain disease, even the oldest older adults show little or no cognitive or memory decline beyond age 85 or 90. Memory impairment is not inevitable.
Some aspects of memory actually get better as we age. For instance, our ability to extract patterns and regularities, and to make accurate predictions improves over time because we’ve had more experience….
Experiencing new things (for example, aromas) is the best way to keep the mind young, pliable and growing – into our 80s, 90s and beyond.
Daniel Levitin, “Memory Need Not Fail Us,” New York Times, January 12, 2020
Jane Brody is one of my favorite columnists. Her Personal Health column has been published weekly in the New York Times since 1976:
….I’ve long been a stubbornly independent do-it-yourself person who rails against any infirmity that gets in the way of my usual activities. For jobs I think I should be able to do myself, I typically resist asking for help. But I finally understand the importance of accepting and adjusting to a “new normal” now that my aging, arthritic body rebels against activities I once did with ease. Like sweeping and bagging the leaves around my house, tending my garden, preparing a meal for company, hosting house guests, walking several miles, even visiting a museum for more than an hour.
I now fully understand that a successful life is not necessarily the perfect one I had imagined it would be as I got older. Rather, it’s a life that rolls with the punches, adapts to changing circumstances, and makes the best of the here and now. It’s a lesson I should have learned decades ago. I should not be measuring myself against some ideal or what might have been.
Instead, I must learn to accept my limitations, ask for help when I need it, and pursue only those activities I can handle with little or no pain. I must learn to say “no” when I know in my heart that “yes” would be a miserable mistake. Pride, I’m beginning to understand, really does go before a fall. (Of course, I realize that accepting the chronic limitations of arthritis, however debilitating, is not the same as facing a deadly disease.)…
I’ve already adopted a few small uplifting gestures. I try at least once a day to do and good deed and say something nice to an acquaintance or total stranger. I say hello and smile at all the children I meet at the Y or on the street while walking my dog.
Jane Brody, “When Life Changes, Embrace the New Normal” New York Times, January 21, 2020.
Finally, here’s an affirmation from Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen (aged 66), defending her determination to pursue a new senior passion of song-writing:
How does it feel to be taking on a new challenge at this stage of your life? To say yes to something brand-new when you’re not young is a really interesting thing to do. Our society doesn’t encourage that. You’re encouraged to try new things when you’re young, and then nobody says that to you anymore at a certain age. I did get a little pushback. People said: “You already have a career. Why are you doing this?” Because my heart is desiring it so fiercely I can’t ignore it. If you’re lucky enough to be alive, why would you creatively kill yourself off? Why not say yes to all of it at any age?
Bruce Fretts, “A Musical Detour in the Acting Life,” New York Times, January 11, 2020