“To know how to grow old is the master word of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living,” says one wise man.
Better standards of living and higher education have prolonged life beyond the proverbial ‘three score and ten,’ Youth in its contempt for old age may call it “second childhood,” but this can be a new and wonderful chance to grow, develop, and set forth on a voyage of rediscovery.
Times are changing. Science and Technology have gifted health and longevity to the aged. Better eyesight is ensured by Intra-ocular lens replacements and Laser surgery. Clogged arteries are treated with angioplasty and by-pass surgery. Hip surgery and prosthesis encourage physical activity. Drugs and vitamins put that youthful spring into elderly strides. So, the elderly have no excuse to be “feverish, selfish clods of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making them happy.”
Age is a quality of mind. Human beings can be young at 70, or old and bent at 30. Age is not reckoned in years or graying hair. But a person turns old when he feels no zest for living, no interest or curiosity in one’s environment, and no desire for adventure.
Age is not something to be terrified about, nor retirement to be considered the end of the world. Planning for this chapter of life, must begin well before retirement. There should be a determination to make every day worthwhile. Retirement ensures a great deal of freedom. One is no more tyrannized by the clock or job constraints. There are no deadlines to meet, and no colleagues to compete with. Dropping out of the rat race enables one to seek a deeper understanding of the meaning of life. However, this does not mean inactivity or idleness. Such a lifestyle would lead to boredom, loss of self-confidence and pity.
Dealing with retirement in a constructive way, and budgeting one’s time intelligently, calls for a five-point formula.
BE CONFIDENT. Taking care of our emotional health is just as important as taking care of our physical health. We need to hold on to our self esteem and appreciate our own worth and importance. How we think, feel and behave defines our ability to enjoy life. A positive outlook will help cope with loneliness, rejection, disappointments and ensure quick recovery. Making appropriate decisions about our lives, and also staying connected to family, friends and life around us is important. Many old people cannot build up self confidence to do this because they do not genuinely love themselves.
INTELLECTUAL ABILITY. According to Dr. Howard Chertkow, Canadian expert on Ageing, 80% of old people retain their intellectual ability till the end, though some develop mild intellectual impairment, and a small percentage have dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
There are three kinds of memory – Episodic (for special events), Semantic (for knowledge and facts), and Implicit (for skills and exercises done automatically).
The latter two do not decline with age. Even Episodic memory is stable till mid-60. But a drop after the age of 70, like misplacing one’s keys or forgetting to do something important is a normal ageing phenomenon.
Age related memory loss may be due to diminishing levels of dopamine which disturb chemical reactions in the brain. There is also a genetic component. Those whose parents had good memory, do better.
Multitasking however, may be difficult. It is better to tackle one job at a time.
The brain too needs exercising to keep it functioning well. Reading newspapers, books, solving cross word or sudoko puzzles, engaging in intellectually stimulating activities helps keep the brain active.
BE INTERESTING AND FLEXIBLE. Having a wide social network of friends of all ages is a definite advantage. This can stimulate exchange of ideas and friendly discussions, on topics of general interest. It also makes for good bonding with new friends.
Old people should keep abreast of contemporary issues. Those who read extensively for their own pleasure, are mentally more agile than those who are compelled to do so. Bibliophily opens up new worlds of literature, science, politics or history. Keeping the mind agile is to expose it to new stimuli. Psychologists believe that those who take an active interest in the world around them, have found the recipe for a long life. These people also show a higher I.Q, than those mired in self-pity.
Old people have vast general knowledge. They remember historical events and details of people and incidents which can be shared with youngsters. They can be good mentors to young people who seem directionless and confused in the present social milieu.
Mentoring grandchildren can be rewarding. One must be open to new ideas and trends and not stick to rigid views. Listening quietly and attentively will build confidence and trust. They will be more inclined to come for advice on their personal problems. Helping them grow into confident youngsters is satisfying.
Women who have retired from work or whose children have grown up can work as Mentor Mothers to underprivileged or abandoned children. They can take on the role of parent, teacher, guide or friend.
Having a spouse who stimulates one intellectually is also a great asset.
Joining a Senior Citizens group can be helpful. With travel concessions, it will be possible to organize excursions to interesting places.
BE ACTIVE. Aging is not a disease. Keeping fit through exercise can help maintain aerobic power. Walking is a simple exercise. Even 15 minutes of brisk walking everyday can be beneficial. Jogging, stretching, yoga, cycling, swimming, are other exercises that keep the limbs supple and the muscles flexible. The oxygen transport capacity of blood (oxygen delivered to the body at each heart-beat) is increased. Therefore, the brain also benefits. Mental alertness and performance improve. Those who exercise are about seven years ahead in cognitive abilities than those who lead sedentary lives. The aim should be to exercise regularly, but not too strenuously. Exercises should be planned, bearing in mind a person’s physical strength.
An eighty year old man Fred Kasch used to run an Exercise Physiology Laboratory in San Diego. He made a difference in the lives of old people through his exercise schedules. His follow-up spanning two decades, led him to the conclusion that only 1/3 of the body’s aerobic decline is due to old age. The rest is due to laziness and inactivity.
Regular exercises make one feel alive and full of vitality. It lowers the bad cholesterol in the body and reduces the risk of heart attacks, vascular disease and dementia by increasing the blood circulation. One must however know one’s limits and not drop down with exhaustion.
Cultivating interesting hobbies can also help to keep one active. Philately, gardening, painting, reading, music and learning to play a musical instrument, can bring hours of pleasure. The computer has opened up the world to home-bound people. Arm-chair travel to exotic destinations, chat sessions with friends or relatives, scientific discoveries, political news! All there at one’s fingertips! Many people begin to travel around the world, discovering new places and cultures after retirement, when family obligations are over, and there is time and money to spare.
Unfortunately, in India and other Eastern countries, inactivity is enforced on old people. They are considered fit only to keep their grand children amused. Sometimes they are overburdened with solicitude, at other times, they are neglected as non-entities. They may suffer from physical, psychological and economic abuse. About 33-47% suffer moderate abuse, and 19-42%,, severe abuse.
BE SOBER. At this stage in life, one eats to live. Moderation in drinking, eating, and smoking may be prudent. Current concepts of a healthy diet include fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
Sea-food is rich in Vitamins A, D, B, and minerals such as zinc and calcium. Sea-food is said to relieve arthritis, improve vision, keep the immune system tuned up, and prevent common skin ailments.
Limiting meat and fat, cutting down on salt and sugar, and taking plenty of fruit and vegetables, can heal aging bodies. “No love is sincerer than the love for food,” says Bernard Shaw. But over-eating and obesity can hasten aging. Fatty foods also cause strokes and brain damage.
Heavy alcohol intake causes red blood cells to stick together in wads. These clog capillaries, and cause atrophy of clusters of brain cells.
Age is no hindrance to sex. Old people need not feel restricted by the attitudes and prejudices of others.
Aging makes one vulnerable to diseases like Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease. Mini strokes affect blood flow to the brain and can cause dementia.
Periodic health check ups are important. One must discuss with the doctor details about the medication prescribed, and find out about side effects. Some drugs may have adverse effects on the brain.
BE PREPARED. Life is a journey with an end. In the evening of one’s life, it is important to come to terms with death, dying and after. Faith in God is a buffer against stress, and is linked to a long and healthy life. The hope and optimism offered by religion, has a positive effect on one’s immune system. Peace with God and one’s fellowmen, makes the final exit easier.