Some fans have urged me to write more about aging. It is a rich topic, especially for one at my age (88). I offered my general thoughts on the matter a couple of weeks ago, but that was the tip of the iceberg, so to say.
Every aspect of aging seems to have three components—physical, psychological and social—and they’re all interlinked. There’s a very thorough and intimidating treatment of this on Wikipedia. Read it while you have your late afternoon cocktail. (Why do all discussions of aging always recommend easing off the booze? They totally ignore the psychological and social benefits.)
So today I want to talk not about dementia but about mental deficiency as it creeps up on you. This is normal yet disturbing. Myself and many friends have experienced loss of short-term memory. You know, forgetting your keys, the last name of a friend, where you put something. This is so common that it’s unremarkable. Yet it upsets a lot of us.
Often when you’re trying to recover a forgotten name it will come back to you a few moments later while you are thinking of something else. So your memory is still functional; it’s just taking its time to sift through all those long-unused cells in the mental library.
And sometimes the name or the word doesn’t come back. Well, calm down and search out related aspects of the word on Google. This will often trigger an association that can make the connection and turn your light bulb on. The usual fear and distrust of technology in elders is well-placed. But you have to learn to make tech work for you. I talked about some of the problems here in “Computer-Assisted Headaches.” We elders have to stop being intimidated by technology and learn simply to ignore what we can’t understand.
Keeping your mental alertness is key to solving many problems of aging. I have IBS, a too-common bowel disorder. So I complain again to my doc, who says that after all these years “you know more about this than I do.” I’m skeptical but as I experiment with treatments, nostrums, remedies natural and unnatural, I find some success in dealing with it. And I use the internet a lot.
Bottom line: your apparent loss of mental (even physical) control can often be compensated by using what’s left of your brain.
What we all worry about is keeping our mental acuity. Well, you’re never going to keep the edge you had at age 20 or 30. After 70, we all decline, so what can help? The usual advice is to exercise more, learn a new skill, play games and solve puzzles, dance, meditate, eat a good diet, and so on.
I think the most important way to keep sharp is to involve yourself regularly in a mentally challenging activity you love. For me it’s writing; for someone else it’s hiking or volunteer work or cooking. When you feel depressed, anxious, irritated with someone, or too isolated, don’t give way to it. Get back to something you really treasure doing.
That’s not just a bromide, folks. Example: when the blues take over, I turn to the music I love and I can regain an equilibrium from that. We need to remember to engage with the things we love.