It's that time of the year again for my annual aging complaint. While I am happy to be celebrating here on earth, I don't like growing older. As you read this column, I will be quietly observing the 57th anniversary of my nascent day. My discomfort with aging got into full gear a couple of weeks ago at Christmas. My family got together to exchange gifts and to catch up on each other's lives. Scott is opening a branch office for his computer support company in New York, Kristin is happy about a promotion, and Michelle is all excited about getting married in six months.
For my part, I told them about my abnormal psychology class that I had just finished teaching over the Internet and recounted to them some statistics that I found interesting. I mentioned that some studies indicate nearly 50% of those older than 85 suffer from some form of Alzheimer's disease. Since I plan to live to 100, I have a 50-50 chance of losing some of my mental faculties by the time I become a centenarian. Concern crossed my oldest daughter's face as she said to me, "You aren't going to cause me any trouble when you get that way, are you?" I was taken back by her comment and was still adjusting to her first comment, when she added, "Also, don't wear flannel shirts; you'll look like an old man."
I've adjusted to growing older, albeit not real smoothly. Bifocals, graying and thinning hair added to an ever-increasing list of aches and pains have sensitized me to the reality of aging. The possibility of becoming senile isn't something that I have considered, and made me think about what can I do to stave off any reduction of my mental faculties.
Here are some ways that you and I can reduce the likelihood of becoming senile:
1. Reduce stress. By reducing stressors in your life, you reduce the potential for many psychological and medical problems. Stress can bring on many illnesses and will exacerbate all other illnesses.
2. Exercise daily. A generally recognized target for cardiovascular exercise is 80% of your heart's capacity. To determine that rate, subtract your age from 220. Then multiply that number by 80%. That will give you the number of beats per minute that you will have to reach after you get your doctor's approval and you get into shape.
3. Keep your mind active. It has been proven that an active mind is far less likely to experience the cognitive disorders associated with Alzheimer's. Get on-line, surf the Net, read, paint, learn a musical instrument. Don't wait until you retire. Start today.
4. Address medical problems. It is critical that we maintain good physical health or else we will also put our psychological health at risk. Therefore, if we do what we can with addressing physical problems, we will go a long way in staving off possible Alzheimer problems. In addition, watching our weight and cutting down on saturated fat, exercising daily, and quitting smoking would also be helpful.
5. Enjoy life now. Don't wait for some future time when you will enjoy life. Live life right now. You don't want to put off enjoying life until you can retire to the lake. There are no guarantees in life. You can't assume that you will be there to finally kick back and have the time of your life.
6. Don't wear flannel shirts. While at first glance, this admonition doesn't seem a serious one. However, if you avoid dressing dowdily, you will avoid growing older faster. I am not suggesting that I will go out and buy a pair of Doc Martin's, but if you don't know that they are shoes, you are distancing yourself from the younger generation.
7. Don't act your age. Researchers have long noted that a person entering a nursing home quickly adapts to the prevailing level of activity-both physical and mental. Make a conscious effort to do something that isn't typical of a person your age. For example, learn a dance that is popular with teenagers, go to a movie once in awhile that is for younger people, or spend some time on the floor roughhousing with a toddler.
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on January 20, 2000.