First, a warm welcome to new subscribers AND a heartfelt 'thank you' to those who let me know what sorts of topics you want to see in the newsletter. I shall include some of these each month.
This month has two topics for your consideration:
1. Balance. Two women in the doctor's waiting room were discussing their mothers. Both mothers are in their 80's and although 'quite sharp' the daughters were concerned because each had problems with balance. One needed a walker and the other a cane. And still they had some falls.
So unnecessary! Since the 1990s we have know the cause and the remedy for both poor balance and of increasing frailty in old age. But few people are informed by their health care professionals.
CAUSE: after age 40, we lose about 1% of our balance each year. In our 60's many experience an increase in falls or near falls. By the time a person reaches 80 s/he has lost 50% of balance. 'Sarcopenia'or weakening of muscle strength also starts in
our forties. If it not reversed we become frail as we age.
BUT this does not have to happen!. Back in the 90's researchers from Tufts University did studies of balance and strength training with nursing home residents. At the end of just 10 weeks, all participants improved both strength and balance. Some who were in wheel chairs or walkers were able to 'graduate' from them. So we know that balance can be regained and scarpenia (muscle weakness) reversed....if a person will work at it.
The www.anti-aging-articles.com web site offers you some pages with the specific exercises suggested by Tufts researchers. These
exercises are easy - especially the ones for improving
balance. No equipment is necessary. (I do them while waiting on line at the check out counter!).
I am not sure if your health care provider has spoken to you
about balance exercises - if not (and you are over age 45) please consider reading those pages on the web site...so you are not falling more as you age or having to use a cane or walker at age 82. (There are exercises on the site for improving strength too.)
2. Aging and losses. Some readers asked about the losses that come with age: loss of our role at work, loss of friends to
relocation or death, loss of health, loss of political power and/or community prestige. Such losses are real and the anticipation of them is one of the things that make adults dread aging.
I do not intend to diminish the pain that changes in our lives can cause but I do want to offer a reflection that might be helpful in 'recasting' our losses.
Every transition to a new stage in life means 'giving up or losing' some things....while gaining others. Young children need to give up 'playing all day', 'being dressed by others', having few worries about money etc. as they mature into adolescence. As they transition from adolescence to adulthood need to give up some non-conformity, their teen age rebellions, their lack of responsibility. All these are losses of things that are 'part of their life'. But without these losses, they can not move onto the next stage of human development.
Yes, we all felt such changes BUT because our Society values adulthood as the height of human development, people 'push on'
and focus on the desired goal of BEING AN ADULT. The losses
are there but the goal of adulthood outshines them.
But in our culture ADULTHOOD is seen as the apex. And there
is a sense (held even by professional counselors) that ADULTS are the most important, most powerful, most responsible group in society. This bias towards adulthood makes moving beyond
adulthood appear as the great loss. So much of the literature, so much of the work of agencies focuses on the weakness, loss and needs in old age. This bias towards the characteristics of adulthood makes the normal transitioning into our next stage of human development feel like a 'becoming less than'. And with little social support for the new abilities that come with elderhood, our losses take on larger dimensions. (Unlike toddlers who have lost 'speed creeping' for the slow, tottering progress of walking)
This sense of growing old as being a down trend is NOT TRUE in societies where Old Age is valued as much as (and sometimes more) than adulthood. (Read the Blue Zones - book review on the web site) and you will see that in those societies where adulthood is NOT exalted above all other life stages....where Elderhood is valued as the ultimate goal in human life, the losses that come as one enters this new stage are balanced by the sense of gains....just as with other life transitions.
Finally some researchers are beginning to get glimpses of this. The NYTimes recently reported that researches found that people grow happier with age. Most are happier at 75 and 80 than they were at 45 and 50. Others have found that the brain of elders, specifically the amygdala, develops in new ways that makes it possible for person of age to offer 'wiser' decisions than teens or adults - it appears the old saw of 'age and wisdom' has physiological basis.
One of the reasons why I started pages about elderhood on the web site is just so we can explore and focus on this later stage of human development...and to try to give it some prominence. If we see its great benefits, then the losses will become more like the losses of childhood as one becomes an adult.
Think about it. Elderhood is an opportunity to explore and develop parts of yourself that the burdens of adulthood did not allow. Some people develop a new independence after the death of a spouse [yes,a hard loss]; others like Elizabeth Layton [on the web site] discover and develop a whole new aspect of themselves.
While adults may rule the corporate world - and corporations still have immense power - there is a whole new social framework
developing.....in business 'retired entrepreneurs' are adding to the economy. On the local scene retirees are building new networks and serving social needs, and the world of the arts is now supported by the over 65 age group.
Yes, there are losses. Goodness I am aware of many in regard to my health, loss of power at my old job, the death of friends. BUT I have found that when I can keep the image and power of Elderhood in the front of my mind, these losses become
part of 'transition' into a glorious new stage of human development. No, I do not manage to do that all the time - it seems every time I have to interact with institutions
dominated by adults who still think that 'adulthood is the most' and aging is all about need and decline, I need to come home are read some authors who really value old age.
Hmmm. A long reflection. I put a 'gizmo' on the web site that allows readers to add more stories of 'great elders' or their own reflections about the qualities and meaning of this life stage that comes after adulthood. I encourage you to use the Elderhood section of the web site...and to contribute
to its development.
Our generation can do this. It may be one of our best
contributions to the adults coming along behind us.
Thanks for reading...until next month,