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  • The best parts of getting older

  • What's the most difficult part about getting older? My husband might answer that question by saying, "Staying up past 11 p.m."
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  • What's the most difficult part about getting older? My husband might answer that question by saying, "Staying up past 11 p.m."
    Or on days where he's spent too much time in some form of heavy yard work, he would say, "Morning aches and pains." In fact he might say that for several days in a row if he'd really over-extended himself.
    Today I would answer it with "increased forgetfulness," because this morning I made oatmeal cookies but failed to add the baking soda. It was my mother's favorite cookie recipe, and she made it lovingly and often; she would never have forgotten the soda.
    I forgot the vanilla too — I think it was because I was distracted by a call from a dear friend whose husband was having significant health problems. That's another of the difficult aspects of getting older — counseling friends and family in a health crisis. Or maybe it's when you yourself have major health issues, even harder when loved ones who can see you through that crisis are not readily available.
    Research suggests that the most difficult part of aging is "lost control." Loss occurs at every stage of life but, as we age, those losses, little and big, occur more frequently. We lose vision, hearing, ready recall of names and places, the ability to move about flexibly and easily, with stamina and energy. We lose a loved one. The ability to accept and adapt to those losses and life changes is what determines the quality of life we will enjoy as we age.
    So let's focus on those needed adaptations. Let's begin by turning the original question upside down. What's the best part — the most "joyful" aspect — of getting older? For many enlightened elders, it's a feeling of greater self-confidence — being "unleashed" if you will. You've stopped apologizing for your foibles, and you're more assertive about how and with whom you spend your time. You're more contemplative but also more inclined to ask for what you want without apology or reservation.
    Our feeling of positivism and our resilience and willingness to adapt to change and loss is tested as we age. Research can tell us what's going on in our aging bodies and brains, but then it's up to us to seize control. The prestigious Journal of Neuroscience (March 2012) profiled a research project that paired younger and older subjects in a virtual "making breakfast task."
    It critiqued the changing nature of the "executive function" in the older adult's brain. The participants were asked to prepare six foods that had to finish at the same time. Not surprisingly, the older subjects took longer to complete the task. They reportedly "persevered in setting the table for breakfast when they should have been engaged in cooking activities."
    But the important part is that the "making breakfast task" got done, isn't it? Young and old subjects made the required breakfast; the older subjects just took longer. But I'm absolutely sure their table settings looked exceptionally beckoning.
    Without apology, and assuming I have enough flour in the house to start over with the cookies, I plan to do that right now. Full attention to task. They will be delicious. And I intend to eat more than one.
    Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.
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