What’s Missing In The Lives Of So Many Older People?

Recently, I provided a link for a 60 minutes video relating to people in their nineties. Millions in federal funds were used for research that provided the basis for the video. The purpose of the video was to peek into the lives of the “oldest old”.

Hosted by Lesley Stahl, it was generally well done, but typically, it omitted something important. (I’ll get to that in a bit.) So here is what I learned from the retirees and the research in the video:

*A few retirees took food supplements, but that was not the norm.

*They liked their alcohol and desserts, drove their car, played bingo, and performed group chair exercises.

*They were generally happy and had fun.

*Mental and physical decline was evident.

* Lesley Stahl asked one couple about their sex life. They were embarrassed and didn’t want to talk about it. Why should they —  who cares? What if they asked Lesley about HER sex life?  (Why is it okay to speak to elders as if they are brain deficient children or morons?  The question is not appropriate. Their sex life is nobody’s business.  It was condescending and not cute, It was damn disrespectful. It makes me mad as hell!)

So, what was missing? After all the federal research funds committed to understanding what makes old people tick, there was nothing about preventing decline. No credence was given to the reality that if you don’t use it, you will lose it!  

The decline of retirees starts with our retirement system that grants retirement to those 65 or younger. At age 65, most people are tired of work and look forward to living a life of leisure. That’s okay, but under the cover, it’s diabolical. Typical retirement is an early death sentence or a life of misery for many who did not sufficiently pre-plan. Decline sets in early and it’s insidious. It takes over your body so slowly, you don’t notice. You don’t realize what has happened until it is obvious.

Before retirement, in addition to having a financial plan, plan how you want to spend the next 20-30 {or more) years of your life. Many life longer than expected! Have a plan that includes moderate recreation and activities that keep the brain firing on all cylinders. Staying busy with daily chores doesn’t count very much because they don’t require deep brain activity. Your plan may not fully come to life, but if even some of it comes to pass, that’s a huge win.

You may know of Sarah Oliver, a woman who paid retirees in a retirement community in California to knit handbags for sale. In effect, those retired women (and one man) became entrepreneurs, and most importantly, they came back to life. Their faces lit up, and they had a new confident demeanor. They had to THINK and produce. They had a new purpose in life beyond bingo and playing cards. They had to fire up a dulled, sleeping brain, and they loved it. But, unfortunately, the government got involved and shut down the operation because Big Brother decided that what Sarah Oliver was doing was not fair to her workers. Government requirements and benefits were not provided.

Most people at age 65 are still young. Tired and sick of work? Yes. But they can usually control their lives. At retirement, they should be encouraged to get into and stay in an exercise program until the end of life. But that’s not what happens! Aging experts don’t suggest exercise until you are worn out from having fun. By that time, you are too tired to even think about exercise. When you get to age 90, it is not the time to try to force an inactive body to work out on a Total Gym or other exercise equipment. You buy a Total Gym before or when you retire. Even then, you may find simple exercises are hard to do,  but it’s easier than if you try to start to use the system at age ninety.

As for diet, given the pressure we are under to buy and eat junk advertised on TV, you have to take the bull by the horns and do independent research on what constitutes superior nutrition that will support your mind and body until the end. It’s not complicated — it just requires determination and the realization that if you live the way the general culture lives or says you should live,  you may become one of those older adults who drag their brain (what’s left of it) behind them.

It is true that however much you do to stay vibrant and healthy in your oldest years, CRAP WILL HAPPEN in one way or another, usually the result of an inherited deficit. In my case, scoliosis has finally caught up with my back. So, no, I will not have surgery — I will use my Total Gym to build more strength to overcome my genetic deficits.

You may not know that Star Trek adventurer William Shatner is now 90. He has sleep apnea, but it has not kept him from WORKING. During the Medicare sign-up period, he was on TV pitching Medicare services. He currently hosts  “The Unexplained. ” Work doesn’t kill us; we kill ourselves with the way we live and think.

I am in accord with Dr. David A Sinclair, Ph.D. who posits in his book, Lifespan: Why We Age — and Why We Don’t Have To that aging, referring to the passage of time and not chronological age, is a disease, primarily a result of how we live and think over the years. If you put together all the pieces of how we live our lives, you conclude that he is right. Too often, we are our own worst enemy. Please, stop thinking about how old you are. After you are done having babies, chronological age is a meaningless and useless number.

We need the will to take charge of our lives while we can do it. Get Sinclair”s book and read it. You will be thrilled to know there are so many simple things you can do, that have a considerable payoff long term. Devastating mental and physical decline is not inevitable. We all can make our lives, especially our older years, more joyful and valuable for ourselves and others by thinking and acting ahead early on in our lives. The good news is, if you haven’t done that, please don’t despair. As long as we are alive we can make positive changes if we have the will to do so.

 


It’s Barbara’s 93rd birthday!

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The birthday girl

 

L to R: Pat, Barbara, Bob, Pat’s husband

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Zenobia L Silas-Carson says

    Barbara I feel Horrible to have missed your birthday, and let me say this, you look WONDERFUL@ Such a beautiful inspiration! You are so loved and so appreciated by many and I am one of the many! Belated birthday blessings to you my friend!

  2. Gale Phelps says

    Happy Birthday, Barbara! You look vibrant! I love your articles. I have had two years of dealing with injuries. I was a very active person when I was 71. I swam and did water aerobics twice a week, I walked and kayaked a lot in the summer, I snowshoed and snowmobiled in the winter, rode an indoor bike when the weather was bad. I’m a gardener. All that stopped when I fell on ice, Christmas Eve 2020. I had just celebrated my 72nd birthday and was so looking forward to winter activities. I broke my shoulder and pelvis. Had to learn to walk again. I did a lot of PT and still do exercises at home. It has been a slow recovery and I have put on quite a bit of weight. I have had to get over my fear of even walking in the snow and ice. It has been a fight! I never felt old but I do now. My arm still can’t move in certain ways and my back hurts every day. I take my supplements and try to eat as healthy as I can. I walk inside now, 1/2 mile a day. I won’t give up! You are an inspiration!! Thank you!!!

    • Gale, I am so sorry to hear about your injuries. You really have a LOT to deal with and you are dealing with it very intelligently.  I understand the fear of falling and the frustration of feeling you are not making enough progress. You can only do what you can a day at a  time. We have to accept that it’s going to take time to heal. Just keep working diligently. Please don’t feel you are “old” because you are NOT! You have experienced a “glitch” in your life and as long as you are alive, healing progress can be made every day. I know about “glitches”. I have painful scoliosis which has compromised my balance, but I will keep exercising and do what I have to do to keep moving.

      I want to doubly encourage you to watch your weight! When we are not as physically active as we used to be, the pounds can pile on. One of the biggest diet culprits is carbs — especially hidden in so many recipes.

      Stay strong, patient, and determined. Gale, you can and will beat this no matter how long it takes.
      Barbara

      P.S. At your age, you are just a baby compared to me. Don’t allow “age awareness” to creep into your internal dialog.  And thank you for using the “comments” feature. Telling your “story” may be more helpful to others than you realize.

  3. Dear Barbara, Another inspiring and informative article, written with humor! Came at a much needed time for me as I’m surrounded by lots of seniors that are overweight and out of shape. I start to believe that’s how it is when we get old, just part of life.
    Your words are a wake up call to continue
    being an outlier.
    Happy birthday you look beautiful!
    Warmly, Rustine

    • Rustine, thank you soooo much for your kind words. I agree with David Sinclair that mental and physical aging is a disease. Youth is free — you don’t have to do anything to keep it. Young girls exercise to stay slim but give it up as they age, and that’s unfortunate. We can enjoy so many youthful and powerful benefits as time goes on if we work at making an effort to keep youthful attributes. Being overweight doesn’t just happen because we’ve reached a certain age or our metabolism slows down. Obesity happens when we substitute junk for real food, ( boxed meals with highly processed, low nutrition ingredients), and when we fail to understand the truth of USE IT OR LOSE IT.

      Continue to be an outlier. The benefits of doing so are outstanding. Women may not like you for thinking differently or for making unconventional decisions, but that’s okay — you are the winner.

      AND, Thank you for the warm birthday greeting! I appreciate it!
      Barbara

  4. Joyce L Shafer says

    God bless you, amazing Barbara! What a gift you are to so many.

  5. Elane Moonier says

    I so much agree with this! Age is just a number by which we constrain ourselves. Forget the numbers and live the life you want! Stay busy with things you always wanted to do but didn’t have time for before you retired. This is the chance for a vibrant life full of adventure and excitement. Embrace it!

    • Barbara Morris says

      Elaine, YOU GET IT! Thank you so much for expressing your opinion. SO MANY women (and men) allow age awareness to rule and ruin their lives. YOU KEEP GOIN’ GIRL !!!

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