Ethel said it best in my play ‘The Last Sentinel.’ She and a group of women are talking about the aging process. There are aging bodies, sore muscles and lapsed memories but the worst, Ethel declares, is ‘growing old between the ears.’
I wrote that play several years ago and I’m three plays past it now. But my observations remain as keen today as they were back then. When I listen to some of my old classmates, past acquaintances and a few neighbors I realize that we collectively live in two very different worlds. They seem to have clung to their old surroundings like some sort of security blanket. New, different, changed, and improved are foreign ideas and threatening concepts to them.
Ethel was talking about old people in a nursing home but the same philosophy holds true for other generations as well.
Simply by chance and without even trying, I’ve come across a number of older gentlemen who have decided that they are going to clear-cut their own pathway to the future and it doesn’t include following their doctor’s advice. For whatever reason, they’ve decided to show their independence and stubbornness against medical facts. My observation is that this trail blazing into medical fields unknown doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But they seem intent on forging their own way into their physical future. I’ve been there on the sidelines before watching relatives go through the same self-directed dance with the devil. The outcome isn’t always very pleasant.
Aging seems to hit men particularly hard. Perhaps it was the machismo culture many of us were exposed to growing up. Sports in school, the military, too many John Wayne movies, Playboy magazine and other cultural phenomena that all conspired to paint a picture of muscle and brawn, girls and gold, sex and satisfaction; all without the harsh reality of the real world hovering in the background.
Women seem much better equipped to cope with the aging process. They have friends and clubs and social engagements that lesson or share the burden of getting old.
According to aging expert Helen Kivnick, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, the experience of later life is determined partly by biology, partly by history and partly by society and culture. Baby boomers are constantly bombarded by anti-aging propaganda. From wrinkle creams to collagen injections to cosmetic surgery, we are encouraged, cajoled and intimidated into believing that with the right attitude and pocket book we can live forever or at the very least look like we are going to live forever. Those afro-mentioned old men seem to believe that their stubborn attitude will carry them through – to what – I don’t know.
In truth, the worst part of getting older appears to be ageism – the intolerant attitudes of some younger people toward seniors. So how to beat it? I think the only answer lies between your ears. It’s your attitude and aptitude to take on new challenges, create new pathways into areas you find interesting and finally it’s listening to your doctor when he tells you to act your age but have fun in the process.
The best old age elixir is to keep moving in whatever direction suits you as long as it contributes to your physical and mental health. It’s keeping friends and family close and negative folks far away. It’s celebrating life itself on a daily basis.