I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Becoming older but better

Tulips, sky, tree
Last Monday my friend Judy and I headed off to the Tulip Festival in Skagit County, something we've done many times before. This is the latest I've been to visit the tulips and we were still early, with the majority of the tulips either at the beginning of their bloom, or not even open yet. It didn't rain on us, but it threatened to all day, giving us plenty of dramatic shots like this one.

We strolled through the gardens and enjoyed the early morning light playing on the tulips. W arrived at the tulip gardens just at the gates opened to the public, and perhaps fifty people where there with us. By the time we left, just after noon, there were long lines waiting to get in, even on a weekday, the Monday after Easter. I was really surprised, but it was partly because we've had so much rain lately that I think people were doing just what I was: taking advantage of a break in the weather.

I'm really getting tired of the incessant rain, and that's saying something. I can usually do just fine with a bit of rain, but we have had the wettest winter since I moved here almost a decade ago. I've learned to enjoy and appreciate the rain, the cool and glorious summers, and the lovely change of the seasons. In Colorado, where I used to live, sunshine was a given on the vast majority of days year round. When we moved here, it was wonderful to enjoy the difference. But this year, I'm ready for a change from dreary skies and mud puddles.

One thing I've learned to do well is exercise in the rain. My closet is filled with rain gear of every sort, and I make use of it all: raincoats, rain hats, rain pants, gaiters, waterproof boots and walking shoes, you name it, I've got it. One thing I am not willing to do is stay inside because of the rain, as I am one of those people who is addicted to exercise. It turns out that this may be a really good thing to be addicted to.

Recently I read an interesting New York Times article about how to become a superager. A "superager" is defined as someone whose cognitive brain functions remain youthful, rather than declining, in old age. The author of the article, Lisa Feldman Barrett, studies superagers to figure out what makes them different from other people. It turns out that part of the difference is the degree of effort they expend, either physical or mental, helps to keep the brain from deterioration. From that article:
The road to superaging is difficult, though, because these brain regions have another intriguing property: When they increase in activity, you tend to feel pretty bad — tired, stymied, frustrated. Think about the last time you grappled with a math problem or pushed yourself to your physical limits. Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment.
I have experienced that "yuck factor" of having pushed myself to my physical limits on many a hike with my fellow Senior Trailblazers. It never occurred to me that it might be good for my brain to do so, but it seems to be the case. I'm hoping that in pushing myself I'll keep my mental faculties sharp (or sharper than they would be otherwise). I doubt that I'll be solving many math puzzles or taking up tournament bridge, because I don't have the desire to do so. The article, though, closes with this intriguing line:
If people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain. All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it. So, make a New Year’s resolution to take up a challenging activity. Learn a foreign language. Take an online college course. Master a musical instrument. Work that brain. Make it a year to remember.
The one thing that really scares me about getting older is losing my memory. I follow a couple of bloggers who are dealing with dementia or Alzheimer's with their life partners, and their struggles are very enlightening. How would I deal with it? In this country we don't offer many options for our loved ones, other than caring for one's spouse at home, or eventually sending them to a nursing home until they finally pass away. Anybody who has been to a nursing home knows how awful they can be, although they vary in quality, often depending on what one can pay.

Recently I have been following Carole, who writes about her struggles with her husband's dementia on her blog, One of Life's Little Surprises. She is a gifted writer who brings to life the daily difficulties that she faces. At the end of this month, she has an intake session with a gerontologist, and I hope that there will be some medication that might make Carole's life a bit easier. I can't help but put myself in the same situation she's in, because it just might happen, either to me or to my own partner. What would I do? I used to think it was easier for the person who is mentally slipping away, but her blog has convinced me otherwise. It's hard no matter which side you're on in this awful scenario.

Years ago, I mentioned to my regular doctor at my checkup that I was concerned about forgetting things, about whether my cognitive decline was normal or not. She gave me a series of tests to see how I did, and I was surprised by some of the questions she asked. One thing she did was to recite to me a list of five things and asked me to remember them for later. I was able to recall four of the five at the end of the session, but it surprised me how hard it was to dredge them up out of my memory, after only a few minutes. She showed me a picture of a clock and asked me to tell her what it was by the hands of the clock. The hardest of all, for me, was to count backwards from 100 by 7. That was so hard for me that I went home and figured out how to do it: I could count backwards by 10 (easy) and then add 3. Not that it did any good for the test at the moment I was taking it.

She told me that, although I did have some problems, basically my memory seemed intact. It was a relief, but now it's been more than a decade and I figure I should probably do those tests again. I'll bet they are available online somewhere or other. It is hopeful to me to remember some of the difficult hikes I've been on lately and think that maybe they are benefitting me in ways I couldn't even imagine. Now that I think about it, all of my hiking buddies are pretty sharp mentally; maybe it's a side effect of our trudging up a mountainside, grumbling all the while.

One thing is certain: that every day that goes by is one more day to either enjoy one's life or experience regret for not having lived it to the fullest. I intend to spend some time every day giving thanks for all that I have received, and spend some time spreading it around. I do hope that you realize your own importance to your loved ones, and I'm hoping you count me among your virtual family. I certainly feel that way about you, dear reader.

Another post written, another day about to begin. I wish you all good things until we meet again next week.

15 comments:

Linda Myers said...

I think my brain is still intact, but I'm afraid to take a test!

gigihawaii said...

Well, I drive, I cook, I clean, I write a blog -- so maybe I am okay for now.

Elephant's Child said...

I think that dementia is one of the cruelest illnesses. For the person who has it, and for those who care for them.
It is certainly one of my biggest fears, since my illness can 'eat' the brain.
And hooray for anything which can stave it off.
Have a wonderful week.

Marty Damon said...

What a nice note to end on! And now I'm regretting canceling by bi-monthly work scoring the written portion of the Massachusetts teachers' test. It required such deep thinking and I was paid a pittance.
Still, I am working on my third book, so maybe that will help keep the brain juices flowing.
Now where's that crossword?

Gigi said...

You are most definitely part of my virtual family - one of the immediate members too!

Have a wonderful week.

Dee said...

Dear DJ, it's been so long since I've read one of your posting. And in reading this one, I remembered so well that your postings always taught me something or made me think or helped me resolve some query within myself I'd been grappling with. And thus it happened again today.

I've been aware that at 81 my thinking is not so sharp. Realizing that, I've thought of studying Classical Greek again. I've always loved to learn languages and I studied it a number of years ago. So now, having read your posting on what helps our brains stay active, I will begin once again to do something I enjoy--meet thoughts in a different language. Thank you.

Now, per the posting I wrote and published today, I need to watch that I don't start trying to control my study. That I go with the flow as you always seem to do. Peace.

Marie Smith said...

The memory issue is a fear of many. Forgetting where you parked the car is one thing. Forgetting you have a car is another thing entirely. Exercising the mind and body go hand in hand. One day at a time seems like a good idea in more ways than one.

Have a great week, my blog sister!

Red said...

The first part of your post about challenging yourself physically and mentally is well researched and reported. Yes, yesterday was my first bike ride of the year. It was scary how hard it was. My tires are low so when I blow up tires it will be easier. I know I have problems remembering five things. Maybe I should practice. Keep on challenging yourself. I've dealt with some friends recently who are faced with dementia challenges. It's not easy.

Arkansas Patti said...

I follow Carole also and as hard as it is on her as the caregiver, it is also brutal on her husband. It is just an ugly disease for all.
I would have flunked counting backwards by 7 for sure but I will remember your clever short cut if I ever face it. Thanks.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Thanks I now know how to do the 7's...that is a tough one. I am getting more forgetful all the time. Peoples names and names of things...eventually I will come up with it ...but it takes time. I hope you have a really good week with lots of sunshine:)

Linda Reeder said...

Well, I do work on my physical health. Hard work is something I have always managed. But I am worried about memory loss. I think it is the usual stuff - forgetting names and the names of things like plants and places. I do work several puzzles in the newspaper each day, and I read news and political editorials each day.I'm working on it.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Yes a partner with early but noticble dementia has arrived but I also have to keep Buddy as stimulated as possible since Alzheimer's is known to appear earlier in Down syndrome adults. It will become more challenging in time. It seems some of us just get more challenges but really we all try to find ways to manage. We must.
My newest brain challenge is to learn some Spanish. I joined Babble and lessons are going well at the beginner level. Hope you get some sun soon.

Mary said...

Please send some rain to Florida! Serious drought here. I loved your post and read the superageing article and it was very interesting.
If you find the online test somewhere, please post it. Memory loss is always a worry as we age and the dreaded fear of dementia.

Rita said...

I have never been good at remembering names, dates, addresses, and the like--ever. So I might not realize I have dementia--just like it takes me a day or two to realize I have the flu because I feel like I have it every day, regardless--LOL! Kind of scary. I don't even have people around every day to tell me whether I'm losing my marbles.

Actually, it might have been a good brain idea to take up the intimidating challenge of learning how to run a serger sewing machine--with no instruction booklet. Have to use the grey matter to search online for solutions and information...and learn a new skill...or a new machine, at least.

All that exercise you do in your various groups and classes is a benefit in so many ways!! :)

Carole said...

Thanks DJan for the mention of my blog and your kind words. You are so right! Live each day to the fullest and no regrets. My hubby and I have had a good life, and I still find moments we can laugh, smile and enjoy together.