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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Healthy Aging

Lyn MacBeath, Rie’s 
eldest daughter,has 
asked to be an invited 
guest for this blog,

Rie is a shining example of someone
who has adapted and evolved as the
years have passed.  I will use her as an
example of healthy aging from  a
psychological perspective
I am honoured to celebrate Rie’s 88th birthday by writing about healthy aging from psychological perspectives. It’s an ideal time to reflect on my amazing mother especially because turning 88 - double ‘8’ - is an auspicious age in some Oriental cultures, and a remarkable amount of life experience in anyone’s books.

Rie is no stranger to adversity, she has made the most of her life and done her best to share her time and wisdom with others.

As each decade of her life has passed
Rie has continued to engage, grow,
learn and teach.  Lifelong learning has
been a major source of her passion
and enthusiasm each day. 
I am a physician who has specialized in psychiatry, a branch of medicine devoted to promoting mental health in the course of treating mental illness. I’ve been interested in how to age well for as long as I can remember and worked in the field of geriatrics for a number of years. I’ve learned the most about aging from my family and my patients, not from textbooks. My paternal grandfather was a teacher who delighted in showing me ways he was adapting to aging, including his worsening memory. Before he’d leave the house he’d recite: “Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch,” to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything, (while making the sign of the cross with an impish expression on this face). My maternal grandmother loved to read her favourite books to us. I was caught up with how archeologist Arthur Evans discovered Knossos on the island of Crete. And how Farley Mowat peed around his campsite to let the wolves know - in language they’d understand – that this was his home, not theirs.

Rie uses walking sticks
when she is outside to
give support  and maintain
 balance. They also give
 her upper body a workout 
My grandparents modeled how to savour what we can do, to see the glass as ‘half full’ despite the inevitable losses that come with aging. We shared giggles and a sense wonder. Becoming old could be a grand adventure. Imagine what life could be like having years of life experience and knowing who you are.

Gerontologists recognize two skill-sets to be developed in the process of healthy aging. One is ‘successful aging’ and the other ‘conscious aging’. Successful aging is about adaptation to diminishments, allowing us to continue to do the things we have enjoyed doing through our lives. Conscious aging is about inner growth, promoting ‘being’ more than ‘doing’. Conscious aging can be ‘exploring and developing inner space’ (regularly taking time to be alone and perhaps meditating), living an authentic life that is in agreement with our values and mentoring others (including providing service). It’s about being increasingly aware of what is going on within as well as around us, looking at the world from a long-term vantage point that transcends our purely personal desires and fears. Successful aging makes sense to most people while increasing consciousness appeals to a smaller percentage. Rie is someone who has developed both skill-sets through the course of her aging.
Concious aging is about savouring
        each moment. This is an excellent 
example of meditating on ice cream.
The aging process enhances contemplation.

Successful aging is about adapting so that we maintain optimal well being in the face of age-associated losses. When Rie’s back is bothering her she puts her laptop computer on the seat of a walker to carry it around.  She eats sauerkraut everyday because it improves her digestion.

Conscious aging can include what Carl Jung would call individuation. Examination of our lives with understanding of how apparently negative events eventually lead to positive outcomes is a feature of this process. We return again and again to our intention to be awake as we age, to embrace the pain along with the ecstasy of life.

 The rewards of conscious aging are increased vitality and deeper meaning in life.  Happy Birthday, Rie. May you continue to experience a deeply satisfying quality of life, and to share your increasing knowledge and awareness with us for a long time to come.   Lyn