If there is one thing that is guaranteed to get my goat, its people saying, “Age is in the mind.”
Such a callous, dismissive statement that!
The last time someone said that to me, I turned around and retorted, “Of course, it’s in the mind. It’s in my mind!”
Mind, the statement that age is just a function of the mind is normally made by younger, healthier people. You will never get that cliché from someone who is feeling the effects of ageing.
The problem, I realise is that the early effects of ageing is not apparent to an unobservant eye. But it is amplified in the mind of a person who experiences the changes, making them acutely aware of their mortality.
And that, my friend, is the worst part of ageing. It’s the fear that begins to grow in the mind.
I have heard tell it’s the fear of dying. There is that, no denying.
But the larger fear stems from one of dependency – physiologically, psychologically and in many cases, financially.
It all starts when one begins to slow down.
Gone are the days when one could rush down stairs or jump out of the car. It’s not even a terribly conscious or deliberate decision to do so gingerly. It just happens. The realization steps in sometime later, startling one!
It’s the same with eating. You just stop gorging on stuff you once used to devour with glee. That’s when you really marvel at the machinations of the human body. It’s a living entity all on its own, reaching for only what it can handle. Why else would a purely rice eater like me switch to only rotis (Indian flat bread) without even being aware of the change for a long time?
The mind is different. It has stores of memories of food that once delighted one. Those memories sometimes makes you reach for mashed potatoes or a chocolate, only to regret it later. Soon though, you give it up altogether to avoid paying the price. This is what I imagine Atul Gawande meant when he described the remembering self and the experiencing self in his book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.
The worst part of ageing though is not the physical slowing down or the adjustments in food habits.
It’s the mind slowing down to the extent that it begins to worry you.
Oh, experience still kicks in, allowing one to hone in on a problem and tell younger people exactly how to solve or handle an issue. But gone are the days when one could just wade in and finish a task much faster than the young’uns around you. Gone also is the ability to remember minute details and wade through the waking hours multitasking.
They call it short-term memory loss.
Short term or not, memory loss is frightening especially when you forget to pay your bills on time. Yes, you can adjust. I know I have by simply paying a bill on presentation. No taking any chances there!
But it’s scary.
Because, today, I am handling the changes in my mental make-up by making adjustments in my habits.
But, what is going to happen tomorrow?
Tomorrow, I am going to have to depend on a younger member of the family to handle such matters for me.
I am fortunate in that I have youngsters in my family who are supportive. But what about those ageing people who don’t?
That’s why I am writing this post.
To raise awareness of the fact that ageing is more than just a number. Someone may be only in their 50s or 60s and look fit. But they are really not. Anyone who denies that fact is probably in denial and full of bluster.
Left alone, in their private moments, there is probably acknowledgement that things are changing – especially in the mind where it matters the most. There is also possibly recognition that they are scared.
They try not to show it, clinging on to their dignity and independence.
They mostly soldier on best they can to avoid worrying the next generation.
They also go to work with some trepidation in their head, fearing that they will soon be sidelined or forced to retire. The worry is real. After all, people are living much longer now. Think about it. If you retire at around 60 and live to, say, 90 years, it boils down to this.
The world is asking you to save enough in around 35-40 years of working life to finance 30 odd years of retirement. How is that possible for ordinary folks who have spent their lives paying off housing loans, running the house, bringing up children, paying for their education loans and what not! Including taking care of the generation that went before them!
People who are feeling the effects of ageing know all this. They also know just how prohibitively expensive health care has become in a capitalist world that has crossed a line – of excessive greed.
And that’s what they fear!
That’s also why they can do with more understanding and yes, compassion.
So, the next time an elder in the family takes time to accomplish a task, don’t lose your cool!
Or, the next time you see an ageing member of the family fret over something, don’t show your irritation.
Remember, they are scared. And your reactions will only serve to fuel exactly the cause of their fear. Their growing dependence on others!
I wish it was different.
I wish retirement was more like the retired bliss shown in the cover image on this post. The portrait is a caricature of a retired Lata, done by Fingerprints (a Chennai based ad agency) as a farewell gift. I just loved it when it was presented to me:)
But for that kind of blissful retired life to happen, I guess one needs to plan for it. Including maybe setting aside enough money to buy into one of those retirement homes. Where one has medical care on call. Where one has fellow ageing people for company. Where one can live without worrying about being a burden on children.
Nothing like the love and care of family. But maybe living in a retirement community need not deprive one of that if the home is situated close enough for frequent visits.
What’s your view on this? I mean both the process of ageing and the concept of retirement homes?
#ageing #retirement #eldercare
Featured Cover Image Credit: Retired Bliss. Caricature of Lata Subramanian by Fingerprints, a Chennai based advertising agency.