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Aging Well

Monday, May 2nd, 2022

by Douglas L. Anderson, PsyD



Someone once wrote a little ditty that goes like this:

I eat when I’m hungry,

I drink when I’m dry.

If the sky don’t fall on me

I’ll live till I die.

That does seem to be a good goal!  Human beings have an inborn desire to live, and we sometimes go to extreme measures to preserve and prolong life.  Even in our most difficult moments we generally find plenty of good in the world to motivate us to work through our difficulties and come out the other side.

One writer notes that “everything is beautiful in its time.”  To me that suggests that the crunch of Corn Flakes and the coldness of the milk makes getting up for breakfast worthwhile.  Or maybe it’s the coffee.  There’s a reason why Folgers says “the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.”  And we always have our standard “go to” of a beautiful sunrise or sunset to contribute to a certain internal satisfaction with life.

The challenge is to live till we die rather than spend years of our life dying.  In other words, even when we are dying (and we’re all dying, by the way - it’s just a matter of time) we can choose to live well, to age well, to discover joy in the midst of challenges, to find meaning even in the most mundane things or experiences.  I recall a monastic brother from a few centuries ago who would work in the kitchen of the monastery and pray to the “God of all pots and pans and things.”  He was finding meaning in the mundane tasks of life.

I suspect we have all heard family elders state that getting old “ain't for the faint of heart.”  Aging well takes courage and determination.  Some recent psychological research offers us a couple of ideas about how to age well with particular focus on our cognitive processes.

One study evaluated about 20,000 people in the United States over almost 20 years of time.  They found that the people who stayed in the workforce until at least age 67 showed slower rates of cognitive decline than those who retired between the ages of 55 and 65.  This finding was true across genders, educational levels, and occupations.

You might want to rethink early retirement.  Staying in the labor force could help you maintain good cognitive function into your later years of life.  Or if you do retire early, I encourage you to retire TO something rather than from something.  That is, use your retirement to work on things that provide you with meaningful life.  Become a volunteer, engage in community service, get more active in your church, or consider spending time listening to those who don’t have anyone to talk to.  You’ll see my reason for that last point in the next paragraph.

A different study of about 2,200 people in the United States notes another way to help preserve our cognitive functioning as we age.  Participants reported the availability of such things as supportive social outlets, including listening, good advice, love and affection, emotional support, and so on.  Using neuropsychological measurements and MRI scans, the researchers were able to show that people with low listener availability had a cognitive age 4 years older than those who had high listener availability.

There was no statistical difference with the other things that were assessed.  In short, being listened to makes a difference when it comes to maintaining our cognitive functions.

If you need someone to listen to you and help you work through things you are facing in your life, give us a call.  River Counseling Services and Sioux Falls Psychological Services meet you where you are, offering hope.  You may schedule an appointment with the Platte office at 605-337-3444, or meet with one of our Sioux Falls Psychological Services therapists from your own computer or smartphone.  To schedule an appointment please call 605-334-2696.