Quite understandably, few look forward to the twilight of their life and all that it brings in its wake — deteriorating health, loss of vigour, restricted mobility, increasing dependence on others, not to mention a sense of foreboding and anxiety. Yet, ageing is an inevitable part of life that one has to learn to cope with willy-nilly.
At 74, I’ve found that old age need not necessarily be a period of physical and mental decline — though some ‘erosion’ is unavoidable — if one prepares oneself for it adequately in advance. First and foremost it’s imperative to prepare to accept old age all brace for all the restrictions or limitations it imposes on one’s mobility or ability to do things that one did when younger.
Equally important is the need to adopt a positive attitude towards life. Darkly regarding old age as the evening of one’s life must be avoided at all costs if one is to weather and overcome the difficulties and irritants that life is bound to throw up. An optimistic frame of mind or a light-hearted approach does help. Indeed, nothing prevents one from looking at the sunny side of life even in one’s sunset years. American statesman Bernard Baruch, who lived to a ripe old age, once remarked, “To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am!” And, when asked his age, British satirist Jonathan Swift once quipped evasively, “I’m as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth!” Is there a cleverer way to parry questions about one’s age?
Also vital is the need for the elderly to stay physically and mentally active in order to keep geriatric health problems at bay, especially Parkinson’s disease. Regular physical exercise coupled with the pursuit of a hobby or pastime that keeps one mentally and usefully engaged, is the perfect antidote for the prolonged spells of ennui that plague the elderly. Keeping abreast of current affairs — political, economic and social — also does help to keep boredom away. And the spicier the social gossip or grapevine, the better.
My former British boss, based in Edinburgh and now a spry 84, still pursues his passion for fishing with a like-minded octogenarian friend whenever the weather permits. They jointly maintain a boat fitted with an outboard engine and like nothing better than to go off trout-fishing on their own. Further, he remains extremely keen to know what’s happening in Munnar’s tea plantations, over which he once ably presided as General Manager. More importantly, advancing years haven’t blunted his sense of humour which remains as robust as ever.
In fact, the role of humour and fun in dispelling gloom in old age cannot be overstressed. These indispensables are the spice of life guaranteed to bring cheer and bonhomie, besides keeping one’s mind off life’s grim realities. The elderly should let humour pep up their lives regularly by hobnobbing with those known to be witty and funny. And letting one’s hair down occasionally — the little that remains of it, at any rate — can certainly do no harm so long as one doesn’t overdo things or get carried away by American statesman Benjamin Franklin’s flippant remark that “There are more old drunkards around than old doctors!”
Old age, of course, gives one an opportunity to take stock of one’s life dispassionately and, at leisure, sift through and analyse one’s successes and failures, achievements and shortcomings notched up over the years.
Companionship, of course, is vital for the elderly. No human being is an island and isolating oneself from society, as the aged often tend to do, is not at all advisable. On the other hand, socialising — to howsoever limited an extent — can inject refreshing variety into the drab routine of a senior citizen’s life and give it a much-needed boost. There’s no substitute for staying connected with one’s contemporaries.
Old age, of course, gives one an opportunity to take stock of one’s life dispassionately and, at leisure, sift through and analyse one’s successes and failures, achievements and shortcomings notched up over the years. It’s also the time when the elderly inevitably reach ‘anecdotage’. They turn nostalgic and love to recall “those good old days” when they were young and life was radically different from what it is today. They try to pass on the benefit of their varied experiences to the younger generation though the latter seldom has the time, patience, or inclination to hear them out. In such circumstances penning down one’s experiences is a good way of keeping oneself usefully engaged in old age. One never knows — one’s memoirs may make the bestseller list some day!
Reading some old Christmas letters from my grandad. Glad to make a cameo, where my three year old self is described as a 'handsome charmer who, amazingly for his age, has a sense of humour described as sardonic.' A rude little man, even then!
True, physical debility will be a stumbling block for many, quite literally. Ageing and stiffening body joints will ‘creak’ in protest and make mobility difficult — something one should learn to take in one’s stride stoically. Some of the more spirited among the elderly resort to the pretence of acting and behaving as if they are not as old as they really are. This game of ‘make-believe’ is indeed known to help in making light of one’s physical infirmities.
Above all, peace of mind, which everyone seeks but few are fortunate to find, is absolutely necessary. It’s the vital and efficacious balm that brings equanimity to one’s life, helping to salve the inevitable discomforts, irritants and problems of ageing. And, of course, it does help to promote overall health besides physical and mental well-being.
The Biblical lifespan of three score and ten years is now a thing of the past. Thanks to dramatic advances in medical science and technology, we can now expect to live well beyond 90 years and perhaps even longer, given reasonably satisfactory health. And this, assuredly, isn’t wishful thinking. Indeed, it is said there are more nonagenarians and centenarians around today than ever before, negating American humourist Josh Billings’ caustic observation, “Three score years and ten are enough. If a man can’t suffer all the misery he wants in that time, he must be numb!”
Admittedly, many hope for longevity without the inherent disadvantages of growing old. However, trying to put off ageing is futile and unrealistic (no matter what such proponents may tell us to the contrary) for it’s an integral and essential part of life that can never be reversed. So we must resign ourselves to growing old (since it’s the only method known so far of living a long time!). And in the process let’s try to make life as fulfilling and meaningful as possible.