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The Beauty of the Aging Mind
Aging Is Inevitable
When we contemplate getting older, we often find our thoughts drifting to the dark side of aging, where we fear we may cast anchor in the troubled waters of knowing we will have to live with a deteriorating body and mind. Despite adhering to a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a positive attitude, nurturing an active mind, and even despite electing cosmetic surgery, we will never outrun the aging process. The legendary fountain of youth is just that: a legend.
The Legendary Fountain of Youth
As there is no darkness without light, so there is no fear without hope, no ugliness without beauty. Although Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and senility may accompany the aging mind, there may be much beauty that gathers there as well.
Athena - Temple of Wisdom
With age come experience, knowledge, and sound judgment, three defining characteristics of wisdom. Barring disease, injury, or environmental deprivation, it stands to reason that the older mind is more experienced and knowledgeable than the younger, simply by virtue of years lived, but what accounts for sound or good judgment?
Dr. Dilip Jeste, University of California at San Diego, reporting on the results of a study of 3,000 brain scans of those between ages 60 and 100, found that dopamine levels in the older brain are lower than in the younger, resulting in slower responses but better, more considered decisions. "Older people are…less likely to respond thoughtlessly to negative emotional stimuli because their brains have slowed down…This, in fact is what we call wisdom." *
I am left to wonder if there can be wisdom without age.
"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." ~Often attributed to Mark Twain
An Introspective View of Wisdom and Aging
Scientists may give us an objective, physical explanation of how the mind may become wise through aging, but poets and philosophers take a different approach. Sharyn's Slant's With Aging Comes a DEEPER UNDERSTANDING is a deeply personal poetic expression of the journey through age toward a place that may be called "wisdom."
What older people think is humorous is not always what tickles the funny bones of younger people, nor is it necessarily what seniors themselves thought was funny when they were younger.
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis speculate that the cognitive decline accompanying aging negatively affects the ability to comprehend humor. ** In other words, older folks sometimes just don’t get it. But is that the whole picture?
A few years ago an independent researcher created an internet survey to investigate age-related changes in humor preference. *** His results indicated, in part, that older folks find more humor in situations that involve their need to nurture offspring than they do in situations that involve protecting the resources they need to survive day-to-day life, and that adults in the 26-35 year range find situations involving sex and social relationships much funnier than either younger or older people do. There seems to be evidence for our sense of humor to change as we age.
For decades, my mother has had a magnet on her refrigerator showing a glamorous older woman holding a phone receiver saying, “Age is a number. Mine’s unlisted!” It wasn’t until a few years ago that I could belly-laugh about this as my mother does.
I’m fond of saying, “You can’t tell an eight-year-old girl anything, and you can’t tell an 80-year-old woman anything more.” Pre-pubescent girls and 80-year-old women have a lot in common, strange as that may seem. Before a girl reaches sexual maturity, she is all about herself. Maybe she’s a tomboy, maybe she’s a Smart Alec, but for sure, she has no reservation about using her confidence to go where she wants to go. The same potential is there for women who have traveled past the physiology of the childbearing years.
The years between puberty and post-menopause are conditioned both sociologically and physiologically to compel the bearing of children, and so young girls succumb to the cultural influences around them by doing all they can to attract a mate. The eight-year-old finds herself changing to emphasize her feminine traits, and in the process, puts her earlier self-assertiveness on hold.
What Happens to the Body and Mind as Women Pass from Childhood into Maturity
Once the reproductive years are over, a woman is free to become the girl she used to be, and many do. This is an enormous change of mindset, where the behaviors of the child bearing decades can sail into the horizon to be replaced by a new, or rediscovered, confidence. "Margaret Mead called this stage of life 'postmenopausal zest.'" Think of Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir, and the women who fought to give American women the right to vote, to name just a few who rose to leadership not as young women, but as women in their older years. ****
The Mysterious Aura of Age
I consider it a privilege to watch my mother age. She is coming into a certain beauty that challenges description. There was always an aura about her which attracted people of all ages, but this aspect of her seems to be intensifying as she grows older. While I can speak easily of wisdom, humor, and confidence, putting words to this aura eludes me.
I do know this aura has much to do, perhaps all to do, with the beauty that is blooming in her aging mind. She is more tolerant of differences, more accepting of the eventual end, and more peaceful, seeming to let the inner conflicts that plagued her as a younger woman go to rest. I believe this aura can belong to men as well.
The Beauty of the Mind
A few weeks ago, while I was shopping in the food market, an elderly man approached me as I sorted through bananas looking for a few that were neither too ripe nor too raw. This gentle man told me he always adds a banana to the food he cooks for his dinner, because it adds a little sweetness. Soon, our dialogue, which became his monologue, took a path to the past, to the Philippines during World War II. His story was so engaging that I had a hard time parting ways. There was just something about him. He invited me into his history through gentle, engaging words while he gazed into my eyes with softness, sometimes as though he were looking clear through me. He revealed the landscape of a past that he, my long-gone father, and so many other men had shared. He had that aura.
Perhaps this aura can be called grace. I hope that’s where you and I are growing, where we’re sailing.
* Hope, J. (2010, June 25). With age really DOES come wisdom: Scientists prove older people are less impulsive. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk.
** Iverson, J. (2007, August 8). Generation gap? Seniors don’t always get the joke , study shows. Retrieved from http://news.wustl.edu.
*** Kadri, Faisal L. (2009, February 18). New Survey Confirms Link between Humor Preference and Age-Personality. http://www.artificialpsychology.com/TechNotes/NS_AgeLink.htm.
**** Love, S. (2003). Dr. Susan Love’s Menopause and Hormone Book: Making Informed Choices. Three Rivers Press.
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