Mountains

Mountains

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Aging Brain

For a long time now I’ve been dealing with aging parents.  Watching and experiencing their lives makes we wonder what is in store for me as I continue to get older.

My mother likes to say, “Don’t get old.” I’ve tried responding to that in different ways, though I think what she really means is she’s not enjoying getting old. Not every older person I meet has that attitude. I’ve been wondering what makes some people more negative than others as they age, what leads to odd characteristic, like increased lying or talking almost constantly? Why do some people age more gracefully than others? What is the psychology of aging?
One theory of aging says that people have a tendency to withdraw from society as they get older. I do know people who are like this, but others I know stay actively connected. In fact nowadays we are encouraged to stay engaged and active as long as possible for healthier lives. Another theory states that as we get older there is a certain amount of introspection in regards to evaluating our lives. If we think we’ve lived well and contributed, we feel better about ourselves than if we think we’ve not done as we wanted or not lived up to our potential or hopes and dreams. The latter may lead to despair and withdrawal.

Contemporary theories talk about life-long character traits rather than stages of life. Particularly important are such traits as openness to new experiences, levels of anxiety, impulsiveness, and consciousness of self. Also are important are assertiveness and openness to positive emotional experiences. If you are stubborn and cantankerous in youth, you will likely remain that way as you age. However, some researchers have found that personality traits might change as we age.
I have some thoughts of my own. It seems to me that some people, when they realize that they are not able to physically do some of the things they used to do, feel unhappy and manifest that by complaining. Others, in this increasingly complex world, find themselves unable to cope with things such as technology, (e.g. telephone voice mail systems etc.) and feel less competent. At times these feelings can lead older people to tell direct lies about something that happened or modify the facts in order not to make themselves look bad or incompetent. Some people do not seem able to say, “I just don’t understand that,” or “I can’t do that.” And then of course, there are the changes in the brain. Have you noticed yourself getting more forgetful? Or do certain things just not stick in your mind anymore? Perhaps it’s more difficult to maintain focus, especially if there are a lot of things going on. Hearing and sight may deteriorate. Some of us are able to compensate through various strategies such as making lists or maintaining a detailed calendar of events, using hearing aids or magnifying glasses. Others don’t seem able to cope.

I’ve been able to find books that talk about how to make the aging process better (e.g exercise, eating well, being active), how to deal with the legal issues (making wills, etc.), possible physical health issues (e.g. osteoarthritis), financial issues (e.g. how to save for retirement), living options (e.g. assisted living, long term care, etc.), and how to be a caretaker. But so far I haven’t found any books that talk about the characteristics that older people may manifest (some of which I’ve mentioned above), whether these are part of the aging of the brain, and how to try to understand and cope with these things when you are a caretaker. Is there anything we can do, or should we just accept the negatives and try not to let them bother us? Are there things we can say and do to make things easier both for ourselves as caretakers and for those we are caring for?
I continue to search for good books and articles on the subject. And I’m working on a book of my own.

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