‘I was mar­ried by a judge, I should have asked for a jury’

The Citizen-Record (Cumberland) - - COMMUNITY - Dr. Gif­ford Jones The Doc­tor Game On­line, docgiff.com. For com­ment, info@docgiff.com

Aris­to­tle, the Greek philoso­pher, re­marked, “There are no boy philoso­phers.”

For­tu­nately, most of us do get wiser as we age. How­ever, it’s never been a top pri­or­ity of mine to rush into old age so I could be a wise, el­derly, med­i­cal jour­nal­ist philoso­pher. Could I be wrong? Con­sumer Re­ports on Health says there are sev­eral good things about ag­ing. So I had to read on.

It ap­pears I was wrong on one point. I’ve al­ways be­lieved that the el­derly suf­fered from more de­pres­sion than younger peo­ple. Af­ter all, they see old friends die, ill­nesses be­come more fre­quent, their wife runs away with the lo­cal preacher, and it’s not as much fun to look in the mir­ror. But ac­cord­ing to the pres­ti­gious Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, the rates of de­pres­sion ac­tu­ally go down af­ter age 60.

This fact is con­firmed by sev­eral other sources. For in­stance, a study of 340,000 peo­ple, pub­lished by the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ence, re­ports that those in their 60s and 70s were less trou­bled by nega­tive emo­tions.

Dr. Laura Carstensen, pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Stan­ford Univer­sity, agrees this is the “para­dox of ag­ing.” She says that as peo­ple grow older, they worry less about the fu­ture than younger peo­ple and fo­cus more on the here and now. And if they’ve just re­cov­ered from a coro­nary by­pass op­er­a­tion, and are happy to have sur­vived, they’re more likely to stop wor­ry­ing about the small stuff and smell the roses. (Maybe she’s right. But I vividly re­call that af­ter my by­pass surgery, I de­cided I’d bet­ter sit by the lake watch­ing birds, and af­ter half an hour I de­cided I’d had enough!)

How do mar­riages and re­la­tion­ships fare as we age? Grou­cho Marx, the co­me­dian, once joked, “I was mar­ried by a judge, I should have asked for a jury!” To­day, since 50 per cent of mar­riages end in di­vorce, there’s an el­e­ment of truth in Marx’s re­mark. I doubt if a judge or a mon­key could have a poorer bat­ting av­er­age in choos­ing mates.

Socrates, another Greek philoso­pher, re­al­iz­ing mar­riage was a game of Rus­sian roulette, coun­selled, “By all means marry. If you get a good wife you’ll be­come happy; if you get a bad one you’ll be­come a philoso­pher.”

The good news is, if they’re lucky and stay to­gether, couples en­joy bet­ter health and qual­ity of life than their un­mar­ried peers. In 2011, the Jour­nal of So­cial and Per­sonal Re­la­tion­ships re­ported that el­derly couples, even when they quar­rel, have more pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences with their part­ners. Re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia added that, when re­call­ing spats, older peo­ple even tend to rate their spouses more pos­i­tively. This may be due to the fact that they be­gin to ac­knowl­edge their own mor­tal­ity.

Lastly, se­niors must cul­ti­vate new so­cial contacts, but this is not easy. Aris­to­tle stressed that to have a good friend, “you must take the req­ui­site amount of salt to­gether.”

Good friends are not born overnight. It’s usu­ally his­tory that binds peo­ple to­gether.

Maybe in the end, whether a co­me­dian or a Greek philoso­pher, we all in our own way be­come philoso­phers.

Next week, how I be­came the old­est per­son to de­scend on a rope (rap­pelling) from the top of Toronto’s City Hall. My wife was not amused. But it was an ex­pe­ri­ence I will never for­get. Why did I do it?

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