The ‘new and improved’ approach to aging
This summer, I attended the funeral of Margaret Armstrong, a wonderful lady and founder of the Baltimore School for the Arts, who also taught writing and editing workshops for my business. Margaret passed away six months after she celebrated her 100th birthday. The very next day, The Sun published an obituary of a woman, an artist, who lived to be 104. And shortly after that, came the obituary of Louise Armstrong (no relation to Margaret), an educator who made it to 96 — a nonagenarian rather than a centenarian.
Among the first things I read in my morning paper are the obituaries. And, if I know I’ll be out of town for several days, my friend Heather clips them out and saves them for me. I do the same for her. There’s the old joke: “If I don’t see my name, I know I’m still here.” But more than that, the articles and accomplishments outlined in them are inspirational — they’re also strong reminders that life is often long and aging is relative.
The well-known mystery writer Lisa Scottoline, who has recently turned 60, does not consider herself a senior. Nor does she refer to herself as middle-aged. “New and improved” is how she describes herself in her latest book of essays (“I’ve Got Sand in All the Wrong Places,” co-written with her daughter, Francesca Serritella). I’m with her.
Not only can we seniors get discounts at movies, plays (every play I’ve attended in London) and restaurants (Bonefish Grill takes 15 percent off your bill if you present an AARP card), but we’ve also learned a whole lot in our many years. All are improvements over our spring chicken days.
As for the new part, medical science has made incredible strides.
In orthopedics — new hips and new knees can do wonders when the original ones wear out. Says Dr. Rob Sterling, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Johns Hopkins, “when my patients stop thinking about their new hips or knees, then I know they are completely cured.”
In ophthalmology, removing cataracts and implanting new lenses eliminates glasses and contacts — both of which are an annoyance and an added expense. Top-ofthe-line hearing aids also improve wellbeing. Plastic surgery is no longer just for movie stars and politicians. Plus the array of cosmetics, especially for seniors, is staggering; some actually work.
Indeed, there is an entire medical specialty catering to seniors: geriatrics. According to Dr. Sharon Brangman, division chief of geriatrics at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, and a former president of the American Geriatrics Society, “people often blame things on aging that are really due to ... an underlying medical issue that can be treated or to a side effect from a drug” that also can be treated.
And there are many things you can do to stay young. Magazines frequently carry articles such as “The New Way to Age Well” (Consumer Reports on Health). And there are also many books on nutrition and exercise — two main ingredients to becoming and staying “new and improved.”
Although genetics certainly plays a part in aging — howlong did your parents live? — attitude is also extremely important. My friend the Rev. Ernest Smart prefers the term “recycled teen-agers” rather than “new and improved” to describe himself and other seniors who are young at heart.
Staying positive, engaging in activities, keeping up friendships — all are vitally important.
Several weeks ago, I began chatting with the woman sitting next to me at Smyth Jewelers while we both waited for new watch batteries. She told me she was 92, has lived at Pickersgill Retirement Community for the past 10 years and drives herself everywhere. I have visited my interesting and vibrant friends at Broadmead Retirement Community so many times that many residents think I live there. (I don’t.)
After a lifetime of observing and interacting with others, reading, thinking, experiencing happy and sad events, we are more tolerant, more patient, more empathetic, more understanding — more interesting, frankly — than our younger selves.
How many of us in our 60s, 70s, 80s, perhaps even 90s, actually want to return to our 20s — not knowing all that we know now, but the little that we knew then?