The ‘new and im­proved’ ap­proach to ag­ing

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Lynne Agress Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Pro­gram of Johns Hop­kins, is pres­i­dent of BWB-Busi­ness Writ­ing At Its Best Inc. and au­thor of “The Fem­i­nine Irony” and “Work­ing With Words in Busi­ness and Le­gal Writ­ing.” Her email is lyn­neagress@ao

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?

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