(CARP Conference 1)
If I took one message away from last week’s CARP Conference it is that aging, as with life in general, is very much what we make it.
Next time some young spark reckons you’re old, it may be worth remembering that the relationship between aging and mortality increases steadily from the age of 10, doubling every 8 years (Drs Leonid and Natalia Gavrilov). So from one point of view, by age 11 you’re on the slippery slope. Alternatively, perhaps it’s time to re-embrace our mortality and learn to live more comfortably with it.
Which brings me to another key theme; we choose how we perceive what happens to us. Dr Elizabeth Lombardo exhorted us to ‘get a smaller but’, that is, to let go of all the ‘buts’ that stop us from doing what we really want, alongside all the ‘musts, shoulds and oughts’. Her recipe for long life and happiness also includes cultivating a positive perspective, learning how to overcome obstacles, applying your strengths and focusing on what you enjoy, gratitude and appreciation and exercise. Elizabeth’s primary focus is happiness – she has a web site full of free resources and a book, A Happy You I – as well as a lovely, smiling presence that suggests she really does practice what she preaches.
Having worked in the field of dementia research, I already knew the importance of using your brain in new ways. Dr Elkhonon Goldberg brought a fresh understanding of why this is the case. The part of the brain most prone to atrophy is the pre-frontal cortex. This is the area that fires up when we are presented with the novel and unfamiliar. As we age, by definition, there is less that is new to us. Therefore, unless we seek out new experiences, the pre-frontal lobes (and linked right brain) receive less stimulus and so succumb to aging.
Interestingly, although we know that brain processing in some areas decreases with aging, there is strong evidence that, in their own specialist areas, the problem solving capacity of older people exceeds that of their younger colleagues – Dr Goldberg terms this the ‘paradox of aging’ (see his book The Wisdom Paradox).
[Not a valid template]If Stanley Coren had his way, doctors would be prescribing dogs! There is good evidence that pet ownership in general and dog ownership in particular can help to keep us healthy, especially after the age of 55. The benefits include lower stress, cholesterol and blood pressure as well as improved mood. Older dog owners visit their doctor less frequently and are more likely to take regular exercise, with increased social opportunities thrown in. A number of studies have suggested that ‘pet therapy’ can provide huge savings on public health spending.
The day was neatly drawn to a close by inspirational speaker Dan Trommater, who just happens to use magic to challenge his audience’s assumptions and make the point that we choose what we perceive and how we respond to it.
Which takes me back to where I started . . .