It's scary to grow older. When I moved to Bella Vista some 22 years ago, I hit off of the blue tees when playing golf. Then, I started to hit off of the white tees (closer to the green), and then a couple of years ago, I started hitting off of the red tees. Frankly, there aren't any tees any closer except the forward tees used by women, and I'm too embarrassed to use them.
The other day, I was talking with a friend and wanted to tell him about a special restaurant up around Springfield, Mo., and suddenly I couldn't think of its name. I could only remember that they had great fresh rolls which they "threw" at you while still warm from the oven. That's what we affectionately call a "Bella Vista moment" around here. Interpreted, it probably means that our brains are wearing out as we get older.
I have always chided AARP (American Association of Retired People) about their efforts to help people as they grow old. It was easy at first, since all they had to do was suggest it was important for older people to exercise and stay healthy. Then, they caught on that it also was very important for older people to keep their brains active, and suggested that the many games and puzzles used by older people were not so bad after all. That was good to know.
But then, the AARP people finally woke up and realized that one of the most important guidelines for having a productive and healthy lifestyle when you grow older is to have a PURPOSE. I would have told them this years ago, but since they failed to respond when I sent in some of my jokes, I assumed they probably weren't interested in my lifestyle suggestions.
HALLELUJAH! I think they finally got it! The August/September issue of the AARP magazine has an article by Nicole Pajer about the seven worst habits for our brains and reverses it in the seventh habit to say it's a bad habit if "You don't have a sense of purpose." She quotes Scott Kaiser, a geriatrician in Santa Monica, Calif., as saying, "Having a reason to get up in the morning, knowing that people are depending upon you, feeling that you are making important contributions can contribute to healthy aging." The Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago has found that people who scored high on having a purpose were approximately 2.4 times more likely to remain Alzheimer's free than those with lower scores.
I have found that older people normally have a huge reservoir of knowledge stored up in their brains just waiting to be tapped by somebody. No, it isn't all of the current scientific knowledge that our younger folks excel in; it's knowledge that only comes from experience in living what we know. Younger generations do a lot to help older people when they realize this basic fact and do not hesitate to ask for advice. My own children make me feel wanted when they have a problem and call to ask my advice. I'm sure it is the same with other older people.
Several years ago, I chaired a group of retired pastors who still had a lot offer, but who were essentially "put out to pasture" because of their age. If I remember right, we had around 430 years of pastoral experience locked up in this group, and while they were active in a number of things, they were largely being ignored by their denomination. Trying to be helpful, I invited the Executive Minister of the denomination to one of our meetings to help us understand how we might be useful. While he was very supportive, the only thing he could suggest was for us to volunteer to fill vacant pulpits once in a while. Ugh. Most of us had retired from that job. What about the denomination's leadership teams, its visionary groups, or even its teaching resources. Oh, I forgot. It was suggested that we give money. But how did these things help us with purpose?
Pajer says older people need to avoid seven things to help your brain. I mentioned having a purpose earlier. The other six are: (1) Don't accentuate the negative; accentuate the positive; (2) Don't skip your vaccines; (3) Don't drink so many sugary beverages; (4) Correct unhealthy sleep habits; (5) Don't crank up your headphones; (6) Make sure you are taking the right medicines prescribed by your doctor.
Growing older may be fun and enjoyable, but only when you take care of yourself and stay healthy. Retiring does not mean the absence of doing things; it simply means you have changed the reason you do things.
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Robert Box has been a law enforcement chaplain for 29 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Opinions expressed in the article are the opinions of the author and not the agencies he serves.