“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”
― Robert Frost
One of the great paradoxes of the human condition is that almost everyone aspires to live a long life, but very few people relish the prospect of growing old.
“People see getting older in terms of losing things,” says Dr. Dolly Dastoor, from the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging. “They lose friends, their children leave, they face retirement – and many people are afraid of losing their memory, their strength, their vitality.
“But what we all need to do is focus on the things we gain as we grow older – above and beyond the senior citizen discounts,” she says with a laugh. “You benefit from added wisdom, you benefit from reflection and, yes, you benefit from more leisure time.”
On April 4, Dastoor will give a lecture titled Secrets of Successful Aging, from 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. in room W-215 of the Arts Building. But the title, she admits, is touch misleading.
“First of all, I should replace the word ‘successful’ with ‘graceful’ or ‘healthy,’” she says. “And, second, there are no secrets to aging gracefully. Just as being successful at anything, you have to really work at the things that will help you age well.”
And while history is rife with any number of attempts to stop the ageing process – from Ponce de Leon’s epic transatlantic quest to discover the Fountain of Youth, to today’s billion-dollar of anti-aging industry – Dastoor says the real key to enjoying your later years is acceptance of the inevitable.
“Whatever anti-wrinkle creams you use, you’re still going to grow older. No matter how hard you fight against it, it is still going to happen,” she says.
“There are changes that take place in all stages of life but when you’re younger the changes are much more positive and you look forward to them,” continues Dastoor. “But when you’re older the changes are not always so positive and you sometimes dread them. But for the sake of your mental health, you have to learn to accept these changes and – most importantly – adapt to them.”
Dastoor suggests that adaptation is not synonymous with reduction or limitation. In fact, she thinks quite the opposite. Active people are generally the happiest ones. “Once you’re finished with your job you might want to try some volunteer work,” she says. “Literature shows that people who do volunteer work – be it in a soup kitchen, a day care or as a crossing guard – feel very fulfilled as they grow older. The more interaction with people you can have, the better.”
In this way maintaining and cultivating a person’s social network is also essential in aging gracefully. “We need people in our lives if we want to be happy,” says Dastoor, who is just retired after a long career in the field of dementia care.
In more concrete terms, Dastoor says there are a number of strategies people should employ to at least slow down the aging process. She suggests people eat foods that are rich in antioxidants (“Less meat and more nuts, grains, berries and green leafy vegetables”); exercise regularly (“Exercise is like fertilizer for your brain”); and keep their brains as active as possible (“Read, do your crosswords, take adult education courses – keep your mind going”).
Of course, Dastoor says, there are no guarantees. Even the most careful person can’t fight genetics or bad luck. But instead of worrying about such things, the key is to take advantage of every moment. “We all have shelf life and were all going to die one day. But how’re going to die and what we do until we die is very important,” she says. “We can’t be so afraid of dying that we forget to live our lives to their fullest.
“Just the other day, I was at a residence giving a talk and a 91-year-old lady came up to me. She didn’t look a day over 75,” says Dastoor. “The woman said to me ‘I keep myself very active. I drive my car, I use the computer and I do this and that. Do you think I’m going to get dementia?’ I just smiled and told her ‘Don’t worry so much, you’re doing wonderfully.’”
April 4: “Secrets of Successful Aging,” with Dr. Dolly Dastoor. 12:15 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. Arts Building, ARTS W-215. For more information and to register for this free event, go here.