Dear Older Self,
“Get plenty of sleep. Exercise regularly. Eat less sugar and more fruits and veggies. Get regular medical and dental check ups. And wear your hearing aids.”
You know the list. You have heard it all your life. Well, maybe all but the hearing aid bit. Other than that, this is just one of those predictable lists of things to which we should all pay attention. Things one should not neglect to do for oneself.
Maybe you want to say, “I am old! Leave me alone already! I get to eat dessert for dinner if I want.” But just to remind you, the idea isn’t so much to do these things so you will live longer. The idea is to do these things so that your quality of life will be the best it can be.
We tend to expect a lot from our bodies—even when we don’t treat them very kindly. We neglect them. We deprive them of basic care. Why? In a sense this neglect, this lack of kindness toward our bodies, is a kind of failure to love ourselves, to show ourselves compassion. The reasons are probably complex. It may be rooted in neglect we experienced early in life. It might be a reflection of the fact that we do not see ourselves as deserving of simple, basic care. It might just be a failure to pay attention.
I want to encourage you, dear older self, to pay attention and to take good care of yourself in simple ways. Sleep enough, but not too much. Exercise to the extent that you are able. Make good choices in what you eat. And check in with the doctor and dentist on a regular basis.
I encourage you to do these things for yourself because when you sleep well, exercise, eat well and manage your health care issues you will feel better. You will have more energy. You will be able to stay engaged in life. As an added bonus, perhaps the biggest deal of them all, it turns out that these self-care practices will also help your cognitive functioning stay as sharp as possible for as long as possible.
It is true that as you age all of these things become more of a challenge. Sleep may begin to elude you. You may find yourself waking up way too early. You may find yourself lying awake for hours at night. If this is the case, it would be wise to consult your doctor or other health practitioner about options that might help with sleep. There are many mild supplements that can help. There are audio meditations for sleep that can help. And there are sleep specialists that can be consulted to assess whether you suffer from sleep apnea or other treatable sleep disorders.
I know, dear older self, that exercise is not as easy as it once was. You may no longer be able to go for a brisk walk or make it to the gym. If you can do these things, please do them. Many medicare supplement plans include free gym memberships. And many YMCAs and community centers have discounts for seniors. Take advantage as much as you can of these resources.
If you are housebound, or wheelchair bound, or bed bound, find ways to keep moving and stretching. There are still many options for getting your blood moving.
And the food. Ah, the food. Remember when your ninety-six year old friend was asked by a nurse about how she stayed so sharp? She answered that her secret was eating ginger snaps every morning for breakfast. And she did. Ginger snaps and coffee were often her breakfast. She did, however, round out her diet with fruits and vegetables and protein at other meals.
By now you know that some food can deplete your energy. You also know that surgery foods can add to painful inflammation in your body, adding to problems with arthritis or other auto immune diseases. So do yourself a favor and be kind to yourself with your food choices.
Remember the widowed man in his eighties who lived in a retirement community? He ate in the common dinning room, but he always filled his plate with greens and avoided surgery foods. He also walked a couple miles every day. And he regularly spent time socializing and reading. All of this good self care kept his mind sharp, kept him engaged with others and keep him physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.
In addition to these basic self care strategies, a special kind of self care you will need to pay attention to as you grow older has to do with caring for your hearing. It may turn out that you do not need hearing aids, but if you do, please invest in them.
You have seen how loss of hearing can leave people sitting alone even in a crowd. Remember the dear older woman you knew who was so outgoing, so warm and embracing of others? As her hearing gradually deteriorated, you would see her sitting with a group of visiting family who were telling stories and laughing. All the while she was quiet and withdrawn. She was unable to hear what was being said but she was too embarrassed to admit it to herself or others. She was left out of conversations with the people she loved.
You witnessed the change when she finally got her hearing aids. It was like she came back to life. She was engaged with other people again. She enjoyed her life again.
If you do need hearing aids, please wear them. Do not be like your elderly family member who refused to wear his hearing aides— even when you requested that he wear them. He dismissed your request saying: “ I know people want me to listen to them and they think I should wear them, but I don’t want to bother.” You were stunned. He was telling you that he was choosing to disengage. He was choosing to be unavailable to listen to you and others. Do not do rob yourself in this way. Do not dismiss other people like this.
It is true that there can be problems with hearing aids. Some can amplify background noise. This can be very difficult in large crowds. It is less of a problem when a small circle of family or friends are gathered to talk. You will need to get your hearing aids checked if they are squealing or if there are other problems. Regular checks and adjustment of volume will be an important part of successfully using your hearing aids. Remember the 90 year old woman whose ear had become irritated by her hearing aid and who could never get the volume setting to stay in place? A few simple adjustments at the audiologist’s office made all the difference.
Please take good care of you. Love yourself in this way. It will become a gift to other people as well.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com
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