“Use It or Lose It—-THE SUPERAGERS”
by Eleanor Jaffe
“How to Become a Superager,” (a recent NY Times article) gives added credence to the well-known phrase, “Use it or lose it.” The author, Lisa Feldman Barrett, recommends that we elders work HARD at intellectual and physical challenges. She writes, “If people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain,” since, “all brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it….so work that brain.” What is more, she says, “The discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline….superagers excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort.” (To access this article, click here)
This is great advice that we BOLLI members follow in our course work—right? But we are, after all, “seasonal learners” with long interruptions between semesters. When I started to think about how to keep building brain muscle during BOLLI’s course breaks, I discovered that even vacation can keep us superagers going.
EXERCISING MY SUPERAGER BRAIN WHILE ON VACATION!
I’d like to think that the luxury of being able to purchase and outfit a new vacation condo in Florida has given me and my husband a multitude of opportunities to exercise our superager brain muscles. The challenges of setting up a new apartment are multiple, even to experienced hands like us. Here’s what I mean:
Let’s see. First of all, how shall I equip my now empty condo?
I start by making a floorplan and a color chart. Next, I decide what furnishings we need and make a master list. It doesn’t take long before I have to look for the often misplaced list, but when I find it, I tend to revise it. Then, I take it with us when we go shopping. Back home in Boston, I dig up unbreakable furnishings (linens, trays, small rugs, etc.) that we could use in Florida. I pack them up and ship them down. (I should have made a list of them…)
Next, I explore the resources my new surroundings have to offer. What stores carry the things I will need? How do I find those stores and websites that reliably provide “stuff”? I consider the advice of the other newcomers we meet about how they achieved the same goals. I learn about “consignment shops” where “lightly used” used items of often good quality are sold. Sarasota has about 35. And this kind of shopping offers adventure! You never know what you may find—or how quickly someone else will spot that terrific bargain. I’ve learned to be prepared to purchase on the spot. I’ve also learned to schedule deliveries so that I will be at home when these purchases arrive.
But furnishing a new space isn’t all that this kind of relocating involves. Our superaging brains get lots of exercise as we memorize lots of new code numbers: beach locker number, house entrance number, security number, cell phone number, etc., etc., etc. I have to write them down. (And then look for this list later, too.) We also have to learn directions: east, west, north, and south–especially difficult for me since I am–and always have been–“directionally challenged.” We have to learn the names and locations of new streets, highways, restaurants, movie houses, parks, beaches, etc.
And, of course, probably most important of all, we need to think about how to create a new social life.
We make lists of activities that seem like they will be fun or worthwhile. We locate the best lifelong learning center in the area so we can continue to do classroom learning. And all along the way, we make new friends. (The challenge, of course, is to remember their names.) And, of course, we make sure that we stay in touch with old friends—they are the best.
We also need to schedule visitors. And that takes special planning—how many and how often is too much? Of all my tasks, this one seems to be the most challenging to me.
I am reminded of a hint from the renowned psychologist, B.F. Skinner. He said that as we age, we forget a lot, and we ought to routinely equip ourselves with a pad that we wear around our necks that contain our “lists.”
Do you think pads around the neck could become the new fashion accessory for us “superagers”?
Eleanor says that, “As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of 53 years, my friends — and my 102 year old mother. What does it mean to be growing older in today’s society? To satisfy my growing curiosity, I created and taught three different classes about aging issues over the past several years at BOLLI. My experiences as a social worker and as a high school teacher of English–plus a lot of reading about aging and loss—and, of course, living to 80 (so far)–have prepared me to write this blog.