In recent years there has been an explosion of interest and research to discover the cause and ways to successfully treat Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. There are new medications to stave off brain decline and if already in decline, to improve the brain’s cognitive ability. There are also many recommendations for ways to exercise the mind to keep it sharp, including reading, playing board games, and even ballroom dancing (WebMD). Certainly, many seniors are now more computer savvy, surfing the Internet, social networking, and webcam chatting with friends and family; all wonderful ways for older adults to keep their minds active and to avoid social isolation.
But what did older adults do years ago when there was no science working on ways to combat brain decline, and there were no computers, email, social networking, and so forth? It’s shocking to realize that personal computers, email, and the internet only become popular around the mid 1990’s. That’s only 15 years ago, and about the time I got my first computer and started Mental Health News.
While thinking about this, I can’t help but reflect on my father Herbert’s life. My father was born in 1913, was a successful attorney, raised five children, and lived another 20 years in Florida after my Mother passed away. Dad was 89 years old when he died in 2002, and he remained sharp and lived on his own up until the very end of his life.
One thing my father was known for and had mastered into an exact science was his gregarious and out-spoken personality. He developed these skills in part because of his line of work as an attorney in private practice. What he would often do was recount past achievements, clients and cases over and over again to us (his kids) and to new people he would meet throughout his life. I used to cringe and often leave the room in embarrassment when he would go into one of his stories—partly because members of the family had obviously heard the same stories over and over again, and also because as a youngster, I didn’t understand the genius behind what he was doing. I can laugh about it now and think of how many episodes of Seinfeld could have been written about someone like my father, his outgoing personality, and the endless stories he told.
But you know what? I think it was those very same stories that kept his mind sharp throughout his life and into his golden years. He didn’t have a computer, the internet, or email. He was a master of the spoken (and hand-written) word. He always took an interest in people and would encourage them to speak about how they were doing and loved to be consulted about a problem someone may be having.
He brought those same skills with him when he retired to Florida. He became a sought-after advisor to the local condominium scene, who often came to him to answer legal questions or to resolve a dispute between boards and their residents. He loved and thrived on the attention he received and would always send me clippings about his appearance on a local radio talk-show or in the local newspaper about his condominium activities.
During my father’s golden years, I finally came to understand the many good qualities he had, that I did not appreciate when I was younger. He taught me many lessons during those years that I still cherish and hope I too may be remembered for as I now approach my own golden years.
I often think about my own experience overcoming mental illness, starting over again, and what it has taught me. It is that you need to find something you really love and are passionate about and use it as much as you can in your day-to-day life. For me, it became starting this newspaper 20 years ago. It has not only helped a lot of people get connected to the mental health community, but it has given purpose to my life, was instrumental in my recovery, and keeps me going every day.
Good Luck in Your Recovery