Monday, August 26, 2019

Brain Decay After 50

Our human brains are incapable of learning after the age of 50.
This was common knowledge until recently when neuroscientists could actually see inside people's skulls and study their brains up close.
Growing up, we all heard the forecast: no learning after 50, no use learning dancing or a new language. Older brains, the wisdom went, just can't absorb new information. They are hardened, stiff, like our joints and muscles.
Apparently this belief began, or gained credence, with Sigmund Freud. In a 1986 article in the L. A. Times, Dr. Calvin Colarusso, of UC San Diego Medical School, stated: "Within our profession, [psychiatry] the negativism about treating older people stems directly from (Sigmund) Freud's pessimism that anyone over 40 was essentially too old to benefit [from therapy]."

Freud's prognosis of older brains referred to whether people over 50 could be treated through psychology. He assumed "that the mental processes of older people are too rigid and unable to change, that they have too many experiences to talk about during therapy (Okay, he may be right about this!), and that treatment for the elderly would not be cost-effective (meaning we elders would die before anything good could occure)."

In 1986, when the above mentioned article was written, I was 32 years old, facing, apparently, only a couple of decades of brain life. We were beginning a family, chasing careers, buying a house and cars. Would it all end when I turned 50?
Personally, I didn't agree with this theory. I ain't a psychologist or scientist, but to me, just looking at our giant skulls on top of our bodies, our brains surely had more to do than wither when we turned 50. Really? All that "brain power" and it just stops? Hardens? Atrophy's? It just didn't seem logical.
Age 50 was considered the best for retirement because of this notion that older people would not be able to learn anything new. Social Security and Medicare were set up to begin when people turned 65, which surely would be very few people.
I can feel the shuddering of all the researchers regarding brain health. We've since learned that IF we continue to learn new things, our brains will add myelin around our nerves, thus connecting all the stuff we know to the new stuff we know. (For a good layman's book about this, check out The Talent Code: Greatness isn't Born, It's Grown. Here's How, by Daniel Coyle.)
Rather than deteriorating as predicted, our brains crave social interactions, new experiences, and even – no kidding here – therapy to help us cope with life.
Since turning 50, so many wonderful and difficult events have occurred in my life. Join me next Monday to learn what those were. In the meantime, whatever your age, smile at your brain today. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

My Valiant Effort

At my first Annual Exam -- supported by Medicare, which I now receive as a 65-year-old – I told my doctor – a young woman – that I was concerned about having gained weight in the last 4 years. I was so distraught that I cried.

Poor docs.

How often do people cry in their office?

I also had high blood pressure which was new for me; my blood pressure is always in the normal range.

She said, "It's probably because you were stressed about coming to the doctor's office. It's a real thing. It unnaturally raises a person's blood pressure."

I sniffed back my tears, "I'm not stressed about being here," I told her with a straight face.

She told me to get my blood pressure taken at stores around town and bring her the log of my results. She's certain that those numbers will be more in the normal range.

Why was I crying?

I feel betrayed by my body. For the past 30+ years I have kept the same weight: 147 lbs. I've been proud of myself. No yo-yo dieting for me. If my weight began to climb, I removed something fattening from my regular diet over the course of a year.

·         Chicken skin because, although it's very tasty, it's very fatty.
·         Breakfast cereal and milk.
·         Milk in my coffee.
·         Ice cream every week.

I had maintained my weight through a careful process of removal; of depriving myself of what I enjoyed in order to be healthier. And it worked! My year-long dedication to stop eating or drinking certain foods, worked!

Yet, here I am at 65, gaining weight unexpectedly. I can't seem to remove anything else. In fact, the thought of doing so, makes me sad.

The doctor, and her nurse, told me that women gain weight after menopause. Period. A fact.
I'm pretty sure no one told me this!
If we get to this point in our lives, we will gain weight?
I'm not gonna lie. It was another reason to cry at the doctor's office.
She was concerned, asked if I'd like to see a therapist. No, I said, I just want to lose this extra weight.
I told her that in preparation for this doctor visit (I'm always prepared, it's a failing of mine), I was going to change my approach. Instead of depriving myself, taking things away, I was going to start adding things. In fact, I was going to add a walk around our property every single day.
She was surprised (she doesn't know me very well yet so doesn't know how much I overthink everything) and she was pleased.
She said, "I'm going to write down here in your record about your valiant goal of walking every day."
Isn't that like heroic?
I was so happy to hear myself called that! She soothed my heart, gave me courage and additional heart to actually meet my goal. She complimented me. J
I am walking every single day that I'm at home. No other goals just yet, I'm just trying to build a healthy, happy habit.
We don't know when compliments will help someone. Give them out, like flower petals or snowflakes, whatever your age, everywhere you go. It's one tiny method of improving life on the planet.

Monday, August 12, 2019


            This week I received two compliments: one from my doctor and one from a game on my tablet.
            The game, Cradle of Empires, by Awem. is a match-3 with various secondary activities. It's a fairly accurate historical Egyptian theme, with forays into modern European-Christian elements such as Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Halloween. I appreciate that the English is usually spelled and used correctly.
Today, when I opened the game, a statement from the game developers appeared thanking me for playing and being such a great friend. Did I know, they asked, that today was International Friendship Day? No, I answered silently, I didn't know that. Since I am such a great friend of theirs, they were giving me an hour of 'free' play.
This game has complimented me before. Unexpectedly, I receive a personal sounding note about how great I am, how much they like me, and what they want to do for me. Sure, they're trying to        keep me playing the game, especially when they give a 'free' hour of play. I've lived for 65 years now. I know they're not just being nice because of my sparkling personality.
Still, there is something about the personal, warm sounding note that makes me feel good. Like they really do care about me and would be sad if I disappeared from their digital lives.
And isn't this what makes a wonderful compliment? Warmth, sincerity, positivity, caring.
One nice thing about compliments, that this game does skillfully, is that they are unexpected. When someone says you're wearing nice clothes, you sing well, or you've shown real improvement at a skill, it usually comes at an informal, unplanned moment. Even compliments during a job review can feel unscripted and therefore more sincere.
  Personally, I love getting compliments, and I'm no longer ashamed to admit it. Frankly, I think everyone loves compliments, even if some deny it. I met a couple from Europe who said that in their culture they rarely give compliments because it is expected that people will know when they're doing well. However, verbal correction is handed out freely when someone messes up because they need to be reminded. 
Many people have been raised this way.  Without compliments.
Including me.
I don't recall a single compliment from my parents, although they frequently referred to us as  "great kids". What did that mean, really? It meant I was doing what I was supposed to do right alongside my siblings. No "good job" for As and Bs, but "what's the problem with you?" for Cs and Ds. Often I dreaded Report Card time because there would be frowns and questions. Best to get Bs to keep away from frowns, and avoid As because I would never receive praise for them.
Therefore, I grew up not hearing or seeing compliments. I rarely saw this gesture modeled. So often during my life, I wish I had complimented someone, but the words seem stuck at the back of my throat.
There's a song from the musical South Pacific that says, "We must be carefully taught to hate."
I believe we must also be carefully taught to be kind, and that includes giving compliments.
I recently heard that Kahlil Gibran defined generosity as giving more than you can possibly give. That was a new idea to me. I give freely of my time, some folks give freely of their money. But I never considered giving MORE than I could give. Talk about abundance thinking!
What if we treated compliments that way; as a kind of generosity in which we give more than we can possibly give. What if we gave out compliments all over the place.
Try not to be afraid. Sure, you'll mess up sometimes, but give compliments anyway. They are so much better for the world than silence.
What compliment did my doctor give? Join me next Monday as I relate a tiny bit about my first Medicare exam. This week I hope you can give compliments in joyous, unbearable abundance!      

Monday, August 5, 2019

Retired and Living My Dream Life

       Last week I explained about my choices for retirement when I was 62: continue working for three years (or more), continue working and collect Social Security benefits, or quit working and receive Social Security benefits.
These are choices that most people make after they turn 60. Things may change, but by the time we turn 60, we will be facing some form of this decision.
My decision was based on what I really wanted to do with my life. I mean, deep -- down in my soul -- desire to do.
That desire is to write. Specifically to write novels.
Thus the third word of my blog's title: writing.
I wrote my first novel when I was 16. It was a dreadful thing based on the books I'd been reading about Fu Manchu, an evil Chinaman. It was, therefore, fan fiction. It's called The Table is the Master and features 12 hapless tourists to Hong Kong who are kidnapped and forced to play roulette (I guess this seemed torturous to me at the time) until only one of them is the winner. Supposedly the others would die.

Hey. I said it was dreadful. Full disclosure!
I had a great time writing it. I had to learn about roulette, at least the numbers on the wheel, and I made slips of paper with each number and color that I pulled out to insert into the story. I did not consider getting an actual roulette wheel. (Probably the potential explanation to  parents still living in the house was a deterrent.)
It didn't matter that I knew nothing about the city where the characters were trapped because all the action took place in one room. I don't recall if they had access to bedrooms or a bathroom, or showers. So probably it was a stinky room after a while.
I sat at the desk in my brother's room where the only typewriter in our house lived. I typed every page of that story on that typewriter. I was always wondering what would happen next, what the characters would say to each other, how they would react to this forced imprisonment. It was like reading a story, wondering about the ending. What happens next? Except, this story was being written by me, so I determined what happened next.
What a joy!
I wrote another novel in my twenties, a historical romance, and a historical mystery in my forties. During my life, I wrote over 25 short stories and a few children's books.
Hmm. Seeing a pattern?
Truthfully, I haven't been able to stop. (Topic for another blog post.) I constantly imagine characters, settings, plots.
For most of my life, I've had to set aside time to work on stories. Even if they came to me fast and furious, like my story "The Honorable Nephew", I still had to leave them to go to work. They never were my work.
Since I turned 62 and could receive my Social Security benefits, I have been able to write every day for as long as I want. I have published one novel and a play for children to perform. I'm working on several novels; either planning them (I love planning!), revising and polishing them, or researching for them. I've completed two novellas, a fantasy novel, and a book that follows the one already published. Thus, I have a series!
I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world: I have lived long enough to receive retirement benefits, I am now enjoying my work as a novelist every single day, I have good enough health to probably live another 30 years. Plenty of time for a career!
Is there a dream life for you? Can you live it now, or must you wait? Either one is fine!
Have a lucky, joy-filled week, whatever your age!