My partner and I have this ongoing, um, difference in philosophy. It pertains to how we think we should treat her Nan. Nan is in her mid-eighties, doesn’t have the world’s best knees but is able to get around unassisted and cognitively, has all of her faculties and maintains an independent lifestyle in her own home.
When she comes to stay with us, I am often getting in trouble. “Scott! Take Nan’s cup of tea to her!”, “Scott! Carry Nan’s shopping bag!”, “Scott! Open Nan’s car door and help her out!”. And so on.
we get old because we are told we should get old, we should slow down, do less, ease our momentum until we grind to a halt and eventually collapse face-first into a casket
My perspective is something like, “Nan has two arms and two legs, she is not an invalid, she can carry her own bag!” or “She managed to get herself into her car to drive over here from the Barossa, she can get herself back out of the car again!”. You may be thinking at this point, ‘gee this Scott bloke is a jerk!’. That is not entirely inaccurate. But the way I treat Nan is based on some fascinating 1980’s science which has now made it to the medium of modern consciousness, reality television!
I encourage you to watch the new BBC show, ‘The Young Ones’. It is on ABC Tuesday nights at 8.30pm. The basic premise is this: 6 75+y.o. British celebrities are removed from their homes or care facilities and put into a home together and are forced to be self-reliant and also self-determined. No more dinner at 4.30, lights off at 6. You make your own dinner when you want and go to bed when you want. And while you’re at it, do everything else yourself when you want, you know, like adults do!
But there is a fascinating and insightful twist. The decor of the home, the movies, the music, the newspapers, everything, is from the 1980’s. They are immersed in an environment that is familiar to them 20 to 30 years ago.
If you plan on watching this show, I am about to ruin the surprise ending. I know how it ends as this show is recreating a study conducted in the early 80’s by Dr. Ellen J Langer, a Psychologist and Harvard Professor.
This study contained two groups of men, one put into a situation like that of our modern British celebrities except it was the 1950’s that was recreated (seeing as it was the 1980’s at the time!), whilst the other group, the control group were kept in a typical aged-care facility like they were used to, but encouraged to reminisce about the 1950s.
A vast numbers of variables were measured- Strength, functional capacity, CV fitness, memory, IQ, height and posture, finger length etc etc. And guess what happened. Every member of the control group deteriorated in every test. Every member of the ‘intervention’ group, improved in every test. Yes, even their fingers got longer!! They basically ended the study as younger men. Why, because they were treated like younger men. That is why I treat Nan the way I do. I choose not to mollycoddle her, not because I am a jerk but because I want to empower her.
So often I hear from clients ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, I’m old!’, or ‘yeah my posture has gotten worse, but that is just what happens when you get old’. Things like this are often said in jest but conceal thinly veiled personal truths- no not truths,beliefs. Beliefs that we are all condemned to deteriorate and decay at about the same rate and there ain’t a damn thing I can do about it. These perspectives are NEVER met with agreeance by me, or my colleagues. Not because you are paying us to say nice things to you, or because it is our job to be eternally optimistic,but because those beliefs are wrong and should be challenged.
Studies like the one conducted by Langer strongly suggest that ageing is something we learn- we get old because we are told and therefore believe we should get old, we should slow down, do less, ease our momentum until we grind to a halt and eventually collapse face-first into a casket. Do not believe this, you have nothing to gain from it.
A quote from a book I am reading at the moment, called ‘Born to Run’ sums it up beautifully. In this book the author, Chris McDougall immerses himself with the Tarahumara Indian’s of the Copper Canyons of Northern Mexico. Elders of these tribes, men and women in their 90’s hike up to 50 miles a day through soaring mountain ranges and the deepest of canyons. How are they able to do it? McDougall asks. The answer: Because no-one ever told them they shouldn’t.