There are quotes and songs galore about old age as confronting one’s mortality can be a daunting experience. We all admire a person who, despite their years, continues to enjoy and live life to the fullest. We all have such inspirational figures within our own families.
But perceptions about age differ from country to country. However, what is alarming is the finding made by researchers at the University of Washington that a 30-year gap separates countries with the highest and lowest ages at which people experience the health problems of a 65-year-old. The study found that 76-year-olds in Japan and Switzerland and 46-year-olds in Papua New Guinea have the same level of age-related health problems as an “average” person aged 65.
Now comes the interesting part. The analysis found that people living in India experience similar health problems well before they turn 60. This bit of information caught my eye and set me thinking. Is one’s perception of age a case of mind over matter? I have often heard women I know in India speak of having entered old age simply because their children are grown up and have settled down in life. It’s as if their mission in life is over and now they can sink into an oblivion of sorts. Less care is taken of themselves as if it doesn’t really matter any longer. They are all well-educated, but their mindset hasn’t really changed from that of their mothers and grandmothers. The sad part is that they aren’t old by today’s standards. I wonder if this attitude makes one more susceptible to illnesses. This kind of thinking can have negative side-effects as many such people have focused completely on family and home and never taken the time or trouble to develop interests outside these spheres. It is but natural that when the need to focus only on children or running a home is no longer there, the woman finds herself at a loose end.
This should be the time to look at other ways of remaining active, both mentally and physically. If one does not do this, there is the danger of one’s health being affected as now one has all the time in the world to dwell on things that were earlier ignored as one was too busy living life and attending to the myriad needs of others.
Anyone who cares to listen
One might feel a lack of attention and therefore even start imagining one suffers from an illness. Once you are convinced that you are suffering from an illness, the next step is talking about it at length to anyone who cares to listen.
I think it is important for people to develop interests or pursue something that one had always thought of doing but never found the time to take up due to other commitments. I have seen so many of my parents’ friends after retirement dealing in different ways with that vacuum filled earlier by a full-time job or raising a family.
Some found it difficult to deal with this new phase in their lives and turned into crotchety human beings, always ready to complain or find fault with others.
And then there were some who earned my admiration by taking up a hobby or doing voluntary work, which kept them busy as well as feeling needed. They were always interesting to talk to as they had broad interests and had arrived at an acceptance of their present life shorn of all the power they once wielded.
I do realise there are many other factors involved in age-related illnesses, but I am convinced that positive thinking can prompt changes in your body that strengthen the immune system.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.