(By Lawrence J.W. Cooper, Comox Valley Poet Laureate)

The Wisdom of Age

The days pass swiftly into oblivion.
Time picks up speed and races ahead
turning treasured memories into reruns of the present.

But age does not define me.
I am not a victim of my forgetful mind.
I am not a suffering soul that needs to be coddled.

I am an elder.
My accumulated wisdom bears the seeds of new ways
to change this world into a new Garden of Eden, a new Shangri-La.

I see the past but live in the present.
I see the harmony of space and time.
I have learned to dance the dance of love and life.

I have the answers; please listen to me.
I have the solutions; please hear my impassioned pleas.
I understand the human mind, and I know the human heart.

Compassion for the Elderly

The election of Joe Biden as president-elect to the United States, the most demanding and exhausting job on the face of the Earth, is music to my ears. In spite of attempts by his opposition to portray him as an doddering old fool who shows limited intellectual ability, he presents as a gentle older man with a great deal of wisdom, heart, and compassion. It is yet another reminder that stereotypes for the elderly still exist but the power of the collective compassionate human mind can see through the disinformation. Biden (soon to be 78) and Nancy Pelosi (80) still demonstrate that intellectual and purposeful life does not end at sixty-five.

I am seventy-three, but I am not old. I am a vibrant human being who has learned from the lessons of life, lessons that have made me stronger and wiser. I am not ready to be put out to pasture, to be re“tired”. I am now in a position where I can see life as it is, its pitfalls, and its moments of ecstasy. I understand the meaning of life; I understand the meaning of love and compassion. I will never stop writing and reaching out sharing my ideas and nuggets of wisdom gained by a life time of living, loving, and learning.

But this is not just wishful thinking. Science supports my view on aging. Staudinger and others (1) noted the dual-process nature of intelligence during aging. They observed that there is a decline in the mechanics but continued growth in the pragmatics. They concluded that continued growth in highly effective cognitive abilities in old age is possible despite an aging-related loss in speed and accuracy of information processing. In other words even though memory recall and speed of processing may decrease, we can continue to grow intellectually in knowledge and other intellectual abilities that are associated with wisdom.

There is also evidence that we can continue to grow the brain as we age. Maass and others(2) using fMRIs with subjects 60 to 75 noted that the hippocampus which is responsible for memory actually expands when seniors engage in aerobic exercises. Whalley and others(3) noted that including fatty acids in the diet is associated with better cognitive functioning later in life. Perhaps this means that there is a Joe Biden in all of us if we take care of ourselves, exercise, eat the right foods, and believe in ourselves as expanding intelligent beings.

The implication to me is that as a society we are missing a great opportunity to access the combined intelligence and compassion from our senior population. We can take a lesson from our indigenous communities who consider the role of the elder as a sacred time. We can include seniors in the decision making process as guides on the side. We can put them in positions to instruct and lead through the powers of compassion and wisdom. When it comes for care of the elderly, we can give them all an opportunity to continue to find meaning and purpose in day to day living. We can scientifically go about giving them opportunities to grow and keep their memories intact through appropriate exercise and a well-rounded diet. In other words we treat them as valued human beings.

(1) Staudinger, Ursula M.; Fox, Helen C.; and Baltes, Paul B.. The Aging of Intelligence: Potential and Limits. 1889, Research Article. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 1989. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002716289503001004

(2) Maass, A.; Duzel S.; Goerke, M.; Becke A.; Sobieray, U.; Neumann, K.; Lovden, M.; Lindengerger U.; Backman, L; Braun-Dullaeus. R.; Ahrens, D.; Heinze, H-J; Muller, N G; and Duzel, E.. Vascular hippocampal plasticity after aerobic exercise in older adults. Molecular Psychiatry. 2014.

(3) Whalley, Lawrence J.; Fox, Helen C,; Wahle, Klaus W.; Starr, John M,; and Deary, Ian J.. Cognitive aging, childhood intelligence, and the use of food supplements: possible involvement of n-3 fatty acids. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 80. 2004.