I am 64, definitely a baby boomer. I have had to deal with an aging body for some time now. In my 40s, a sprained wrist from a skating fall took more than six months to heal. That felt like a betrayal – I still felt the way I felt when I was younger, but my body had aged, seemingly while I was looking elsewhere. Now I find the same sort of concern about my mind. When I forget a name or a word, I question whether it is the start of a process of disintegration.
Of course, I still feel the same inner consciousness I had when I was nine years old, so this other persona, this person who can’t remember things, is a surprise. I recently figured out that if I allow myself to free-associate, I usually come to the right name or word, but not all the time. I need to be relaxed for this to work.
I have decided that I am better if I continue to learn new things. I have not worked for some years because of a disability, but I work to keep learining new things. I have always been a compulsive reader, the kind who reads cereal boxes when there is nothing else to read. I read mostly fiction, but I include non-fiction as well, and I discuss what I read with friends.
I also play violin and viola, and perform in the Sierra Vista Symphony Orchestra. We have three concerts a year, and I am still learning new music or relearning music I played many years ago. I heard once on NPR that someone found that people who play musical instruments retain more of their mental powers than others. I think this is because the process involves so many separate mental acts – eye to brain, brain to body, ears to brain, brain to body to adjust what needs adjusting – all these occuring within an instant. It’s a good thing these things are done without conscious thought.
I got my first computer in 2008, and it has proved a source of much mental stimulation and gratification. Among other things, I began to write, first at Daily Kos, a liberal political blog, and later here. I even get paid for some of my writing. That is something I have wanted to do since I was nine years old, and here I am in my 60s, doing it. The computer is also a source of new knowledge, seemingly endless in scope.
I also use it to play a word game called Word Zap. I have always liked word games and puzzles, and they certainly are a way to keep mentally fit.
So do I worry about mental deterioration? Sometimes. But when I sat a few months ago on the stage at Buena Arts Center in Sierra Vista playing Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with a wonderful soloist and conductor, I thought “I’m still learning new things.” It seemed enough.