In February of this year, I turned 75.
In itself, that's no big deal. I'm healthy, happy, busy and brainy. Young for my age, blah blah blah. Now what?
Life is long!
My official life expectancy is 98 or 99, so I have probably completed about 75% of my allotted span. Maybe in 10 or 20 years time I will accept the label of old age—that stage of life so dreaded, and so mysteriously maligned, mocked, defied and denied.
In January I began to think seriously about the remainder of my life. I noted the strange conflicting attitudes of other people and myself towards old age and old people. I looked at the current tsunami of scientific studies around the topics of old age and especially dementia.
We used to think of dementia, including Alzheimers, as something out of our control. We were told in our youth that brain cells die and cannot be revived, that no new brain cells would spring up in their place, end of story. I believed that 99% of my delightful life style was due to sheer luck—I had lucky genes, lucky time and place of birth, lucky family circumstances.
New research into the brain shows luck has less influence
Since then, a revolution in brain science has turned those old beliefs upside down. The brain is plastic, capable of reshuffling tasks and healing itself in ingenious ways. It's now clear that we have far more control over whether we get dementia in old age than we ever imagined. And by now, we know pretty much what we should do to achieve maximum physical and mental health and strength well into old age.
Add to this the message that a greying population is already pushing the cost of health care to frightening levels, and a 75th birthday took on a weighty significance. As a result, I had a modest epiphany.
A good moment to audit the lifestyle
I determined to use my 75th year to take stock of my own health and life choices, study the evidence, and make a to-do list—actions and commitments that would maximise my chances of living well and happily into my almost inevitable old-old age. Then I would tick off one goal every month.
So began my year of preparation for old age. I would make this year a personal boot camp for old age.
Because I'm a writer, I can't help writing about this. We're almost half-way through the year, I've worked through one goal per month as planned, and my notes are in chaos. (This is not my day job.) Fleeting thoughts and terrible videos and random articles are scattered all over the house and the internet. Now I shall try to catch up with myself and focus. Wish me luck!
Image: Elise Serafin Luftmann, strongwoman from a German-speaking region of Bohemia, she performed all over central Europe. Luftmann was famous for her ability to lift heavy weights and to juggle cannonballs. This illustration dates c. 1830. Public domain.