In(ter)dependence

It is interesting to come to a realisation that one has been wrong about something for a very long time – and then having to reframe one’s thinking. It is uncomfortable, to say the least.
For most of my life working in aged care I have equated quality of life with independence. I firmly believed that it is the defining attribute that all older people should strive for. Not only independence in activities of daily living, but independence from needing other people. I was wrong. The more I explored the lived reality of people in Hangberg, the more I noticed that they did not have this obsession with so-called “successful” ageing, which meant that they can live alone and not need other people. Their being-in-the-world is all about inTERdependence, a connectedness to an ecosystem of family and community. They do not build high walls, children do not move out of their parent’s home as soon as they can. If they do, it is almost a given that the grandchildren will move in with the grandparents. There is a cohesion, as precarious as that might seem. And no “old age homes”.
For many years, if I was asked if I would recommend parents moving in with their children, I would shout a big NO! An absolute NO! There is a possibility that I was wrong. A new field of study looks at socioecology and the importance of community interdependencies. It is within these (often) informal community structures that there is an expression of agency. Whilst we look at the precarious nature of so-called “poorer” communities, we miss one of the most critical elements – agency.
I spoke to grandmothers in the Hangberg community who – if measured by any hegemonic measure – would be considered trapped in a precarious cycle of poverty, living in crowded homes, are illiterate and without much potential for a “better” life. Yet, every single one of them story their elderliness as one of great privilege and immeasurable grace. They see themselves as blessed, because they not only have agency, but a purpose. They hold together a family lineage which rises above the perceived restrictions of their past (Apartheid), their “deficits” (not being able to finish school) and their present circumstances which (again perceived from the outside) might look precarious to say the least. It is within this precarity that a tension is created. And it is this tension that holds together not only the makeshift homes that can withstand the worst of the Cape Southeaster, but also holds together a different being-in-the-world. A community.
Our ageist social norms of older people as passive recipients of care, as being a grey tsunami or a care burden on the world economy is a western social construct that needs serious attention and rethinking. Older people are indeed the most valuable assets to and of communities. They hold the values*, give physical comfort, contribute to social integration, to name but a few of these attributes. This capabilities approach shines a completely different light on ageing and the role of older people in society. To relegate older people to “old age homes” is not only detrimental to the formation of healthy communities, it is shutting down a life force that feeds the growth of society as a whole. Older people do not need our protection – something that I have fought against for many years. They need inclusion. We need to shift our focus towards creating a society where old and young, together, form an interdependent cohesive community. Older people will age differently, we will see less of the “tragic” and more of the “magic” of ageing. And we will learn “to change our minds about people whose minds have changed” (Dr. Allen Power, “Dementia beyond drugs”).
If we can restructure our communities – and COVID-19 might just force us to do this – we might start seeing older people as our teachers of the lessons this world so badly needs: patience, forgiveness, resilience, wisdom and many more attributes that our capitalist society somehow no longer values. Older people can heal our broken world. They will teach us again about genuine human caring and presence.
* “‘It gives you a reason to be in this world’: the interdependency of communities, environments and social justice for quality of life in older people” (Robertson, Gibson, Greasly-Adams, McCall, Gibson, Mason-Duff and Pengelly, 2020).
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

Vulnerability

Vulnerability
I have often written about vulnerability in the past. Every year at this time it comes to the surface again. I see how older people battle with the expectations we have of how we think this time of year should be celebrated. Surrounded by children of all ages, braais, late nights and heavy, rich meals. And of course wine and beer and lots of cakes and biscuits with teatime.
I am now 55. Over the past few years I have been acutely aware of how my body has changed. I can no longer eat red meat and drink red wine at night – one of my biggest pleasures in life! As for coffee, since I turned 45 I cannot drink coffee after 18h00 in the evening. Lately, if I drink tea at night, I have to get up and go for a pee up to three times during the night. I have aches and pains where I did not think it was possible to have aches and pains. I gain weight walking past the fridge, and battle for weeks to lose a few kilos.
Thing is, we change as we grow older. Our bodies change, our digestive systems change, our sleeping patterns change. But most of all, our minds change. If – and this is a BIG IF – we really pay attention to our Selves, we will notice the changes on many different levels. As we grow older, we become more aware of our attunement (or not) with the outside world. Our bodies slow down, start rejecting certain foods and practices and habits, for a good reason. We are not supposed to run as fast as a 20 year old, eat as much or look like them. Our entire system starts to change, and unless we accept these changes we will go into a constant battle with our bodies and our Minds.
Very few people seem to be able to gracefully accept the ageing process. Thanks to our brainwashing by the media, we believe that we have to fight ageing with all our power. Botox and tummy tucks, boob jobs and dyeing our hair will keep us “young”, while everything in our bodies are kicking and screaming. I am not saying that we should “let go”, trust me. We need to work harder on staying fit, but we also need to listen to our bodies. We are Divinely guided to another place, another state of being-in-the-world, one of introspection and contemplation. This is the phase in our lives where we grow more than ever, as things are not always easy…
As we grow older, we become slower. We start to worry, we become insecure. After 60 the world thinks we are all stupid and redundant. We take this on board and start beating ourselves up, feeling like we are a nuisance to our loved ones, that we no longer matter. As much as we try to assert ourselves, we simply feel that there is not much point. Yet, I believe that this is the most magical stage of our lives. This is the time to slow down, to look inward, to grow towards a higher state of consciousness. There is a reason for us to slow down, to change our ways, to become more in tune with ourselves and the world around us. We are an intricate part of a mystical ecosystem, we are the expression of Consciousness itself. We can now step out of the rat race and create our own world of creativity and contemplation.
The more we kick against this, the more it will feel as if we are not supposed to be here. Again, the changes that we are experiencing are not easy. It will take hard work to sit back and accept the slowing down. If we are honest with ourselves and really look at ourselves in the mirror every day, it will start happening. Spending time in nature, surrounding yourself with good friends and people who truly love you will bring that acceptance. And then the magic will happen. New neurological pathways will bring new insights, a sense of grateful acceptance, and contentment. Stop fighting. Stop trying to defy Nature. Open your heart and your Mind to the flow of Life. It is perfect just the way it is. If your wonky knees allow you, go and sit in a meadow and look at every little flower and blade of grass. Contemplate the magnificence of it all. Take a pencil and a piece of paper and try to draw these delicate gifts of nature. Photograph them. Be still. This is the best time of our lives.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

Consciousness

For those of you who have missed the conversations with Prof. Felicity Edwards (posted to Facebook), make sure that you listen!
fb.watch/2NR8JJoAJR/ <fb.watch/2NR8JJoAJR/>
fb.watch/2NRdnL4eyR/ <fb.watch/2NRdnL4eyR/>
fb.watch/2NR7Ls6JS1/ <fb.watch/2NR7Ls6JS1/>
Felicity is Emeritus professor of Divinity, Rhodes University.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

This festive season

This “festive” season was certainly not as festive as we usually know it. There seems to be a veil of uncertainty and fear suspended over all our usual frivolity. And as per usual, I got a few telephone calls of panicked children who suddenly realise that their older parents are no longer coping. And the inevitable fear of dementia…
Dementia is very real, and I am not denying the impact that it has on the lives of those living with it or their families. Yet, it must never be our first port of call. A visit to a psychiatrist who administers the Mini Mental State Examination is NOT the route to take. I have written extensively about dementia being a diagnosis by exclusion in previous blogs. I cannot emphasise this enough. Go and read these at my blog. <mindsmatter.co.za/> The COVID-19 reality is that many older people have become extremely isolated, their usual routines of visiting friends and family, playing bridge and socialising disrupted. Social isolation often leads to depression, a lack of motivation to get up, get dressed, and put on the brace face for the world. I have heard of many people telling me that their older relatives’ speech has deteriorated. This happens when people stop socialising…if you don’t use it, you lose it.
We all seem to be suspended in this precarious position of wanting to protect our older parents. In the process, we often do more harm than good. Whilst we might worry about their safety and wellbeing, it never works when we reverse the parent/child role. In fact, it causes chaos and resentment, and often totally out of character behaviour. Our parents are our parents – whether we are 10 or 55. That is their role, and they will never stop playing that role. We can advise, support and suggest, but the minute we take over control we run the risk of completely disempowering them. And we start causing havoc between siblings. Yes we know best – or do we?
Every human being has the desire to be significant. For many older people, this significance often starts fading when they enter the ageist, nebulous world of old age. They simply do not enjoy the status or standing in a world that is so focussed on productivity. Old patterns fuelled by unresolved issues seem to come galloping out of the closet as we age. Our insecurities are magnified and multiply in our sleepless nights. This is when the desperate clawing back to some sense of control is noticed – those really nasty remarks about our drinking/smoking/weight gain or chosen partners that slip out unexpectedly and unguarded. And they hurt like hell. This is often the consequence of feeling vulnerable, wanting to show the world that one can still make and have an impact.
What to do?
Validate: “I can see that this is hard for you. How can we assist you to stay as independent as long as possible?” Make yourself vulnerable: “Mom, this is difficult for me. I have no idea what I have to do to support you.” Reassure: “I am worried about you being alone, but please know that I am always there if you need me.” Build in support systems: Install a call system that is easy to use and linked to a response team, like Telecare Solutions <www.telecaresolutions.co.za/>.
Try and listen like you would listen to one of your clients, and not like you are listening to your Mom/Dad. Often it is much easier to let someone who is not a family member have this conversation, as we get caught in the emotional trap, have our buttons pushed and react instead of respond.
This time of year is notorious for family fights. Everyone is exhausted, and with COVID-19 we have a major existential crisis staring us in the face. We do not have the answers, but we can be kind. Very, very kind. Listen. Reassure. And be more kind.
For help or advice, send me an email at rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> Have a blessed 2021.

Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

Reality

Russell Brand interviews Carlo Rovelli (theoretical physicist) on the nature of reality. It seems apt for our understanding of, amongst other things, people living with dementia. In terms of quantum physics, we now know that reality is made by interactions. We are becoming through our interactions with each other, our environment, our thoughts and our being-in-the-world. We only understand things in terms of how they interact with each other – as we can only truly understand ourselves through our interactions with other people. Ubuntu – “I am because of you”.
We have this idea that the world is made of objects. This is wrong. Even within the most elementary structures – or indeed elements themselves – only exist in how they interact with other objects or elements. “The world is made by relations”. We exist only in relation to other beings and things and objects, as part of a complex network. Reality is thus far more complex than what we would like to think it is. The relativity of being – we are in relation to each other, making it all relative in a way. I hope that makes sense – it is quite simple, yet profoundly complex.
When we look at ourselves as individuals, we are not individual at all, but a result or a manifestation of an interaction. This is the mystery that lies behind and beyond our Being. We reflect (and deflect) each other, we shine as a reflection of that great Energy, which in itself also cannot be Energy if not for us.
The notion of independence is what pulls us apart, this quest for individuality and so-called freedom is like trying to split an atom, it causes immeasurable chaos. Somehow, we got it all wrong. Our aim should be to connect, to see and acknowledge that we are only a reflection within a cosmos of light, moments of articulation in a complex rhizomatic universe.
Sadly we often only see “objects” or labels. If we bear in mind this theory of quantum physics or relativity, we will Know the difference between the outer reflection and the inner Being. We will see ourselves in every reflection, we will learn, become in the light that is reflected. THen, and only then will we understand what is meant by “be still and know that I am God”.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

Being called…

According to Stina Hanson, ‘we come into being as a response to a call from the other’.
I find this an incredibly beautiful quote. It is in our engagement that agency is activated. By responding to being called, our Being comes to life. If no one calls our name, will we know who we are?
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
If no one calls us into Being, what happens to us – do we no longer exist? Coming into Being is such a powerful descriptor for the reason that we are here – to Become, to grow. It also incorporates what Ubuntu stands for – that “I am because of you”. Desmond Tutu says “it is not ‘I think therefore I am’ it is ‘I belong, therefore I am’”. I think we not only wait to be called upon, but also that we are to call on one another, to hold each other accountable.
COVID-19 taught us so many lessons. One of them is that we are all connected to each other, that we are all responsible for each other, and that this idea of individual rights at the expense of others is simply no longer tolerable. Trump’s idea of the world is being showcased as the biggest disaster ever. I cannot help but think of the biblical phrase “am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer, in my opinion, is yes, you are. We all are.
Holding this sacred space means that I am mindful of you, I see you, I honour you. The person begging at the traffic light, the man offering to push your trolley at the shops or the parking attendant. And that (s)he not just your brother, it is (wo)mankind, it is our planet, every animal and plant on earth is your brother, and you its keeper. People living with dementia are also our brother and sister, for it is in our calling on them, literally and figuratively speaking, that they Become. Their Being-in-the-world is affected by our calling on them, the way we see them, think about them and treat them. The same holds true for every interaction that we have – it is our calling that determines their becoming.
The severe isolation hopefully taught us what it feels like when not being called.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

Well-being

Older people and Well-being “A large body of empirical and theoretical research, however, supports the idea that negative changes increase in later adulthood and old age, as everyday experiences and stereotypes might indeed lead us to expect (P. B. Baltes, 1997). At the same time, many studies show that for the large majority of older people, subjective well-being does not decrease in later adulthood, at least into the early phases of old age (P. B. Baltes, 1997). This implies the existence of different mechanisms at work, which buffer or completely absorb the impact of increasingly negative development influences.
This aspect of aging has never been more important than it is today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century: Society is graying (Williamson, 2002), and historically speaking, this is a “young” phenomenon (P. B. Baltes & Baltes, 1990). Nevertheless, despite the growing population of elderly people—both because more people are living to reach old age and because on average they are living longer (Maier & Vaupel, 2003)—there is much evidence that elderly people in this aging society will do better socially, physically, and psychologically than any older generation before them. “ Part of the ageist society that we have created is the (accepted) projection of an image of decline and deficit in the later years of life. We have all come to believe that it is nothing to look forward to, and that being old is often a time of misery. For the most, that is what we are fed by mainstream and social media on a daily basis. I want to challenge that based on the article cited above.
There is now a wealth of evidence that is worth paying attention to, not only for what it produces, but for the fact that it is based on research that includes the global South (previously known as the “third world” or “developing countries”). Unfortunate as it is that it still does not cover older people across the spectrum in developing countries, it gives a good indication of what we consider to be a global phenomenon – that older people generally believe that they are living a good life. Of course when we focus on deficits and decline and our research explores only those aspects, we will have a skewed view of the well-being of older people. (Someone recently explained how statistics work: if you have your head in the blazing oven and your feet in the freezer, your ass will be warm…). What statisticians want to find they will find.
The upshot of this is that if we (as the general “younger” population) see older people as “suffering from…”, that will be the way that we frame their Being-in-the-world. It creates the lens through which we see older people, which in turn becomes the way that we treat them. Of course, even worse is the secondary affect – older people start believing what we tell them and what they read about themselves in the media – that they are indeed a “care burden on the world economy”!
Whilst thousands of older people died during the COVID-19 pandemic, this does not mean that as a population they are feeble or frail, nor that they are the worst off in terms of well-being during this time. On the contrary – every single older person that I spoke to seems to be strong minded, grateful for what they had and not nearly as phased as some of my younger friends were. There is a quality in ageing that somehow we often do not see (or perhaps want to see) – and I don’t quite know how to describe it. “Downward compensation” comes to mind, that older people develop the ability to see that there are always other people who are worse off than them. But there is more to it – gratitude, grace, a focus on the bigger picture, insight, wisdom and a strong sense of resilience (I am still unpacking resilience).
The stories of sad old people crying themselves to sleep at night, depressed about their children not visiting and being locked down….well, I am sure that there are some for whom this is a very trying time. However, we need to start listening to all the stories of older people with a different perspective, really hear them, and learn from them. Their wisdom is what the world needs now more than ever. While we sweat the small stuff, they can teach us about gratitude and grace, which is really what the world needs now more than ever!
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

Resilience

Resilience
In the process of exploring the narratives of older people living in Hangberg (a marginalised fishing community above the harbour in Hout Bay, Cape Town) I am struck by something that I find particularly difficult to describe. The stories are filled with hardship that is almost impossible to fathom and at times very hard to listen to. Time and again I find myself deeply moved when I look at the person in front of me, trying to think how they managed to absorb all this pain, to survive, to still be kind and gentle. The word that comes to mind is resilience, yet it is not quite the right word. “The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness” is how the dictionary defines resilience.
I don’t think this is what I am seeing, for the people I speak to are not necessarily tough, and I am not sure if they would consider themselves to have ‘recovered’. Yet, they have something almost mystical about them that fills me with awe and makes me incredibly humble. I would not have survived had I been exposed to what they lived through. In their telling me their stories there is not a hint of negativity, no hatred, no accusation. Apartheid meant that they were forceable removed from their homes (where I now live), that they we displaced to a life of hardship. To this day the properties on which they live are not theirs. And since their fishing quotas were taken away from them, they had to resort to “poaching” which makes them “criminals” in the eyes of the law.
“Based on a review of the literature, eight constructs (purpose in life, self- esteem, life satisfaction, cognitive flexibility, proactive coping, social support, locus of control, and stress management) were identified as the most common constructs theorized to underlie resilience.” Of course the research was done in the northern hemisphere where these constructs could possibly make sense. In Hangberg, I am not so sure…
Something that stands out stronger than anything else is grateful acceptance. Whatever life threw at them, and trust me some of it was terrible, is now on reflection gratefully accepted. They live under circumstances that can be described as inhumane. And yet, they are content. When they look at their lives, they say “it is good”. And then there is their gratitude towards God or Allah, something not necessarily religious (at least not in the way that I was brought up with religion). There is an acceptance that this was the life they had to live, they want for nothing, they seem to have few regrets, and feel that their lives “pleased the Lord”.
Of course I want to find that “magic ingredient”, I want to know what is it that so many of us are missing, what do we not see that could make for this level of Being-in-the-world that often eludes those that have everything that their hearts desire. For I know so many people who are rich, have everything that they could possibly need or want, and yet cannot attain this level of Being. Spiritual retreats, holidays in far-off exotic destinations, meditation and therapy of any shape or kind, and yet they have no or little inner peace.
Amongst my friends I see many who are deeply struggling with COVID-19, some who are kicking and screaming against authority, questioning the experts. I see others who are paralysed with and by fear. And yet others who seemingly think that they are “above all of it” and continue with their lives as per normal. I see us making videos, recording our sermons, preaching to the world – whether our audience wants to hear or not. And then I listen to the stories of older people in Hangberg and think “we have so much to learn”. With all our degrees, our wealth, our possessions and so-called knowledge we are not doing too well.
Perhaps it is time that we listen to the truly wise amongst us, the so-called “poor and the downtrodden, the marginalized”. I am not yet sure what their secret is, but I want to find out. Because in listening to their stories I hear that which I can only aspire to – grateful acceptance, being at peace with the world outside and a deep, profoundly deep inner peace which no amount of meditation has ever afforded me.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 Rayne.Stroebel@mindsmatter.co.za www.mindsmatter.co.za

Defiant resilience

Defiant resilience
“The life span approach proceeds from the understanding that development at all ages (including old age) is a ratio of gains and losses”
Old age (whatever that means to the reader) is usually (and automatically) associated with loss, decline and negative change, a kind of never ending endurance course full of obstacles (like falls, incontinence, loss of independence etc.). Juxtaposed with this depiction is that of “successful ageing” – those photoshopped pictures of no wrinkles, perfect teeth and a face that screams BOTOX and FACELIFT! Happy couples walking on sandy beaches, barefoot, in perfect shape, in love with the assumption of glorious sex every night and no nocturnal bathroom routines. Well, both of these are a media created fallacy.
“The life span is a ratio of gains and losses”. The entire life span consists of gains and losses that are constantly requiring our negotiating such. As we journey through our lives these gains and losses come our way through our own chronological growing up, our society, our gender and many other psychological and social spheres. We lose our status as a child, gain the status of adult, we lose our status as a single person, gain the status of having a spouse, lose our status of not having children to gaining the status of becoming a parent. And so it continues. There is a constant negotiating gains and losses, what we win on the swings we lose on the roundabouts. That is life. It does not necessarily become worse as we grow older, in fact, we acquire a lifetime’s worth of skills to help us negotiate this journey. The collective of skills that we acquire equates to resilience.
Our development as human beings is a complex tapestry woven within the contexts of history, our cultural and social environments that frame our experience of being-in-the-world. “The life span approach to human development is characterized by six central propositions (e.g., P. B. Baltes, 1987): (1) Human development actually continues through-out the whole life span, (2) it proceeds multidirectionally, (3) it can be described as a gain:loss ratio, (4) it reveals great plasticity, (5) it is comprehensible only with reference to its historical embeddedness, and (6) a scientific explanation of development has to include contextualism as a paradigm”.
“Human life should never be separated from human growth” – principle nine of The Eden Alternative. In fact, while we are living, we are growing. If we stop growing, we are dead. This growth is happening in all directions and in all aspects of our lives, albeit in different domains at different times. It is not always linear or even progressive – we will experience losses in certain areas and gains in others. It is multidirectional and multidimensional. The dynamic process of growth implies that we evolve – we experience gains and losses that form our Being. Plasticity, especially neuroplasticity, means that we are geared to growth, that we can expand like a rubber band and not lose our essence. Our brains have this ability to grow new neurological pathways throughout our life course. We are all grounded and rooted in history – amongst other things. We are ecobiopsychosocialspiritual Beings, not just a body of functions. We are situated within a context – our upbringing, our environment of school and parents and culture all contribute to our development.
We are constantly adapting to a changing world, now during COVID-19, more than ever. The so-called “normal” is something of the past, gone forever. And we all have the ability to adapt, to change, to respond to this crisis. Some people are (stupidly) refusing to accept this reality, mostly in fear of their own development or growth. Yes, we must adapt and develop and change, that is life. “Development is adaptation”. It is a TRANSaction – we are in a transactional negotiation with and between ourselves and the world/nature/environment. Nothing will ever stay the same, that will imply death. The world is changing, we must affect this in a negotiation of development through innovation. This requires (Piaget) that we assimilate the changes, even the disturbing ones, in order to reposition ourselves in relations to this change, painful as it may be. Only then do we transcend ourselves and our environment to a higher level of (in my opinion) consciousness and awareness. And harmony – which does not mean that things will now go our way and be smooth from here on, a mere equilibrium. The only constant is change, our reality is that we have to be open to this change, welcome and embrace it, as it contributes to our wellbeing and growth and ultimately to our concomitant resilience.
Resilience is made up of our biology, our culture and us as developing individuals. Fact is that we will not survive without resilience, it is our way of negotiating our Being-in-the-world, the absence of which will lead to serious psychosocialspiritual illness. These are not necessarily what we would call “coping mechanisms” but are our standing, our position, the way that we present ourselves to the world. For the world does not act upon us, we are co-creators of the universe, hence the multidirectionality. We are intricately connected and connecting with our environment in the most complex developmental system of Creation. There is no other way. “…development is always the product of a complex interaction between nature and nurture, genes and environment, individual and social influences.”
Where does all this lead to? It leads to the wonderful gift of old age, where the culmination of negotiating these gains and losses evolve into wisdom. Old age is not about decline, or at least it does not have to be about decline, if we take this life seriously, apply our minds and engage with what comes our way in a constructive manner. (COVID-19 included). We grow towards self-related wisdom within which we re-evaluate, reposition, reconsider, repair our sense of Being. The closer we move towards our Being-in-the-world the more we will be able to sense the fine balance of gains and losses, and the more able we will be to negotiate this precarious balance without expectations of bliss or misery.
“A large number of national and international studies show that the functionality and overall positive status of self and personality generally diminish little if at all in old age. Indicators for state of mind such as self-esteem, general well-being, contentment with one’s own age, and the conviction of being able to directly or indirectly control one’s own life show little to no change with age. This has made an essential contribution to rejecting, as too partial and incomplete, the stereotype of aging characterized by deficits and losses. This picture has been replaced by the more multifaceted image of “productive” aging, which emphasizes the opportunities and options of “successful aging” alongside the undisputed crises and losses.”
COVID-19 is a gift to humanity, to broaden our horizons, negotiate our standing and interaction with one another and with our environment. It is the time of ageing, creating a new normal that will be inclusive, compassionate and kind.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 Rayne.Stroebel@mindsmatter.co.za www.mindsmatter.co.za

Getting old….

The fluidity of time.
At this strange time in our lives time seems to have become more fluid than ever before. Almost like when one is on holiday, only we are not on holiday. We are caught in a time warp, a time like we have never experienced. Even if anyone had warned us that something like this will happen, we would have laughed and accused them of conspiracy theories. We were all caught off-guard, least of all because we did not stock up on alcohol in South Africa.
I wonder how we would have prepared ourselves had we known what was coming. Would we have listened to advice? I somehow doubt it. Strangely, very few people I know prepare themselves, even if they know what is coming. Like getting older. How many people do you know who are really prepared for getting old, never mind for dying? We simply cannot get our heads around the fact that we are getting older and that sooner or later we will die. We put off some of the most basic things, like getting our advanced directive and last will in order. Sensible people, who somehow can be so daft when it comes to preparing for something that we know is coming.
Maybe we don’t know how to prepare? Maybe because we are not surrounded by older people or by people dying in our immediate world, we think it is not out there? Maybe we think we will escape, or that things will change by the time we get there? Maybe we know that nothing can prepare us for getting old and dependent. We allow it to creep up on us because it is simply too horrific to contemplate. We ignore it, dye our hair, go for botox, dress as if we are still young and hang around young people thinking that no one is noticing. Thing is, most people in our immediate circle will not notice. We will not notice. Until suddenly we have a fourty year matric reunion coming up and we haul out some old school photographs.
Thing is, old age is not the monster we make it out to be. In fact, the years after sixty should be the years of our lives. Not because we believe in “successful ageing” – for me there is no such thing! Ageing is not like an exam or a project in which you will pass or fail. It simply is what it is. And yes it comes with aches and pains – some mornings I need a block and tackle to get out of bed. It is what it is. The horror image that the world created in its ageist attitude towards older people is simply not true for most people. Before you know it, you will be there, and it will just be what it is.
So how should we prepare ourselves for old age? Here is my list based on being around older people a lot over the past 54 years:
Accept that you are NOW in the best years of your life, whatever your age. Embrace the age that you are, wrinkles, grey hair, aches and pains included. Hang out with people who are much older and much younger than you. Learn new things, if for no other reason than to be able to be interesting at the next stand around drinks party. Learn to listen to people as if they were the only person on the planet – they will like that and seek out your company. Bath every day to make sure you never smell musty. (It happens…) Always make sure that your hearing is perfect – if not, get a hearing aid. Being hard of hearing makes it difficult for people to communicate with you, and having to repeat everything is a pain. Avoid being cynical as best you can. Try not to be a sour old fart, but make light of life and all its idiosyncrasies. Be the person who other people like being around. Don’t be too serious, don’t be too flippant. Be interested in other people’s stories. Be appreciative of everything that life offers. Make sure you like animals, as they are the best company on earth. Hang on to your home as long as you possibly can, and if it gets difficult get yourself a few housemates. Drink just enough wine (or spirits) to be fun without being sloppy. Be kind. Be generous. Be you. Always.