Dr Chris Perkins shares her best tips to keep you on an even keel during those life changes that begin to hit around the time you notice your knees going.
Acknowledge your feelings
Chris says there are a number of things you can do regularly to help yourself mentally and physically. But first she says there needs to be acceptance that all of these changes will involve, for most of us, a degree of grief and loss. For others maybe anger, guilt or other strong emotions.
Loss is often about a lack of meaning or purpose in life brought about by partners dying, jobs ending, children leaving home. Chris says it’s important to acknowledge your feelings, whatever they are, for the sake of your mental wellbeing.
The time taken for this will vary from person to person.
“A friend retired at 60 and did nothing for three years. I worried that three years was [stretching things] but she seems to have moved on now and is swimming and doing things again.”
Chris says her friend must have been really tired and just needed time out to do nothing before she could see her way to getting on with life again. Another person Chris refers didn’t seem to be that affected by the actual loss of her partner – her feelings were as much about the guilt of not feeling loss.
“She said ‘Since my husband died, I suppose I was meant to be sad’. But instead she felt relief.”
Again, acknowledgment was important.
Find a new purpose
After you’ve grieved you might have to find a new purpose, Chris suggests. It might be that your children have left home; this can be very liberating as you might connect with your partner again and enjoy exploring new things with him or her. Or, you may find you don’t like your partner anymore and this presents a new challenge… and perhaps a new opportunity.
Bottom line – grieve and then get on with it!
How to get on with life
“What is good for your heart is good for your head,” Chris says. Even if you have failing physical health and can’t exercise like you used to, find something else you can do like swimming or water walking or cycling.
A diet that is rich in vitamins, fibre, minerals, good carbohydrates, fruit and veges is good for your heart and your brain. The other thing Chris likes to promote is actively speaking out about your needs.
“Put a sign round your neck saying ‘give me a new hip, or it’ll end up costing a whole lot more!’”
She admits it can be harder if you are trying to get by on the pension alone or find yourself living below the poverty line, but there are still things you can do: “there’s only the cost of a pair of shoes to go for a walk.”
Vege gardens are in vogue, too, for many reasons including the cost saving benefits.
Chris says there’s evidence that cynics are more likely to get dementia, so she encourages people to laugh.
“Laugh a lot… it’s good for you,” she says.
Don’t be afraid to humble yourself while you do this! New learning is good for you and lots of fun.
“The best thing to do, is take up dancing, you can feel your memory improve!”
Any sort of dancing is good for you, Chris says, as it involves exercise, coordination, remembering and music. She knows of an older woman with multiple sclerosis who is doing her PhD.
“She sees her catheter positively because there is no need to go to the toilet during her lectures.”
Chris says relying on alcohol to feel better is never a good idea.
When you suffer a drop in income, replace it or find a way to supplement your super or learn to adapt to less.
People who are poor financially can often be culturally and or spiritually rich, Chris says. Many Maori and Pacific people on lower incomes have ways to overcome impoverishment and find purpose in life.
“Pacific women look after their grandchildren and women in the community look after their older people, for example,” Chris says.
When your libido fails, find other ways to enjoy each other’s bodies.
“Be grateful, meaning state your gratitude for one thing each day, consciously, how can that not help?” she asks.
Even if your health fails, you can still give and connect. These actions give you purpose, take your mind off your own challenges and make you feel good.
A woman Chris knows in her 70s says of giving “What would I do otherwise?”
Chris cites the Taranaki activist Joe Rodigues QSM who, at 92, is still tackling inequality, most recently in the paper for finding solutions to child poverty in his region.
“You can contribute a lot when you aren’t working. For example, we need baby boomers to look after the people older than us,” Chris says.
And if you’re already worrying about who’s going to look after you when the boomers are long in the tooth, don’t. That’ll be the time to don yet another placard, Chris says, “We looked after our oldies, now lend a hand with us”.
Books about ageing
Man’s search for meaning, Viktor E Frankl
Aging with grace, David Snowdon
Looking into later life, Edited by Rachael Davenhill
Ageing Well, George Vaillant