Matureadults - aging gracefully

Published on Thu, Feb 24, 2005
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Mature adults - aging gracefully

Why do we age? What can we do about it?
“I was taller then,” laughed Chuck Stanford at his Valley View Road home, reviewing his days as a minor league first baseman and outfielder, “but you know what happens.” At 72, Stanford is old by baseball standards, but young by others, and easily puts in a full day working in his garden or tending his fruit trees when not playing a round of golf at Dakota Creek, something he does two or three times a week in the summer. “It’s a real hilly course, almost mountainous,” he laughed, “and you get a good workout.”

His smile gives him a look that’s part contentment and acceptance and part satisfaction as he moves into his senior years. He and his wife Susan, both musicians, smile a lot as the years begin to fly by.

Aging is the unstoppable deterioration we all face as grow older. The medical term is senescence, from the Latin word senescere, to grow old. A good many senior citizens agree with Woody Allen when he said “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens,” because the aging process is essentially your body wearing out.

“Yeah, some days you feel like the ol’ buggy that’s got maybe 300,000 miles on it,” laughed Blaine’s beloved “Dr. A,” Dave Allan, who with his wife Marta Kazymyra, “Dr. K,” has operated a family practice in Blaine for 25 years. As physicians they often are “there when it happens” for both the relatively healthy as well as those whose quality of life wasn’t as good as it might have been toward the end.

Allan said that the basic equipment we all have to work with is genetically pre-determined, but we all do have choices to make about life style, “what you do with what you have,” he said, “because at birth there’s an expiration date stamped in your genes, and some people will live longer and suffer less from aging than others, but we can all make healthy choices at any point in life.”

“Stress is a big factor, you bet it is,” Allan said, “to the point that even though exercise, for example, is good for you, if you’re doing something you hate, it would be better for you not to do it at all, since it does you more harm than good.”

Allan said he counsels moderation in taking daily medications such as aspirin and other dietary supplements. “A good multi-vitamin is a good thing to do,” he said, “but we have a tendency to think if a little is good then a lot is great, but that’s not always true. Aspirin probably does help prevent strokes but it is an acid and can be corrosive or even toxic in large amounts. And so much of these supplements just go right through us. You know the old saying, ‘Americans have the most expensive urine in the world.’ ”

Allan ticked off four important ingredients to a satisfying old age: regular exercise to a light sweat at least five times a week, a good positive mental attitude, frequent social contact and “just good ol’ common sense,” he said, “and the earlier you make these habits a part of your life, the more they’ll stick with you into your old age.”
Allan said that being spiritually grounded is also important, “although I don’t think it matters which path you follow, organized or individual, so much as how you do it.”

“Laughter really is the best medicine,” Allan concluded, “because it relaxes you and stimulates your immune system. Besides, laughing at ourselves is a good, healthy way to see the world and our place in it.”
Allan said that antibiotics have changed the way the game is played, “since we no longer die of the pneumonia we had as a child or the infected minor wound on the battlefield, we’re faced more commonly with other things like heart disease, dementia and cancer.”

In his experience, Allan said that “a good attitude is always money in the bank. Look at some of our sprightly over 90-year-olds in the community. They’ve learned to be happy, which is often more a matter of letting go and accepting rather than struggling to win, of seeing the humor in situations instead of having to have things a certain way.”
Alice Tarrant, for example, was born on a farm in northeast England well over 100 years ago. She lived in Fairhaven until turning 101 three years ago and moving to Stafholt Good Samaritan Center across the street from Allan’s office.

She remembers some things that for most people’s memories are well out of reach, things like the Titanic sinking. “Of course! I was 11 by that time!” she said. She was 17 when the worldwide flu epidemic of 1918-19 killed between 20 and 40 million people, and said of all that’s happened during her lifetime that was by far the biggest thing, including two world wars and several trips to the moon.

Tarrant survived a diphtheria epidemic as a young child that killed her parents and one brother. “My two sisters and I were referred to as the orphan girls,” she said. Eventually she emigrated to Canada with them, but couldn’t stand the cold prairie winds in Manitoba and soon moved to southern California while still in her ’20s.

“I used to go to boxing matches, you know, prizefighting? That’s where the movie stars were,” she said, “and at the track. I love the ponies.” She became a baker and later moved to Colorado, then the San Juan islands, then to Vancouver. In the course of all this she out-lived three husbands, “four if you count that one fiancé,” she grinned.

Her secret to a long life sounds a lot like Dr. A’s advice: “Take things as they come,” she said, “and don’t worry. Don’t smoke or drink, either,” she said somewhat sternly, mentioning that she was a “Weslyan Methodist and never smoked or drank,” though she had a reputation in her family for being a bit on the wild side, heading for Hollywood during the roaring ’20s. In 1927 she was in Honolulu for the opening of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. When asked how she managed to get there, Tarrant just winked and said, “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Tarrant died last year at 103, still smiling.