Growing Better, Not OlderBy: William B. Webb, PhD, LICSW, MAC
"People don't grow old. When they stop growing, they become old."
In this new age of quantum healing and the latest neuroscience research, more and more Americans are beginning to understand the difference between the process of aging and the process of illness. A quick survey of a sample of the general population would likely reveal long standing beliefs in misconceptions about aging. One of which is that illness and disease are an inevitable aspect of aging. In fact, many people believe that most older adults (those over 65) are so incapacitated that they are dependent on others for their care. However, modern research into the physiological aspects of aging indicates that helplessness and dependency are not characteristics of the aged. Some 87% of adults over 65 are able to cope independently with the demands of everyday life. This represents a proportion not very much lower than that of people under age 65.
Almost daily, with the help of molecular biology and new brain imaging techniques, researchers are dispelling many of the negative myths about the aging brain. As a matter of fact, "older and wiser" is not just a hopeful cliche but can be reality. Much the same way that one can maintain physical health and well-being, one can take charge of one's mental health and fitness as well. Indeed, an emerging lifestyle strategy called Neurobics (a new form of brain exercise) is designed to help keep the brain agile and healthy.
Some of the research coming out of the decade of the 1990's, dubbed as the "decade of the brain", by biomedical researchers clearly shows that the brain doesn't have to go into steep decline as we grow older. In fact, in 1998, a team of American and Swedish scientists demonstrated for the first time that new brain cells are generated in adult humans.
Mental acuity, just like muscular development can only be maintained through repeated use. While much performance does tend to decline with age, the degree to which this occurs in any given individual can be affected by lifestyle. The key is "use it or lose it". The same holds true for mental function. The new paradigm of aging tells us that we are constantly unmaking and making our body/brain at the quantum (life-energy) level. This means we are constantly capable of unfolding hidden positive potential. Each of us grows more unique with age, and that uniqueness includes the possibility for improvement in almost all areas of our life.
So the good news is this -- we need not fear the process of aging. We do not have to grow old. Maintaining healthy life habits, especially a loving, non-judgmental, self-accepting attitude, and a sense of the wholeness of life, can help us celebrate the gifts of age: wisdom, mature perspective, seasoned creativity, and an evolved spiritual vision. Living today in the active awareness that life is a creative enterprise, which when experienced to its fullest, dramatically enhances the prospects of a healthy, productive, and "joy-full" journey toward our ultimate "letting go". Let's all, therefore, look to our future with hope and reasoned optimism!