Resilience: A Positive Aging Process
Guest: Dr. Layton McCurdy – Dean Emeritus, College of Medicine, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Host: Sally Smith - Author/eaResource literature on age-related disease and healthy aging
Sally Smith: Welcome to Age to Age. I’m Sally Smith. Let’s talk. We’re lucky to have with us, today, Dr. Layton McCurdy. He’s Dean Emeritus of MUSC and one of our favorite conversationalists, always has pithy thoughts about deep subjects, and we’re certainly having fun talking about one today, and we want to share it with you. We’ve been talking about the big crisis of aging and caregiving in our society, that the ideal would be for all of us to live a very long life, being healthy until the very end and then quickly die, and how that is not exactly in place in our society, yet.
We’ve been talking about psychological tips and psychological solutions to having a positive aging process, resilience, I believe, is what Layton was saying. And we’ve just been bantering ideas about how you can position yourself, what solutions you can tap into to give yourself the best chance of a positive aging process. You were talking about some of these issues, Layton, and I’d love to hear you tell our listeners.
Dr. Layton McCurdy: Resilience strikes me as one of the critical things that people can practice at all stages of their life. Resilience provides an opportunity to deal with any adversity that comes along. Certainly, the older one gets, the shorter the range of possibilities, or opportunities, to deal with life. And I think it requires, sometimes, a little extra effort to find ways to keep resilience tuned up, so to speak. We, most of us, have had a work career in our life, or at least have had one of being a mother, raising children, a whole variety of things. And I think it’s sad to see people who retire from a job, or who don’t get connected with their grandchildren, a whole variety of things like that, and sort of fall into a downward slump, sort of gliding.
The older people that I see, limited by physical constraints, who seem to be happiest and most adapted to their life, and enjoying their life, are those people who practice resilience. You were talking earlier about getting up and saying, this is going to be a good day; today, I’m going to do this or that, or think about this, read my book, or newspaper, or whatever, but engage each day as yet another opportunity, another blessing. I hope that doesn’t sound too preachy. But I really believe that. I see people, you do too, who do well with this, and I see people who just roll into a slump.
Sally Smith: I feel like I’m totally relating to what you say. I feel like it’s, as you say, a device, a skill, a mental position that is valuable for your whole life. And it’s good to practice it at all levels, not just for a fuller, richer appreciation of the life you’re leading, but also to put you in the habit of being resilient, thinking of things in a positive way. To me, it comes down to two things. One, it’s a choice. We all have a choice to look at the glass as half empty, or half full. We all have a choice to look at the day through the filter of what went wrong, or what went right. Then, on top of the choice, we have to have the energy and the desire, the drive to make that good choice.
I think what happens with people who are depressed, people who are isolated, who are not connected with other people, they give up. They don’t care. So, to me, there are two levels there that you have to deal with. One is having the will to engage life. And then, the will to engage life gives you the energy to make the good choice.
Dr. Layton McCurdy: You’re right. And I think it’s important to mention that it is a choice that’s made. There are people, a lot of people, and you and I both know this, who get clinically depressed, and that’s amenable to treatment. It’s amenable to treatment. There are good treatments. But sometimes being clinically depressed appears that a person has made a choice to go into a slump when, in fact, it’s not a choice. On the other hand, we know a lot of people who aren’t necessarily clinically depressed at the outset, but who choose to withdraw and to go inert, so to speak. And I think that’s the saddest part, when it’s under their control. I hear too many people sort of say to a depressed relative, buck up.
Sally Smith: Exactly.
Dr. Layton McCurdy: And it’s very frustrating to a person who has clinical depression.
Sally Smith: And it’s hard to buck up.
Dr. Layton McCurdy: Of course it is. It’s a little bit like saying, do something about your high blood sugar, you know, take charge of it.
Sally Smith: Get a grip.
Dr. Layton McCurdy: Get a grip. Exactly.
Sally Smith: Well, we were brought up with, get a grip, you know, make it happen. You know, if something’s wrong, it must be something you’re doing… Well, so many times when I visited my mother in the nursing home, I was always taken by the faces. Some people have these absolute glowing, smiling faces. I don’t care what situation they’re in, you want to go over and speak to this person. You like them. And then there are people who, maybe, led the same life when they were cognizant of what their face was like, or how they came across, who look like they would bite your head off if you came near them. You know, some of that is a habit.
Dr. Layton McCurdy: Yeah.
Sally Smith: Old age, they say it’s the hardest test of all. And of course, all the veneer falls off, and you’re left with whatever you’ve built up.
Dr. Layton McCurdy: The older you are, the more you look like yourself. And I really believe that. I mean, you know, those traits that are inherent with us, whether they’re biologically inherent or learned, I do believe that. I had the good fortune of being blessed with a mother who was a delusional optimist. And when she got a little demented, it was still there. It was amazing.
Sally Smith: That’s a very nice trait. I think we would all like that. Well, I think one thing you can say, even in sibling relationships, if you’re a caregiver, taking care of somebody that is demented, you have to put on your positive hat there too, not only for yourself, with engaging in each day, and life, but ask I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten much better at realizing that there’s not just one right answer to things. I think that aging can be a wonderful growth experience. I love the way Asian societies honor these wise older people. And, honestly, I do feel a lot wiser. I feel like I’m cutting away a lot of the stuff that doesn’t really matter and becoming, as you say, more like me, who I really am.
Dr. Layton McCurdy: Yeah.
Sally Smith: I had a friend, when she turned 40, say, I’m so excited to be 40. And I said, why on earth do you want to be 40? You know, I wanted to be 21. She said, because, now, I’ve learned how to say no. Well, I love this idea of choice in all our life. It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.
Dr. Layton McCurdy: I agree with that.
Sally Smith: I will also say, the importance of young friends and staying connected with all ages, how important a role do you feel that plays in happy aging?
Dr. Layton McCurdy: Oh, I think it’s crucial. I really do. I think that’s one of the marvelous things about families, when there are grandchildren, and so forth. It fits together. Families, today, of course, as you know, are much more mobile, and we live all over the world, literally, so we, perhaps, see less of each other, as a family. On the other hand, there are families that may not be blood related, but you can put together a family pretty much wherever you are.
Sally Smith: That’s wonderful. Well, you know, I think that keeps you connected to the desire for life. We were talking about making choices to have a rich life. Even if you’ve retired, you can certainly set a lot of that up ahead of time, finding your interest, as your were saying earlier, playing bridge, which is great socially and great for the mind, things like that.
When we talk about setting ourselves up to have the happiest day we can, my mother used to have a wonderful saying. She’d say, you only have so much room in your mind. You can either fill it with good things, or bad things. It sounds very simplistic, but if you can listen to Mozart instead of Rap music, most things have two sides. So, I’m always a little slow to read the newspaper in the morning because I wake up and I’ve set myself up in this, hello, it’s the first day of the rest of my life mode. And then I go down and see all the horrible things that have happened in the newspaper. So, you have to be strategic.
Dr. Layton McCurdy: Yeah.
Sally Smith: So, when you picture yourself, you probably picture it like I do, just as you said, healthy…
Dr. Layton McCurdy: Absolutely. Live, but be sure to die healthy. That’s the thing to do. Yeah.
Sally Smith: There you go. Well, let’s wish each other good luck on our journeys, and all our listeners too. We’re going to practice the habit of happiness because, really, you’re the only one that can give to yourself.
Dr. Layton McCurdy: Yeah.
Sally Smith: Take care. And thanks to all our listeners for joining us. We welcome your suggestions and comments on our website. This is Sally Smith, Age to Age, saying goodbye and wishing you courage and joy on your journey. We are all connected.
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