Aging. I’ve been doing it my whole life, but it’s only since turning 60 that I’ve become mindful of it. I wish I’d started earlier.
If I had paid attention, I’d have stayed out of the sun, stuck with yoga, journaled more consistently, spent more time in therapy and consumed less alcohol. I’d also have spent more time with family and friends and worked more diligently at developing resilience.
For most of my adult life, I planned, in as much as one can, that I would live to at least 90 and die peacefully in my sleep, just the way the grandmother I adored did. (She’s pictured here just months shy of her 91st birthday.)
But then, my parents died: my dad in 1997 after a year-long battle with lung cancer, and my mom in 2000 in an instant due to a stroke. They were both only 70. I was in my early 40s.
That’s when I began to realize that I, too, could die at 70. Ever since, I’ve been reminding myself that if I do, I only have 25 … 20 … 15 … 10 … 9 … 8 … 7 … years left. And if that wasn’t bad enough, along comes the pandemic, making my thoughts of death even more omnipresent.
Even if I live longer than my parents, and I sure hope I do, life expectancy isn’t what it used to be. According to an article in the April AARP Bulletin, U.S. life expectancy “plunged” in the first half of 2020, primarily due to COVID-19. As a result, we Americans can expect to live a full year less now than we could have expected in 2019.
The numbers are worse for African Americans and expected to worsen for all Americans as the number of COVID-19 deaths continues to rise.
But just because death is inevitable doesn’t mean that I (or any of us) should go gently into it.
That’s why I started reading about aging, including a book a found both enlightening and engaging: Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power of and Potential of Our Lives by Daniel Levitin.
Via it, I learned that a woman’s chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease now exceed her chances of getting breast cancer. Also that two-thirds of overall risk of getting the disease is based on one’s genes, with the remaining one-third associated with environmental factors such as a history of depression or head injuries.
While Alzheimer’s doesn’t run in my family and my only head injury was when I was knocked out by a football in my early 20s, I have already undergone a Mini-Cog test during which I was I asked to remember and repeat the names of three common objects, name the president of the US and draw a clock face showing the correct time as specified by the doctor who examined me. (This was harder than I thought it would be as it’s been years since I’ve used an analog clock.)
Thankfully, my doctor had no concerns. But I do. Every time I can’t remember a person’s name or forget my coffee cup in the microwave, I wonder if it’s a sign of cognitive impairment.
I hope not. But I also realize that I might be the last to know.
Either way, the timeline of my life is getting shorter: today’s average life expectancy is 77.8 years. And with the pandemic front and center, the possibility of an earlier-than-hoped-for death looms large. While I could let that depress me, instead, it’s motivating me to pay more attention to both my physical and mental health and to put family and friends ahead of work.
How about you? What, if any, changes are you making in order to enjoy the years that lie ahead and increase your own chances of aging successfully?
 AARP Bulletin, April 2021.
 Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power of and Potential of Our Lives by Daniel Levitin.
 AARP Bulletin, April 2021.