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Handbook for successful ageing - 5. - 5.2


5. Keep your spirit awake!

"An untrained brain is worse for our health than an untrained body."
- George Bernard Shaw -

"Knowledge which is not increased daily will decrease."
- Chinese maxim -


As we know now, brain cells do not just die but also grow back to an old age, steadily making new connections or interconnections (synapses) with other nerve cells. "The brain is a permanent building site; it is, however, not made for learning by heart but for solving problems." (Gerald Hüther in his below mentioned book) The more we are physically and mentally active, the more the conversion of the brain takes place. Our brain can be trained just like a muscle. The saying "use it or lose it" is particularly true of the brain. A healthy diet, regular exercise and mental activity can strongly reduce the risk of contracting dementia or mild cognitive impairment (see below, 9.5). According to first data of a German panel study, people who eat much fruit and vegetables, do not smoke, drink little alcohol, do sports and are not overweight, compare very favourably with people who pay less attention to a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, I refer to Gerald Hüther’s book "The Compassionate Brain: How Empathy Creates Intelligence", Shambhala Publications, Incorporated, 2006.

5.1 Look for companionship with other people!

The immune system of people with few social contacts operates worse than the one of socially integrated people. Therefore, you should cultivate relationships with friends and relatives, participate in the activities of your local parish or clubs which you are already a member of, you should become a member of others, for example a citizens association, a sports or a hiking club or you should do whatever else suggests itself in correspondence with your personal views and your environment. The more active you are in your community, the longer and healthier you will live ((David Servant-Schreiber, "The instinct to heal - Natural approaches to curing stress, anxiety and depression without drugs and without psychotherapy", Rodale Books, February, 2004)).

Such contacts are particularly important for people who live alone and who don’t work anymore.

The one who has lost the partner and has afterwards overcome the grief, does well to enter a new relationship; as gerontology teaches us, people will grow old more successful in twos than alone. This is also valid when the partner later is in need of care: finally, the other partner also benefits from looking after a beloved one.

Being a man you should not think that an elderly woman is not interested in a new partnership any longer. If she was married happily, then normally she will be pleased about having a new attractive partner. Bear in mind that the life expectancy of widowed men is lower than the one of married ones. If your wife has died of cervical cancer, it was maybe because you infected her with the papilloma virus. Nowadays it is possible for a woman to have herself vaccinated against this disease. Therefore, you should discuss the necessity of this vaccination for your partner together with your doctor.

For women I quote from a German website from the 15 rules for growing old healthily: "Give affection a chance. A relationship in which both partners enjoy tenderness, bodily closeness and sexuality contributes to satisfaction and physical well-being. Do not let those people make you feel unsure who are of the opinion that age and tenderness or age and sexuality don’t go together. Those people are wrong."

If you do not want to enter into a new relationship despite everything, then you should search for a "substitute partner" in the form of tasks which completely fulfil you and stay in permanent contact with as many other people as possible.

Take dancing lessons if you are not able to dance yet, and look for opportunities to dance. This does not only your body good but can also result in new friendships. Dancing trains the heart and the circulation and supplies the blood with extra oxygen due to the intensified respiration. In addition it reduces the risk of falling. It promotes/helps the self-confidence and it helps you to get a good mood, as more relevant hormones are released, it relaxes the body and eliminates everyday stress. Moving according to certain step sequences or orders trains the brain and promotes both the memory and the capability of coordinating. In the journal "Spektrum der Wissenschaft", December 2009, page 60, you can find an article on which complex processes proceed in the brain while carrying out even the easiest dance steps. According to this, dancing helps even Parkinson’s patients and indeed more effectively than gymnastics. Not only can it prevent tensions in the shoulder and back area, but also contribute to the protection against osteoporosis. Last but not least dancing also supports losing weight.

Be sensitive for the youth; in fact, try to get in contact with young people! This will also keep you young. Did you realize that the word attractive contains the word active?

5.2 Even better: face challenges in seniority and structure your retirement that way!

When we don’t have a job to task our memory any longer, this means that we need other challenges. We can:

- take up a position in one of the organisations mentioned above in section 5.1;

- we can stand up for the interests of senior citizens (senior citizen’s association or association committee of a home for the elderly) where possible;

- help our grandchildren or pupils in the neighbourhood with their homework and thereby refresh our own knowledge or maybe even learn new things;

- visit people in homes for the elderly;

- look after children, so that their mothers can go shopping;

- help friends or relatives with looking after housemates who are in need of care or suffer from dementia; your private nursing insurance or the one of the person in need might offer you a free course for this;

- take part in an organisation which provides less well-off people with food that would otherwise perish (therefore you could search for a local charity);

- learn sign language to interpret for deaf persons;

- take part in hospice service ( );

- still learn - and this is also true for visually impaired people - how to use the computer and the internet to collect information, especially medical one (see below, 9.1) to communicate with relatives and friends and maybe to play computer games to train the brain. You can easily find online games via google,, if you search for brain jogging. When reading a text only those parts of the brain which are responsible for language, reading, memory and the processing of visual stimuli are activated; while further parts of the brain are stimulated which play a role in complex decision-making, when you are searching for something on the internet. You can find my advice on how to work with the internet for visually impaired people below, in section 9.6.6.

- learn new languages via teaching CD’s, the internet or a language class, to apply them later on in a conversation group- this promotes contact with other people- or to be able to read texts which we are interested in (books, journals/magazines, articles on the internet) in this case you should inform yourself on the internet about modern strategies of learning first ("Study skills", for example on Wikipedia: ) and make sure that also your grandchildren learn how to study efficiently, if they do not learn this in school already.
"Human beings are supposed to learn; only the ox swots."

Besides, there is hope for people who are able to speak a second language to contract age-related dementia later than "monolinguals";

- brush up your Latin for example in order to be able to read encyclicals in their original text and to compare them with the official translation, also for non-catholics this is more interesting than reading and translating old Latin books. This may have no practical use but it trains the mind especially well;

- learn how to play the keyboard to train the fingers and activate the corresponding part of the brain

- practice a demanding hobby

- learn how to play chess

- use opportunities for further education and training, which you can find on the internet ( )


-learn how to cook.

"The belief that learning is something that stops once you are grown up, is a mistaken belief."
- Gilbert Highet -

"Learning is like paddling against the current - the one who stops will be washed backwards
- Lao-Tse -

By the way, it is advisable to start voluntary work before the retirement, in order to be able to count on this work if suddenly all professional obligations cease to exist.





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