Practical mindfulness in old age

Practise mindfulness now in everyday life to prevent falls and other troubles in old age. That’s the message that I draw from this week’s post in Doris Carnevali’s blog, Engaging With Aging.

Doris Carnevali uses three personal mantras as a way of managing difficulties with balance and concentration. The mantra experiment began in 2017 and this week’s blog post tells us that by now, this habit is well and truly embedded, saving her from many a difficulty and disaster.

For dealing with balance problems, her mantras are “Center, Center!” and “Nose and Toes!” (Meaning “Center yourself!” and “Point your nose and toes in the same direction!”) For dealing with distraction she says “Focus! Focus!”

When she started with this strategy at the age of 95, Mrs Carnevali would all too often find herself at risk before recalling the mantra. About to fall, or too exhausted to finish a cooking task, she would remember the mantra too late.

Now, in 2020 her balance, concentration and short term memory have deteriorated, putting her even more at risk. But to her surprise, nowadays the mantras kick in at the right time, just before she tackles a risky task. She remembers to say the words (if only in her head) before disaster strikes. Bingo! Success! Quite rightly she is proud of this unexpected development. As she says, “It really is possible to teach this old dog new tricks.”

woman pouring tea is thinking, I'm pouring tea: mindfulness in action

Start training now for mindfulness in old age. (Image: Ioppear CC BY 2.0)

With mindfulness, practice makes perfect

Now here’s my point. Doris Carnevali doesn’t use the word mindfulness, but that’s what she’s practising. As she prepares to pick up something from the floor (a risky manoeuvre at 98) she is aware of what she is about to do. She isn’t thinking about what happened yesterday or her next blog post. She is thinking, “I’m about to pick up something from the floor.” Then her mantra reminds her to stabilise herself in advance and plan how to do this safely.

Practising is a key word here. Mindfulness—appropriately—can only be learned with practice. It’s not easy, is it, to focus 100% on what you are actually doing with your actual body at the time?

Now I’ve got an even greater incentive to practise mindfulness when I’m doing certain things like going up or down the stairs, or cooking. It’s going in the bank so that I have got at least a faint hope of managing my extreme old age half as well as Dr Carnevali does.

Engaging with aging

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Dr. Carnevali. She blogs weekly about the process of normal aging from an insider’s point of view, and the way it affects her daily life. She uses a rigorous and ingenious framework to accommodate or adapt to each physical or mental change that she experiences. She calls this process “Engaging with aging”—as opposed to ignoring it or adjusting to it more casually. Her insights are both inspiring and useful. Inspiring because the very act of analysing and solving the endless progression of challenges brings her joy and satisfaction. And it’s useful, because she models strategies that we can apply to our own daily living.

At the moment—with her blessing—I’m editing the text of Doris Carnevali’s blog and converting it into an ebook. I hope it won’t be too long before it’s ready for you to read.

Other benefits of mindfulness in old age

Two old people walking through field of lupins. Header for blog Engaging with Aging.

Doris Carnevali’s blog: Engaging with Aging

9 thoughts on “Practical mindfulness in old age

  1. Nyla Carroll says:

    What a great post Rachel. Certainly lots of food for thought!

  2. cedar51 says:

    I use a kind of mindfulness as your good doctor uses…particularly when I’m out and walking about…on quite badly maintained public foot paths. I look at where I’m headed. But yesterday my attention had wandered and I got a bit of a fright when I nearly fell on a raised slope/cracking due to a tree root under the concrete. I usually slow down at those parts but … not yesterday!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Dr Carnevali says the same: she tries so hard, but lapses. We’re all human! Take care.

  3. This is a great post – thank you. Nose and toes, and mindfulness – excellent advice! When I go out for a hike, I often tell myself “toes up!” so that I don’t catch my feet on tree roots or rocks and end up tripping. I think a lot of seniors forget to lift their feet (toes especially) and start dragging them when walking, and this causes falling.


    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I agree, and I catch myself dragging my feet sometimes. Walking on uneven surfaces is good for us, though–it’s a balancing act, isn’t it? Toes up, Rachel!

  4. Cathy Cade says:

    My mind is never where it’s supposed to be. When I’m writing it’s staring out of the window and when I’m walking the dogs it’s plotting a storyline (which I’ve forgotten by the time I get home – of course I forgot to take my phone to record it).
    Not sure how long it takes to change the habits of a lifetime, but I’m working on it.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Some habits are easier than others to change. We can do it! But walking time is thinking time, so what to do?

  5. annbarrienz says:

    Thanks so much for sharing these simple mantras with us, Rachel. I have falls sometimes, and it’s always when I’m not concentrating, or have been rushing too much.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Hi Ann! Yes, I think Doris Carnevali has much to teach us.

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