Discipline, dance and dangerously high expectations: what a way to treat old people!

At TEDx 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand, the remarkable Billie Jordan explained how and why she formed the Hip Operation Crew, the oldest dance troupe in the world, average age 80.

Her dramatic story highlights the unwitting cruelty of agism: society has extremely low expectations of old people. You’re expected (required?) to slow down and pull out of the flow of life. Your useful working life is over, and your reward (or punishment) is to retire from living, out of sight, out of the way … without actually dying. This may be meant kindly, but it is totally demoralizing and a kind of abuse. “We should increase the pace, turn it up full throttle,” says Jordan.

Why Jordan cares about how older people are treated

Traumatised by the Christchurch killer earthquake, she moved to Waiheke Island where she felt isolated and depressed, and worse: she had an intense fear of dying. Nobody expected anything from her. She felt worthless. She saw no future for herself. It was like being … very old.

She empathised with the old people she saw, rounded them up for flash mob duty. Then she decided to set an impossibly high goal. She announced boldly that she would form the local old people into a dance group and send them to the world championships of hip hop in Las Vegas. And by gum that’s exactly what she did. “We made this pact. If anyone died during a dance, we would step over them and carry on dancing.”

Self-fulfilling prophecies in action

Her demanding style and high expectations horrified the locals at first, and transformed the dancers. They stopped talking about the past and all their talk is now about the future.

Of her 22 dancers, four use mobility aids, five have had open heart surgery, all have arthritis, six are deaf, one is blind and five have dementia. “It’s manageable,”says Billie drily.

Do watch Billie Jordan, once, twice, three times. She may transform your view of old age. This is compassion in action: relentless. And funny.

The Hip Operation is not a casual class, it’s not passive entertainment, and not everyone can stand the pace. It’s a sort of boot camp for the elderly. As for the dancers who commit and carry on, their doctors say they’re happier and healthier than they’ve ever been.

How about you? Do you think society expects too little or too much of older people?

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Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2015: we know how to lower the risk, so why don’t we?

Vintage drawing of a young woman smoking
A change of lifestyle would protect this young lady against dementia: more dancing, less tobacco

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In which five tips for minimizing the risk of Alzheimer’s are shared and ignored by the people most in need, although it’s never too late to benefit.

For years now, research into Alzheimer’s disease has had a clear theme: Change your lifestyle to protect your brain.

In July 2015, the Alzheimer’s Association held its international conference in Washington DC. Afterwards, they summarised some of the findings in a press release so perfect that it was re-published word-for-word by numerous newspapers—a comms officer’s dream.

No surprises, just big data confirming now familiar, common-sense advice.

We already knew what we can do to lessen the likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s, and now we know it more surely than ever. No surprises, just more proof.

Making these lifestyle changes “looks more promising than the drug studies so far,” said Dr. Richard Lipton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, whose lab researches what makes up healthy aging. The findings on stress prompted Lipton to take up yoga.

The facts keep rolling in: lifestyle changes have significant impact

  1. Sleep better: 6,000+ people studied. Poor sleep is linked to mild cognitive impairment and later, Alzheimer’s. So go to bed earlier or get help. It’s worth it.
  2. Learn something new and complex: 7,000 older adults studied. Dementia risk is lower by good school grades and work demanding expertise. So work your brain: it’s worth it.
  3. Exercise, doh! 3,200 young adults studied for 25 years. The least active had the worst cognition when they were middle-aged. We knew that. So why wouldn’t you up your exercise regime? It’s worth it.
  4. Keep in touch and destress. 8,000 seniors studied for over a decade. Isolated people and those who brood over stressful events are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. That’s why my personal Boot Camp for Old Age includes “Make two new friends this year and every year” and “Raise the level of meditation practice.” Why wouldn’t you? It’s worth it.
  5. Eat healthy: no numbers supplied, but Lipton’s lab found a healthy diet lowered seniors’ risk of impaired executive function as they got older. Why wouldn’t you? It’s worth it.

Reining in my web presence

One person's 20-year web profile.
Part of my 20-year web profile: websites & social media channels. Time to declutter!

When your things (any things) are in a shambles, the shambles will get worse before it gets better. At present the things in question are my websites and social media channels.

You may notice this website become a bit of a shambles while I rationalise some of those messed-up things.

Flaws will become more obvious as I start fixing them:

  • categories are random
  • boot camp posts are incomplete
  • menu is muddled and amateurish
  • some pages need to multiply, others need to shrink
  • some information is on two websites
  • and so on and so on.

Nobody can manage 19 web sites and social media channels

That’s obvious, right? And I don’t want to. Some of those websites I’ve already shucked off. (And believe me, there were more!) The others need to be either abandoned or consolidated.

Life lesson for me:

Prune your multifarious activities and you’ll enjoy them more.

 

The woman who wants to fail: me

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Image from Life in Ancient Athens 1907

You know how you muse on a mishmash of thoughts when you go walking? And how sometimes all becomes clear?

On Friday morning, on a short walk from Mt Vic to Mt Cook, I caught my own mind in the act. Its hidden motive for self-sabotage was no sooner revealed than accepted, no sooner accepted than acted on. Or in this case, not acted on.

You see, I’d just released my second Udemy course after weeks of dithering and delay:
Write Haiku Love Poems and Thrill Someone you Love. It’s a quaint little course, in fact I love it, but I published it reluctantly.  Why? Because I was dreading the next stage, which involves managing a vast array of mechanisms from mailing lists to YouTube, from coupons to blogging to webcasts and, oh all that fuss. You see, if you create an online course you have to market it.

Or do you?

(By the way this is exactly the same quandary every book author confronts.)

The epiphany: this time around, it would be fun to fail

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Yes, my new business strategy is shocking, but is it tragic? Image from Life in Ancient Athens, 1907

Rachel said unto me: Listen to yourself!  You love making these courses — it’s a buzz. You deliberately choose crazy obscure topics because you hope nobody will ever do them. You actually said that, out loud, several times; I have witnesses.

Then I said unto her-me: But I am counting on the income. I left my business last year as you well know.

Rachel: What income? Your two courses have so far earned the princely sum of $8.00 but look at you — hello, not starving! This imaginary income stream is never going to happen.

Me: OK, fair enough, you’re right, dammit. I will start making a really sensible course on how to edit a novel.

Rachel: No, darling. You are missing the point. Create another unique ridiculous course that nobody will want to do… say, A Boot Camp For The Bonus Years. And don’t publicise that one either.

Me: Eureka! That’s integrity. I’ll be the best non-self-publicist on Udemy.

Rachel: Never mind that. You’re seventy-seven: stick to the fun stuff.

Feeling old? a counter-intuitive prescription

I was old again for a couple of months this year, and then I stopped.

Old age started abruptly, out of the blue. I began feeling tired every day and worrying in a boring way about a work overload. Something was wrong.

One day I had been reading after lunch in the sun. Then it was time to get back to work.

But no. I felt tired—again. Tired? How daft was that? I’d already been resting like a dear old Methuselah for the last half hour or more.

I drew the logical conclusion, or so I thought: maybe it’s time I began to work less, relax more. So I stayed in the chair and read another chapter.(A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a fascinating book with an onion of a story, hard to stop reading. It’s Anthony Marra’s first novel, set in Chechnya, 2004.) By the time I finished, my hands were shaking: I was more tired, not less.

Off to the GP to be diagnosed with a harmless little condition that is, I’m told, almost universal after a certain age: postural hypotension.

Life tips for myself

  • Don’t stay too long in the same position, whether lying, sitting or standing.
  • Drink enough water and not too many coffees.
  • And when you feel tired, don’t just sit there — move!  Get that blood pumping again.

Knowledge is power. Now I know what to do, I don’t get so tired. I’m back to normal, which is full of beans. Work overload? Bring it on. That’s normal too, and no reason to worry.

Another view of 70- and 80-somethings

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My last post was about the difficulty of getting used to dramatic changes in our appearance in our seventies and eighties. Thank you for your comments, my friends: so it’s not just me who is struggling with identity problems at 76?

I can’t resist posting this photograph of my friend and role model Sunny Amey on the left and the heroine of my novel, Fixing Mrs Philpott, on the right. Sunny is probably about 86 (ages are so forgettable).  She is wise, brilliant, naughty, witty, and always and forever her inimitable self. By contrast, that Mrs Philpott really is stuck in the past. She inhabits a fantasy world where there is no need ever for rudeness, which she abhors.

That’s Sunny splitting her sides with laughter, and Mrs Philpott expressing her prim disapproval of the speech that Sunny made in praise of the author, Rachel McAlpine. She also insists that the novel, which is fiction, and therefore not true, is not rude as in 50 Shades of Grey, but more like 31 Shades of Salmon Pink—much nicer.

If that’s not an identity problem, I don’t know what is. And that’s not the half of it.

Touchy about hearing loss?

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It’s funny how people tend to be more sensitive about their hearing than their eyesight.

I certainly include myself in this over-sensitive group. Cheerfully I admit to hearing loss. Proudly I wear my cunning little Phonax hearing aids. But poke me the wrong way and I’ll still bristle with indignation.

Partly, I’m reacting to another funny thing about human nature: I’ve noticed that the more defensive people are about their own hearing, the more they are likely to comment on other people’s hearing.

So when a person with poor hearing comments on my poor hearing, logic flees. These two people are incapable of having a sensible conversation on the topic of hearing, because rumbling under the spoken words are other powerful silent messages, such as…

“Your hearing is worse than my hearing.”
“You need hearing aids.”
“Pot calling the kettle black.”

And our listening gets worse and worse. Neither of us can bear to hear certain truths.

During one such exchange recently, a sister had to step in and tell us two deafish persons to drop the subject. Our conversation was going nowhere. Being over-sensitive about our hearing had made us socially inept. And rude. And deaf.

This is kind of weird, don’t you think? I never pick up on similar vibes about eyesight. Maybe that’s just me. I love glasses.

Life lessons for myself

  • If you’ve got poor eyesight, flaunt it—like Dame Edna Everage
  • If other people say you are getting deaf, you are getting deaf
  • Hearing aids are not perfect but they are cute