Shaping your own old age
Having been granted the mixed blessing of longevity, I wanted to do something, anything, to improve my chances of a happy, healthy old age. But what to do, how to do it? It was a formidable goal, so I broke it into 12 modules and tiny actions. That made my goal manageable. First I identified 12 aspects of my life that might need attention, such as housing, exercise, and health. Then I would use each month to audit one aspect of my life, and take baby steps to improve it. I called this my boot camp for the bonus years and it worked brilliantly. I was about to start shaping my own old age.
My boot camp for the bonus years
( poem featured in this episode of How To Be Old)
I gave myself one year
to learn and rehearse the alien role
of being old.
I was confused but I was committed.
Month by month I tackled
housing and eating and exercise
finance and hobbies and friends and voice
happiness and brain and mind
identity, and lastly, nervously
the existential bit
(spoiler: the one I failed):
coming to terms with death.
That was the plan, you can call it obsessive
silly or selfish, neurotic, excessive
but hey, it was systematic.
A spreadsheet gives you a sense of control
and I wanted to still be the boss of myself
when I was old
by making decisions and having a go—
polishing skills that might otherwise
I gave every layer a nudge and a tweak
with practical acts and tiny habits
that somehow echoed and rippled and rolled
into a single category of life.
But once begun
love stepped in
and good things happened easily
without a shove.
This was my solitary boot camp
to prepare for the bonus years
that I never expected or desired.
Not a battle not a war
not a fluffy blue-sky dream
not a bullying regime
not a set of affirmations
but a kind of covenant
and a bunch of baby steps.
This was my year of being old.
~ Rachel McAlpine 2019
In our 50s we worry about dementia but fail to do anything to reduce the risk
You can do your own version of my boot camp for the bonus years, and start shaping your own old age. (I will produce a small manual to make it easy.) A new study by University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation highlights the way that people in their 50s over-estimate their chances of getting Alzheimers, but don’t do the right things to reduce the risk with lifestyle changes. My plan will help you make small changes that reduce the risk, preferably with the support of a group.
Your 50s: a good time for a lifestyle audit and small changes