For some time now, I’ve been wanting to write on this topic on the elderly. In January 19, 2005, I was privileged to give a talk to the Jesuit community at Xavier university, Cagayan de Oro City on my observations about aging and how to meet its challenges. My wife Hedy, an internist, gave a lecture on the medical aspects of Aging. There was a lively interaction during the open forum. Two elderly Jesuits (by the way this was exclusive only for the priests) shared their insights and experiences in growing old gracefully in their society.

Recently I was elected chairman of the board of trustees for the St. Joseph Golden Home Foundation Inc., a home to house the abandoned and the neglected elders of the archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro. And “I think to myself –what a wonderful world” (lyrics to a beautiful song), Wow! elderly na naman. To top it all, during the recent BOT meeting of the Brotherhood prior to the program proper of the NAC in Davao, the topic on Aging was one of the issues taken up (an offshoot of previously approving chapter heads beyond age 65). And I finally told myself, DO a write up on AGING. I took it as a guidance from the Holy Spirit. After all, I know that we, too, can grow old gracefully in the BCBP.

It would seem that the BCBP is an aging community. Meaning that if we get a random survey of the age profile of its members ( which was very obvious in the NAC) it gives us the stark reality that, indeed, we are an aging community; that unless we do something about it, there will come a time when most of us will be walking with “ three feet “ (man in the early or late senescence) or with ”four feet“ (as in childhood regression). To recruit young businessmen and professionals, at least 30-40 years old, therefore, becomes more clearly the order of the day.

But what’s the big fuss about aging? It’s the stark reality that with the “grim reaper “ just lurking just behind us, one day everything must come to an end. In one’s journey through life death is inevitable, a universal fear of mankind. When we come to think about this, there is existential angst, followed by fear of engulfment, and eventually, we go into a state of petrifaction and lose our sense of self awareness. But before all of these things will happen, when our mental faculties are still intact, we experience all forms of insecurities, anxieties, apprehensions, depression, as well as cognitive dysfunctions due to the aging process.

Some say that aging is only in the mind: that in 1969, we wore long hair, in 2009 we were longing for hair; in 1969, it was the Rolling Stones, in 2009, there were kidney stones; in 1969, it was the K E G, in 2009, it’s the E K G, etc. Shelley Ann de la Vega, M.D. in her topic on “Longevity” defines Aging as the accumulation of changes responsible for the sequential alterations that accompany advancing age and the associated progressive increases in the chance of disease and death. She further states that “aging starts in the womb and ends in the tomb.”

Isn’t it ironic that when we were young, we wanted to do or know things that were for adults only. When we get older, we act like little children, we want to still look younger and desirable, we dye our hair if there is still some hair left. Not only do women have anti-aging creams but so, also, do men. And so the quest for the fountain of youth continues.

Ah! But what about when a brother or sister speaks up in chapter assemblies or in conferences, and suddenly stops in the middle of a sentence (mental block ) and simply can not proceed with what to say. It is an extremely embarrassing situation but we now have a benevolent expression for that. We call it “senior moments”. This gives us a socially acceptable way of saying that, like it or not, this type of forgetfulness is part of becoming old.

In the book, ”Synopsis of Clinical Psychiatry “ by Saddock and Kaplan, this is “normal aging”. It says that aging is not necessarily associated with any significant cognitive decline but a minor degree of memory problems that can occur as part of normal aging. It is also referred to as ”benign senescent forgetfulness” or “age-associated memory impairment.” Other common signs and symptoms of “normal aging” are shortened attention span, diminishing eyesight, impaired hearing, poor balance, easy irritability, and sometimes ringing in the ears.

Brothers and sisters, if you happen to have the above signs and symptoms, do not feel bad. Hindi ka nag-iisa. In the recent annual convention of the Phil College of Physicians held at SMX-MOA last May 2-6, 2010, that Hedy and I attended, one of the research papers presented showed that brain cells or neurons regenerate. Years ago in college, we were taught that neurons do not regenerate like the old song Mona Lisa – they just lie there and they die there, kaput! We were taught that we have trillions of neurons anyway.

Again, senior brothers and senior sisters, we can still live and grow old gracefully. There are so many ways to slow down the aging process and to slow down the evolution to dementia. Remember that our mind also plays a great role in aging – remember the adage that we are only as old or as young as we think we are! And therefore, we still have so many years to serve the Lord joyfully in the BCBP. Memory training programs, relaxation technique, attending teaching nights, categorizing information and the use of mnemonic rules can be effective in slowing down the aging process. There are drugs that can improve cognitive faculties like piracetam, selegeline, vitamin E, gingko biloba and citicoline to name a few.

Sr. Anggie Villanueva RC, formerly regional supervisor of the Cenacle Sisters in the Philippines, provides additional suggestions on how to grow old gracefully.

1-Simplify your lifestyle.
2-Accept what you are.
3-Heal the bitter memories.
4-Be a good steward of your health.
5-Reach out to others.
6-Find a reason for being.
7-See your life in the context of eternity.

I believe we can apply all of these in our BCBP way of life especially when we remain focused on our vision and mission. By staying healthy and active in all BCBP activities, we can then answer God’s call. In Matthew 9:37 Jesus says to His disciples, “For the harvest is great and the laborers are few.” And we loudly answer: “Here we are, Lord, your senior citizens, send us.”

Senior brothers and sisters, one day we shall come face to face with our Creator, and we pray that He will have then a smile on His beautiful face and say, “ Welcome, my good and faithful servants, you have served me well.”

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