Aging Well: It’s A Choice
Updated: May 23, 2018
By Dr. Daniel Paredes
As a neuroscientist, I’ve thought a lot about aging-related disorders. As we get older, there are many health-related issues that can arise and some issues seem like we have no control over them. There are some that we absolutely do have control over. I have to say, however, whether we age gracefully or not is our choice. Yet, there are aspects of the aging process a medical doctor cannot prescribe, nor can a scientist can model in the lab. I want to illustrate my point of view by sharing with you a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a dear friend.
I asked my friend, “what does aging mean to you?” He smiled and replied by saying: “One thing I know about aging is that as we permeate through it, the sense of mortality becomes part of us. Then you realize that the life expectancy of the light-bulb shining in your bedroom may surpass your own. You notice what it could be the last time you taste chocolate ice cream or say howdy to that dear friend. The hours seemingly go faster. Still, you don’t talk about it. There is just no time! Time is running faster, and yet, it seems like nobody is noticing it. Everybody is walking faster, in a hurry, and people are less and less patient to hear your voice. Is everything going faster along with time? Or is it me going slower and slower? The speed of life is going faster. Yes, I’m getting older and sooner than later none of this will be here. I mean I’ll be gone."
Then it happened, this young fella dared to tell me "I know what you must do to age gracefully!" I listened and I ate blueberries, cut the fats, walked every day, did sudoku puzzles. It all delays the onset of dementia. I smiled and said "THANK YOU! But, all the facts, all the information I just heard is all good. However, I need something different. Something that makes me forget that this could be my last day because that hurts. If there was something I could trade off, it would be my increasing awareness of mortality that would bring back a peace of mind to some degree. "
Recently, my doctor handed me a list my faulty systems, my heart, my brain, my blood pressure, my joints etc. He also gave me a list of multiple drugs to palliate the symptoms and some more drugs to alleviate the side effects of all those drugs. What should I do? There is so much information about how gracefully, people talk about eating healthy and doing physical activity or going out and engaging socially.
I went last weekend to visit my kids and grandkids and there it was. They were grilling the most delicious ribeye steak, then my kids said: "Dad, red meat is not good for you, we cooked some bacon and eggs for you!"
On my way back home I stopped by the pet store to get some vitamins for my cats. As I was walking through the aisles I noticed that all of the food for the dogs and cats are all classified by age and different conditions. Food for puppies 0-3 months, up to 6 months and then senior dogs. I grabbed food for my senior cats. Then memories flashed into my head of my grandkids, ages from 3 to 20, my kids in their mid-30’s, early 40’s and myself all sitting, eating pretty much the same foods across all ages. Of course, I had my special treat bacon and eggs. If I didn't know about cholesterol I probably would have enjoyed my meal more, but I chose to eat it anyway.
That night, sitting on my couch, watching my cats eat their food. I thought to myself I should pay some attention to my garden, I've heard it’s good for my health. I went out of the house and turned on the sprinklers. Then just enjoyed watching my garden getting some much-needed food.
My friend looked away as we were talking and said, “We must be missing something.” So, what are we missing? Why aren't we aging as gracefully as we could be? Obviously, the problem is not the lack of information. We are probably not paying attention to the essence of every human being.
So, what is it? What is important to you? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you wake up? What are your last thoughts when trying to sleep at night? What are your hopes and desires that are driving your choices?
All of the above and more affect the way we make choices. Our choices define what we eat, whether we go for a walk, or meet friends just for fun. Whether you stay sitting on your couch or start looking for new opportunities for an adventure is a choice.
The way we age is defined by the summation of all our choices. So, it is up to us and not defined by destiny. For now, I’m not going to give you a list of things that you could do or things you can avoid to age well. No, I just want to ask you do you really want to age gracefully, be happy and live better, or do you just want to live longer? All the tools are out there. All it takes is for you to make the choice and commit. If you do let me know and we can have fun pursuing a happier healthier life.
Think about this and don’t be afraid of the unknown.
Daniel was born in Maracaibo-Venezuela, and spent the first years of his childhood living on a farm with no electricity or running water. He spent lots of time farming, horseback riding and swimming in the local river. South of Maracaibo, there is a village containing the world’s highest concentration of Huntington’s disease (HD) population, a devastating genetic brain condition that effected many of his friends and relatives. At that time, he got to meet Dr. Nancy Wexler, a researcher from Columbia University who was conducting research that led to the discovery of the gene that causes HD. Dr. Wexler’s work and personality planted a seed that brought Daniel to study Biology at the University of Zulia.
While completing his undergraduate thesis, he worked with Shamans (traditional healers) in villages located in the rain forests at the border between Venezuela and Colombia. There he Identified plants with medicinal properties and isolated active compounds in the lab. This work reinforced his interest in the central nervous system and ultimately drew him to pursue a career as a neuroscientist earning his Master in Biomedical Sciences and a Ph.D. in Pharmacology/Physiology from the Medical School at the University of South Florida. Following his Ph.D., he went into his postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where he worked on the modulation of the dopaminergic system by a schizophrenia-related gene. Dr. Paredes later became an Investigator at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins Medical School. Most recently, Dr. Paredes moved to Denver where he expects to contribute to the accomplishment of the goals envisioned by the Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging at the University of Denver. He is excited to be part of the KIHA and the research they are doing. KIHA's goal is to be the bridge and resource for the aging community in Denver.