Courage is not the absence of fear, but staying on the ride until the end


T he new year still feels “new,” huh? – more or less. We’re hustling about, doing things or thinking about things that new years bring.

And happily (for me) one of the things that some of you are doing is writing this little column for me, which is deeply appreciated. Harken back to last Thursday, when a reader (well, OK — writer) said:

“Another concern (not mentioned in today’s article, but many times before) which may lead the younger generation to feel it necessary to “help” is the possibility of Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia creeping unnoticed into our lives, and requiring intervention, in spite of our wishes. This is a very scary possibility, and one that can’t be ignored. Already, “senior moments” are no longer as amusing as they used to be. Instead, they are cause for evaluation, to be sure that we are still competent, still able to be in charge. What if there actually is a loss of ability to cope, and we are blindly (or willfully) acting as though nothing has changed? That poses a real dilemma for our children.”

There was a follow-up to that:

“The issue of Alzheimer’s/dementia is a huge one for me. I have either known, or known about, a number of people who accomplished wonderful things during their active lives — professors, writers, doctors, relatives and friends. As their dementia “progressed,” their past achievements diminished in importance, and the focus of family (“caregivers”) and friends shifted to the frustrations, and pity, caused by these once-admired persons’ slide into becoming different persons — childlike, needy, angry, and lost. When death came at last, the obituaries have often extolled their lifetime achievements, but for me the saddest part of those memorials is the frequent request for contributions to organizations supporting research into dementia. Those requests tell a story of sadness and loss for everyone, patient and family alike.

In the absence of a “cure” — which may never be found — I guess we do as best we can, remembering the loved one as he or she was in better times, and dealing with the new reality one day at a time. I can’t express how fervently I hope that dementia is not my fate. I don’t want to be an object of pity.”

Ring a bell? As in, “Wow! Do I understand that. Me, too!”

Me, too.

Pretty much all of us who are old enough to care about Alzheimer’s/dementia, care deeply — and we could probably count on the fingers of one hand the things that scare us more. And that’s what I’d like to talk about, for just a moment: The fear.

We all know what’s true: We know that, the older we get, the more often “senior moments” happen (sounds like a bumper sticker, huh?). We also know that, the older we get, the more statistically likely it is that we will “get” Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. But there are a couple of things we tend to forget, no pun intended.

We tend to forget that it (Alzheimer’s) does NOT happen to everybody. We tend to forget that there is amazing research going on right now that is making slow-but-steady progress. Will there be a cure by Valentine’s Day? No, but there is progress.

And we tend to forget that there are things we can do to help ourselves, and they are the same old, boring things that we hear all the time: Get some exercise. No, that doesn’t have to mean becoming a “fitness freak,” but it does mean move.

Try to eat “right.” No, that doesn’t have to mean becoming a nutritional fanatic, but it does mean try — do better than we’re doing.

Try not to isolate ourselves. No, that doesn’t have to mean becoming a social butterfly with a calendar the size of the Grays Harbor phone book, but it does mean interact. Have people in our lives and be a part of others’ lives.

And use our minds for something more than just navigating the TV listings.

You know the drill — we all do. And if we do all the “right things,” will Alzheimer’s dutifully avoid us and move on to the next poor schlock that didn’t do all the right things? Not necessarily, but it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

And here’s one last thing we can do to make this “getting older” thing better: We can decide NOT to be afraid.

We can edge our way into this new year with a healthy dose of the same kind of courage that got us to here – day-by-day, one crisis at a time, one opportunity at a time.

We can refuse to be afraid. We can love and laugh and think and do and sing. We can try and fail and try again and screw up and learn. We can stay on this ride until the end, or we can stand off to the side, scared-to-death that it will end; trust me, it will.

So, how would we like 2013 to be? Well, here’s how I’d like it to be:

On Dec. 31, 2013, I want to be able to look back on what is still a “new year,” and pat myself on the back for having remembered (most of the time) that courage is NOT the absence of fear.

Courage is staying on the ride, all the way to the end.

Mark Harvey is the director of Senior Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at harvemb@dshs.wa.gov or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.