Aging is a complicated process. It happens to everyone but can happen differently, and on two fronts: physical and mental. The effects of aging are influenced by a lot of factors but more and more often, people are living to their hundreds. Take sisters Ruth Sweedler and Shirley Hodes, each 100 years old. They have some tips for staying mentally sharp throughout the aging journey.
Again, aging and its effects are complicated and subject to a lot of influences. In very general terms, mental fortitude can deteriorate over the years because aging causes areas in the brain to shrink, especially those associated with learning and complex mental activities. The brain isn’t a muscle; it’s an organ, but one that can be kept healthy by focusing on some key areas of enrichment: learning, working, connecting, and appreciating.
These 100-year-old sisters emphasize the importance of continuing to work and learn
Shirley Hodes, 106, and her sister Ruth Sweedler, 103, don't routinely do crossword puzzles, but both have stayed sharp as they aged. Here's their best advice. pic.twitter.com/4V4OZy04uF
— Chen ying (@yngqnzhn1) March 28, 2023
Sweedler lives in a Connecticut retirement home and is proud to say “I don’t talk like an old lady.” Her doctors notice her youthful demeanor too. It’s an aura 106-year-old Hodes boasts too from her and one of the things they have in common is an affinity for learning and mental enrichment.
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“I never did crossword puzzles, but “I always did a lot of reading. That’s the best thing for your mind,” shared Hodes. “I don’t watch television, except for news. I watch PBS at night,” adds Sweedler. She’s especially a fan of 60 Minutes. Additionally, they supplement this enrichment with the arts like plays and reading.
Sweedler “loved to work,” so she kept at it for a long time. Working keeps the mind sharp even while aging. Hodes, meanwhile, didn’t retire until she was 70. She doubled down on the benefits of learning and working by working at a high school as a paraprofessional and teacher’s aide, a career she loved.
Staying mentally sharp also means keeping connections and maintaining a good attitude
Another form of mental enrichment comes from communication. World Economic Forum reports that human connections are good for mental health. These two sisters are further proof of the positive effects connecting with others has. Sweedler asserts that “There’s nothing better” than building a good family, backed by a wholesome marriage. For Sweedler, it helps that “I like to have friends. I love people.”
Additionally, Hodes asserts, communication is, itself, a kind of mental enrichment; it brings a person’s attention beyond themselves and so they have to keep interested in and learn about others.
Part of mental health does also come down to attitude. A lot of human biology is the result of chemical levels; if someone simply can’t produce adequate serotonin levels and other related hormones, that’s independent of their mindset. But persevering and seeking ways to stay sharp and strong through the aging process is a personal decision that requires each person to make a choice and follow through.
Even though she can’t travel, Sweedler considers it lucky that she can still read. Hodes counts her blessings, saying, “Although I’ve had illnesses and problems, I’ve overcome them. I’m in decent health, enjoying health, thankful for a wonderful life. That sustains me and keeps me going.” Those are all important things to remember.