Friday, June 14, 2013

Can Writing Keep You Sane in Your Old Age?

Writers often jokingly point at the blank page as the source of their insanity (and yeah, white paper is evil) but an article by the National Institute on Aging suggests that participation in some kind of regular artistic activity may do the opposite. (Thank you, Susan Lee Smith for the article) Specifically, the article says that singing, writing, dancing, playing an instrument, painting and acting may directly affect not just health and well being of the aging but also slow the decline of cognitive ability. I wonder if photography counts. I hope it counts.

Did you see what I said? The arts may keep you SANE!

If these assumptions are true, they explain a lot for me, personally,  and the premise of the arts as a fountain of mental youth is a beacon of hope. HOPE, I tell you.

Here's why. Stay with me. I will tie this back to the arts and writing. I promise.

There's no easy way to say it. This past year has been utter hell because my mother is batty, bless her southern fried heart. It's not Alzheimer's. It's not dementia. She is just plain ol' mad as a March hare nutty and my sister and I are spent from balancing our own lives with her outbursts and ongoing struggles to make her seek and maintain proper care. She is only 68 years old. Aging parent issues are exhausting enough as it is but throw in a reasonably young woman who thinks you sneak in her house in the middle of the night and steal her Lorna Doones? Oh boy. It's no joking matter, really. Her own mother did actually suffer from a form of dementia that progressed into Alzheimer's. I see their two illnesses as very separate situations. My mother has personality disorders and mental illness. Her mother had a disease. However, her mother ALSO exhibited some of the same anti-social behaviors that my mother does so she got a double whammy.

Ugh. Where does that leave me? Is it hereditary? Will I be crazy, too? Am I already?

I dunno.

Here is what I do know.

Neither of them ever had a glimmer of love of books or music or poetry or art or theater or photography or ballet or anything at all artistic in their lives. Nothing. Oh, they faked it now and then when it suited them but histrionic narcissism makes you incapable of appreciating somebody else's talent because you are so consumed with your own desire to be the center of attention that appreciation in another direction is insulting.

But WHAT IF you are an average normal aging human being and the arts are a regular part of your entertainment diet? What if you paint and dance or go to concerts or write? Can you slow down the decline of your mental faculties?

I choose to believe you can. If so, I'm doing okay with my singing and painting and writing and flute playing and gardening and photography and theater and whatever other trouble I can get into between now and the time my hair turns gray. But if not... well, even if I go crazy,  I think I'd rather be nutty doing something that makes my body and mind feel good instead of screaming about  missing Lorna Doones.

The photo below is of the Nile Temple Dancers from Daughters of the Nile. I confess to knowing very little about this charitable organization except that they are associated with Shriners Hospitals. Judy Lee, a lady I worked with many many many moons ago, is part of this amazing group of ladies and she says they dance  to help raise money for the the Shriners Hospitals in Houston and the Burn Hospital in Galveston.

These ladies are leaving positive footprints on the planet in the wakes of their individual existences regardless of what seasons they live in and don't you want to be just like them when you grow up? How do they do it? The arts.

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