Recognizing When Commanded Adaptations Have Become Habits

Several earlier blogs introduced mantras that remind one to engage in behaviors needed to avoid the dangers or inefficiencies caused by age related changes in capacities (ARCs).

 The whole point of the mantras is to cause this change to become a habit that kicks in appropriately as the situation demands without requiring firm commands.

Now that sounds simple enough. The body learns to automatically engage in the protective activity at the right time without reminders. It’s become a habit. But there’s not much about any art of aging that’s simple. (Or at least not in my aging world.) I’ve been using mantras consciously ever since I began writing about them almost 4 years ago (Nose and Toes 11/16/17), and have added several more (Center! Center! Focus! Focus! One thing at a time! Finish what you start!). Still it’s only recently that I’ve actually become aware that my body has incorporated some of them into habits. “Nose and Toes” is still the hardest one to keep track of. I’m so busy paying attention to what I’m doing that I don’t think about the feet. Usually it’s a sudden stomach-dropping sense of being out of balance that tells me my nose and toes are out of alignment and once again I vow to remember to command “Nose and Toes!!!!” The “Focus! Focus” mantra is there some of the time, but not others. My ARC-ing  Working Memory now invades more and more everyday activities, so that may be interfering with my ability to habituate focus.

Discovering that an adaptation had become a habit proved to be a vague, elusive experience. One day I noticed that, without a mantra, my body was centering when I stood up and before I took that first step. Not long after, I sensed it happening when I picked up an object to move it about. I not only re-centered, but brought the object close to my body. Hoorah! More recent mantras about “one thing at a time” and “finish what you start” (9/23/20), have “caught on” more quickly. Noticing that they had become a habit was not just a recognition of new habits. These two actually created a glow of pleasure and pride not only in their automaticity but also the results.

It was only after I actually began to notice these new habits with more than one activity and on more occasions that I was able to identify what to look for to recognize that an adaptation actually had “caught on”. Once I knew that, I was able to set my search for other areas of habituation. It appeared that the sensing habituation in and of itself was another new adaptation that had to be learned.  For me, at this stage, it feels like a very “iffy” skill.

 Of course there’s the reality that our ARCs are continually progressing and messing with our daily living, so developing new adaptations and habituating them are a reality of aging.  We’re like puppy dogs chasing our tails. The tail is always there to be chased.

Anyone who thinks that being aged ( particularly really aged), is a time of boring stagnation and quietude just hasn’t been there.  Aging may look like a still pond, but it’s a complex roiling one.

Playing and Singing One’s Way to Adaptive Habits

This week’s initial blog image is courtesy of my niece who’d reacted to an early draft of the blog on playing games with aging. I followed up by checking on the Purvis research  and also a report on research at Edinburgh University which reported that those learning a foreign language (Hungarian) using singing voices  shortened the number of repetitions required  compared to those learned it with spoken voices.

It’s interesting to realize that we as a society encourage youngsters to play and pretend as ways of habituating adaptations to their maturing minds, bodies, and roles in society. It starts as we babble to infants as soon as they’re born.

At the other end of the age spectrum few think of playing and pretending as we oldsters adapt to our maturing minds, bodies and roles in society. In fact it can be seen as mildly childish or something even worse.

To envision play purposefully as a method for adapting to aging (something to be courted not disdained), casts a whole new vista on ways to build habits for engaging well with our age related capacities (ARCs), and our roles in everyday living.

It occurred to me that a place I could start testing this new insight was with the words of the rhythmic mantras I’d developed to help me become habitual in safer ways to walk with my ARC-ed balance and manage activities disrupted by ARC-ing concentration.

Now some individuals are born with an “ear” that gives an innate ability to identify and replicate pitch. Others are innately “tone deaf” and can’t identify or reproduce the tone accurately. (“Can’t carry a tune in a bushel basket”.) But anyone can chant rhythmically and let the tune go where it may.

FOcus FOcus, CENter CENter, NOSE n’ Toes, ONE thing At a TIME,   

FINish what you START!  It IS what it IS.  

In my thinking, two syllable mantras lent themselves to marching tunes, but it was the cuckoo bird’s two syllable call where the second syllable dropped in pitch that came to mind. When I thought of “Finish what you start” and “One thing at a time), it was the Disney tune from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:  “Whistle while you work!” that seemed a great match.  What fun.  What tunes came to your mind?

Just chanting or singing the same way soon can become boring and mindless. So we can do it pianissimo or fortissimo, with crescendos < and decrescendos >.  It could be at adagio or presto tempos with the changes of ritardando or accelerando.  Country style, the blues, a ballad, rock, bebop, opera or? Even thinking about it makes me smile. 

We can change to other tunes that work. Anything to keep it purposefully fresh and working.

The truly imaginative among us might even create a story, play or opera about living with one’s ARCs. “ARC in Two Acts”?  Would it be a tragedy or a comedy? Would the main character die or win out in the end?  What about the supporting cast?

Does all this sound totally “off the wall” to you? Are you game to try it ?  Where do these ideas take you?  Share  your  thoughts.

Falls as Teachers Fallers as Learners

Any aged person who’s had falls tends to be determined to avoid more of them. They’re scary and painful even when you can walk away and seriously health and economically threatening when you can’t.  Falls are potent motivators to seek to walk safely. And if determination were all that was needed, there would be fewer repeat falls.  But like so much of aging, wanting is not enough. It takes knowledge and persistent, thoughtful work.

Like many other agers, I checked computer sites to learn about how to prevent falls. (The ounce of prevention theory.) The medical sites focused on treatment of diseases that increase fall risks. Others focused on safety measures in the immediate environment—obstructions, lighting etc. some with excellent check lists. Still others addressed prevention in terms of long haul exercise and activities.  All offered valid and tested approaches.

As a fall-experienced nonagenarian, what I’ve discovered is that modifying the house, lighting, shoes or clothing to reduce future fall-triggers is the easy, doable part. And there’s no lack of motivation. (I have a sense that these suggestions have been written by wise, capable people who are pre-aged.) I’ve followed their advice and my house is quite fall-safe according to the physical therapists who checked it out. Still, falls occurred as balance-related capacities aged.

My most valuable and practical learning about falls has come from experiencing them and having the fall-experience teach me. (They’ve been relatively few considering my almost 40 years of being “old”). Each fall has taught me some new facet or has reinforced what I’d previously learned. Despite learning from each fall and all I know, value and believe in, I’ve experienced the next fall. So, are there any prevailing deterrents that should prevent the next fall?  To me, fall prevention rests on incorporating safe walking patterns into one’s everyday walking.

We’ve all been walking automatically ever since we were about a year old.  In childhood we mastered how to not only walk but dozens of sometimes complex variations in walking. That’s a lot of fixed, hard-earned automaticity to overcome when we agers now ask our aged brains to be conscious of our walking and elements affecting it. 

Falls taught me that in my “safe walking” to prevent them I needed to:

  • sense the surface the feet are walking on, (uneven surfaces,  inclines, etc.), all factors we’ve been intuitively adapting to all along
  • consciously notice even slight changes in heights of the floor surface
  • ask toes to be pointed in the same direction as noses,
  • make sure the toes of shoes  are “clearing” the floor surface at the end of each step 
  • avoid shoes where: the toe of the shoe extends beyond one’s toes,  shoe tips are pointy, or the sole material is too thick to sense the walking surface, the sole extends a bit beyond the shoe body (and catches on things)
  • firmly grasp walker handles or other assistive device.
  • think “center! center!” and consciously center the body before taking a first step and remain centered with each step
  • consciously re-center one’s trunk when picking up an object, and pull it close to the body before transporting it.  Use walker seat to transport things if possible
  • be aware of the horizon and vertical orientation of body position in relationship to it

One or more of these factors have been causes in my falls.

Consider the reality that all of these things and more are a part of walking about without falling. And if this were all we had on our minds throughout the day as we move about, we’d avoid most falls. But at the same time that we are routinely moving about, we almost always are also engaging in other activities that at the time occupy our thinking, much more than the requirements outlined above. Obviously I’ve been trying to build them in as habits with varying degrees of success, since I’ve still had falls.

What have you learned from your falls?  Please comment to help the rest of us.