The New York Times recently reported about an ongoing study on aging that began in 1981 and has included at least 14,000 people all over the age of 65. At least 1,000 members of the group were older than 90. The study, conducted by the University of California, is looking at what provides protection against dementia in some groups of elderly people. Like other studies, this one points to keeping mentally and socially active as variables that seem present in most people who stay sharp in old age. Many of the people who kept their mental sharpness played cards daily.
I witnessed these interactions of factors such as social support, and the benefit of keeping mentally busy, first hand over the past decade. When my father passed away 10 years ago, my mother moved to an active retirement community. She was in relatively good health. At 81, my mother enthusiastically enjoyed the various social activities; she joined clubs, got regular exercise, organized events, and helped to arrange expeditions to restaurants, concerts, and even an occasional road trip. Those first few years at the community, she occasionally played cards.
However, as she aged her outside activities began to decrease; she became frail, and she filled more of her time with card playing. There were two tables, mostly women, who met on the balcony at the center. The game was canasta. It was a serious game; played for the glory of winning or sometimes a few pennies. If a visitor dared to interrupt the play, the reaction of the group was quick and simple. Go away–we’re busy. I’d often just say hello, check to see if she needed anything and quietly leave, grateful that she was occupied.
Sometimes a player would vanish. A few never returned; others came back for a while. If you asked those at the table what happened, there would be comments such as, “Oh, he died,” or “She went to live with her daughter,” or “He’s in the hospital,” or “She had to go to the nursing home,” “She fell,” or “She’s not doing well today.”
Other players were auditioned to replace someone who left. Those who passed …