The Age Old Dilemma: Mental Fitness vs. Aging Argument

Linda H. Cools

How old is too old to be in public service? That question has recently been a current topic in the news. The national media chatter has become obsessed with the question of age versus mental fitness and the ability to serve.

Or should the question be, do you have the mental fitness or capacity to do the job regardless of your age. The central question is, can someone run for President of the United States if they appear visibly physically compromised or are exhibiting obvious symptoms of a rapid mental decline?

Take Warren Buffett, for example. He is extremely sharp and well into his 90s. So, what can be said is that many individuals are mentally sharp and astute as they age. But they also remain physically active well into their “golden” years.

Perhaps the question we should be asking is, are we all equally mentally fit and engaged? As human beings, we must strive to stimulate and cultivate our mental health. The pandemic exposed gaps and highlighted many problems related to prolonged social isolation. Loneliness, for example, has been linked to heart disease, and the isolation of loneliness can equate to having the health effect of smoking 15 packages of cigarettes.

And on the flip side, there are those who exhibit very gradual and steady declines like confusion and forgetfulness. Contrast this with wide fluctuations of those who experience a more rapid decline and deterioration over time. Is there one right answer to the question, or are there multiple factors that determine one’s fitness?

When a loved one starts to experience any of the following: hearing loss, vision loss, memory loss, increased disability, and mobility issues, it almost immediately enhances their likelihood of isolation. Social isolation is harmful and has been attached to psychologically and medically deleterious consequences. The loss of friends and family makes maintaining those normally familiar and reassuring connections difficult to sustain. Make sure you have a family or friend network. Our world has become so dependent on technology, phones, laptops, and devices that we’ve lost our need to communicate with people face-to-face.

The message is that keeping mentally fit is one thing we can control. Practice relaxation techniques like stress management or mindful meditation. Our bodies and minds age at different rates. My dad loved crossword puzzles and poured over them for hours. He lived to the ripe old age of 94, despite challenging mobility issues. His mind was sharp to the end.

Find something that reignites your desire to connect with humanity. Adopting a broad friendship network is crucial to your brain’s health. It’s easy to withdraw or become a social hermit. Socialize and seek out positive advocates and social cheerleaders who will help you overcome obstacles and nourish your mind and soul. If you start to take these definite steps now, you will enrich both your mind and body for a lifetime!