This post is our second in a short series on resilient aging.
In our previous post on successful aging we discussed research indicating that a great deal of the physiological changes thought to be due to aging may be due to shifting toward a sedentary lifestyle.
Giving elderly people a program of gradually increased exercise, stretching, and relaxation can lead to physiological changes that make elders physiologically more like those of the young. Furthermore, paying young people to shift to a sedentary lifestyle leads to physiological profiles more typical of the elderly.
So, to a considerable degree, our biological age can be controlled by adopting the right lifestyle.
One of the things most of us see as inevitably linked to getting older is memory loss. Research done comparing samples of elders versus younger adults has shown that memory is typically less reliable in older people.
However, there are techniques that can markedly improve memory. These are techniques known since ancient times, and still used by “mnemonists”, experts who can do such things as entertain audiences by introducing themselves to each person in a sizeable audience and then accurately remembering each persons name.
If the old are taught these techniques, they can perform as well as or better than younger people who lack the training. This is a pattern that is not limited to memory. Training in well-selected resilience techniques can compensate for a wide range of limitations related to aging.
Two gerontologists, Paul and Margret Baltes developed a model of how losses due to aging can be kept under control. It is called the SOC model, for “Selection, Optimization, and Compensation”.
Selection refers to picking abilities that are important to us and that we are willing to work to maintain. To illustrate selection, the Baltes once used the example of the great violinist, Yehudi Menuhin who was able to perform brilliantly into his elder years, in part by reducing the number of pieces he maintained in his repertoire.
“Selection” is familiar to most of us, since it is basically setting your goals.
The “O” in SOC refers to optimization. This means developing skills or other assets that help you attain your goals.
Resilience training is one such means of developing widely applicable skills and habits that can move you toward the goals you chose during the selection phase. Finding a good place to exercise, or friends to join you in your exercise are other examples.
Compensation is illustrated by another thing that enabled Yehudi Menuhin to keep performing at the highest professional level into advanced age. After deciding which things to keep in his repertoire, he intensified his practice of the musical pieces that remained.
Now what if you are neither a professional musician nor a person close to old age? Well, after developing the SOC model, it was applied to young people and its results were assessed.
The model works for younger people too!