At a Slower Pace and Aging (i.e.: an opportunity to contemplate)

There is another common change in us as we grow older: we slow down. This change is probably most obvious in our physical activity. But it is part of our mental life as well. Psychomotor speed, as psychologists often call it, is required by many activities. This is the pace at which we carry out all steps of an action, from sizing up the situation, figuring out what we want to do about it, and finally doing it.

Activities and tests that place a premium upon speed often show the old person at a marked disadvantage. He does however perform as well as younger people. But does performance in those circumstances reflect intelligence? When activities or mental tests are designed so that speed is not a significant factor, then the difference between old and young becomes much slighter. The old person reveals his ability to learn, think, remember and solve problems when not being rushed and when allowed to proceed at his own pace.

It makes sense to respect the general difference in psychomotor speed between young and old adults. Although there are occasions when raw speed is critical, like dodging out of the way of a careless driver, judgment, experience and a sense of purpose often count for more than a rapid dash to nowhere in particular.

It can also suggest ways of functioning and enjoying life with less dependence on speed and more upon personality and intelligence. A decline in psychomotor speed would not be so noticeable or important in a society that is free from the hurry up dynamics of our own. Other cultures have not bothered to divide the day, the hour, even the minute and the second, as relentlessly as we do. Nor do they set rigid starting and finishing times for so many activities. Slowing down has been rediscovered by many people as more relaxing, perhaps more human, mode of life.

Our inclination to slow down in our later years may be nature’s way of allowing us to appreciate the scenery of life’s journey instead of hurtling toward our destination. How? Time to enjoy the grandchildren, time for achieving selective experiences that bring wisdom with age, and time for opportunities to compare and contrast those vivid memories that bring new understanding. My favorite is the continued comprehension of words (i.e.: an ability we have that increases with advancing age).

I received a flyer recently for Older Americans Month and at the bottom of the flyer was a humorous, but at the same time, significant quotation for all of us who are either beginning to “age” or who are already enjoying the fruits of positive aging.

It goes like this: "Don’t get all weird about getting older! Our age is merely the number of years the world has been enjoying us." Who penned this quote? I don’t know, but how satisfying are the words and thoughts.

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