The healthy virtues of music
So far, Dr. Engleman is doing well, but he may have another secret weapon: music. Ephraim Engleman is a former violin prodigy. He paid for part of his studies playing in a vaudeville orchestra. He always plays for pleasure once a week with members of a chamber music quartet he receives at his home in San Mateo, California, where he lives with his 99-year-old wife Jean. “Playing music,” he says, “is a great stimulant and a great soul. “
Science gives him reason, at least for the first part of the statement. Richard S. Isaacson lists six studies that helped prove it. In one of them, four weeks of music therapy increased the level of neurotransmitters in the blood of patients with Alzheimer’s disease . The data proved so convincing that they persuaded him to start playing the guitar again. He is now a bass player in a group of neurologists. Their training is called The Regenerates.
The benefits of human relations
In Trosly-Breuil, a village north of Paris, Jean Vanier, 86, lives simply. Every day, he crosses the short distance that separates his home from the collective home he founded 50 years ago. He eats, laughs, does the dishes and prays with his adopted “family”. It is the first community of L’Arche. Founded according to Jean Vanier’s vision, the organization is based on the idea that when adults with intellectual disabilities live in private homes alongside healthy adults, both benefit from it.
Son of Georges Vanier, who was Governor General of Canada, he seemed destined for another lifestyle. After supporting a doctoral dissertation on Aristotle, he briefly taught philosophy at the University of Toronto. However, he had a spiritual curiosity that the academic world could not satisfy, so he followed in France his mentor, Father Thomas Philippe, a Dominican, to embrace a life of poverty and challenge on a daily basis. He is upset when people – and there are many of them – call him a “living saint.” The sacrifice he has made is not one in his eyes, he insists, since people with disabilities give us a great gift: they teach us to become human.
Concretely, the need to satisfy the wishes and whims of others puts our patience to the test and thus strengthens it. Would Jean Vanier be the same man today if he had followed the path of his young years? “God only knows it,” he said. All I can say is that now I am here. I walked. I still have things to learn, to break down barriers, to be more open to others. It’s not over. I’m 86, but the adventure continues. “
As in the case of physical or cognitive aging, there is no known period when one begins to lose one’s spirituality, nor is there a reliable way to go if it happens. Studies have shown that people who attend religious ceremonies live longer than others, but no one knows if the active ingredient is the spiritual dimension, the ritual or the social network.
We generally conceive of spirituality as a practice of meditation or prayer, an inner step. For Jean Vanier, that’s not all. A second current pushes us in the opposite direction, out of oneself and towards the significant contacts with others. Indeed, at this stage of life when many people fall back on themselves, Jean Vanier advises rather to open. Instead of devoting our last years to cementing our personal comfort within tiny clans, we should reach out. By what one could call a reaction of adaptation of the soul, empathy engenders empathy.
As part of the Grant study undertaken in 1938, which followed a group of graduates from Harvard University to the end of their lives, psychiatrist George Vaillant discovered that those who reached a venerable age and there flourished had in common, among other things, to have found how to love and be loved.If there is a reliable recommendation to grow old heartily – with heart – here it is: keep company with people who matter to you and for whom you count .
Fight, adapt and persevere
It is tempting to present Betty Jean McHugh, Ephraim P. Engleman and Jean Vanier in their respective fields as models of good aging, cerebral and spiritual. However, different ways of aging well are not mutually exclusive. In fact, these three people – like other remarkably robust men and women – share certain numbers of points.
All are driven by a determination that drives them out of bed every morning. Their motivation is directed outward: the three chose a job that helps others (BJ McHugh was a nurse). By analyzing data from the Longevity project – a study that tracked more than 1,500 American children to their old age or their grave and a book was pulled in 2011 – Howard S. Friedman, professor of psychology at University of California Riverside noticed a constant. Those who worked harder were living longer.
Which brings us back to the good old formula: fight, adapt, persevere . The kite that stays in flight the longest is kept in the sky by its resistance to the wind.