This morning, I had the pleasure of participating in a conference call featuring the irrepressible Betty White. ï»¿
White, who is kicking 90, really hit her stride after she turned 50, and has never slowed down. She’s even hosted Saturday Night Live. White stars in TV Land’s Hot In Cleveland, and is now the face of a new AARP campaign telling people to just "get over it," when it comes to aging. During a different interview, she said, "I’m swimming as fast as I can," referring to her work life. It’s evident that White seems to be able to swim pretty fast.
During the phone interview, White lamented the fact that some people "get old" in high school. Others feel "old" at thirty, or fear their 40th birthday. With references to this mentality, she made a point of saying that attitude has much to do with aging in a healthy manner. Attitude, in fact, seems to be her touchstone in life.
Optimism is also important, according to White. She says that there’s always a downside to life’s episodes if you look for it, but she felt there is an upside to most things, as well. She talked about the loss of her beloved spouse, Allen Ludden, and how she sometimes talks to his picture in the morning. She commented with a laugh, "I may be crazy, but I’m happy."
During the question and answer portion of the call, White repeated many times that she is blessed with good health and realizes that not everyone is. She also has advice, however, when it comes to keeping our health. She tells us to stay physically and mentally active.
White is the proverbial crossword puzzle addict. White told her audience on the call that she does the puzzle in her daily newspaper, always, but has put aside so many other crossword puzzles that she she’ll never get to them all. She even offered to send some to one of the reporters on the call.
My question to White had to do with the fact that as we age, most of us gain perspective and wisdom, at least if we’re open to change. I asked her if the tradeoff of having that perspective and the wisdom of decades of life experience behind her was worth the occasional forgotten name or illusive word that comes with our slowed recall.
I was polite enough to imply that she likely never had such slips, but many of us do. White chuckled, but didn’t own up to that fact that these slips ever happen to her. However, she does seem to revel in the wisdom gained from living life well, and her reputation speaks for itself as to being a great professional.
"Appreciate life while it’s happening"
White’s take on life seems to be her own twist of living "in the moment." She said that to stay mentally alert, we have to appreciate life while it’s happening. White stressed keeping the mind "limber," not vegetating, and she added vehemently, "don’t isolate"
Since many studies have shown that isolation can be a path down the road to dementia, White seems to have struck, through her very social nature and sense of humor, on one of the scientifically proven needs of humanity, if we are to stay young. We need to maintain our social connections.
Listening to White’s delightful take on life was energizing. Most of us won’t have the opportunities in our lives that she’s had - at least not on the public scale. But we do have the same basic tools she’s used, if we choose to use them. She’s kept on working toward her goals, used a positive attitude to face down grief when she lost the love of her life, and used humor to get through most of life’s trials.
As an inspirational icon for aging well, it’s hard to beat Betty White. I consider myself blessed to have shared just a few words with her.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.