How To Tell The Senior Adult is Still Alive

Today, a nurse visited our house on behalf of an insurance company.

Margaret and I are taking out what’s called “long term health insurance” in case either or both of us ever have to go to a nursing home. We’re realists about this, and the last thing we want is to be a burden on our children, who will have their own challenges.

The agent had said the nurse’s visit is to make sure we are real persons, still active, and not a few weeks away from needing to go into assisted living. Makes sense.

She was nice, asked the typical questions about our health histories, that sort of thing. Then, she threw me a curve.

“I’m going to give you a list of ten words,” she said. “Repeat each one after me. At the end, repeat back as many of the ten as you can.”

Ah. I like word challenges. This would be fun.

Her words were oak, rank, taste, spring, project, servant, cup, plain, list, and something else I don’t remember. (smiley-face goes here)

She was clearly testing my memory and mental faculties. The exercise probably showed me as fairly normal.

Memory experts say a good way to recall a list of items is to picture some activity for each word.

For the word “oak,” I looked at the wooden leg on the chair where the nurse sat. “Rank” made me think of a sergeant sitting in that chair. “Taste”–he’s drinking coffee. “Spring” = he suddenly sprang from the chair. “Project” was the next thing he was working on. “Servant” = a man standing there, holding a “cup” with “plain” water and a “list.”

It’s now three hours later and I still recall 9 of her 10 words. (That missing tenth word will bug me all day now.)

The second exercise was easier. “I’m going to name 3 animals. Tell me which one is the odd one in the threesome.”

“Zebra, lion, rat.” Rat.

“Rabbit, tiger, giraffe.” Rabbit.

And so forth, three or four more times.

At the end the nurse said, “Now, see how many of all the animals I’ve mentioned you can name.” I think I got them all.

Consult any list calling itself “How to live to be a hundred” and you will find one of the steps as “Continually challenge yourself mentally.” Work crossword puzzles, word jumbles (my parents did that into their 90s), sudoku, riddles, etc.

Here are my top five ways to keep yourself mentally alive long past the age when most people have stopped growing and begun vegetating.

1. Read Scripture.

Yesterday, as I preached Psalm 40:1-3, I said to the congregation, “I’m going to ask you to live in these three verses this week. I want you to read them again and again. Don’t try to memorize them. As you go over them and think about them, eventually, your mind will remember them without you working at it.”

Read your Bible with a pen or highlighter in hand. Notice the passages that seem to jump out at you, that have your name on them. Some will strike you as so unusual you’ll want to remember them always. It can be inspiring and educational to read God’s Word, yes. But it can also be fun.

2. Read relentlessly.

When my father died in his 96th year, he was subscribing to a half-dozen magazines. He read them, too. One of the most unusual for him was “Fortune” magazine, since Pop was a lifelong coal miner and never had anything remotely close to a fortune. He had an insatiable curiosity. Years earlier, I recall him taking a correspondence course in police detective work.

In one of my earlier churches, we had a preacher’s widow in the nursing home who lived to be 100 years old. The most amazing thing to this young pastor (at the time, I was in my 30s) was she read two or three books a week, over a hundred a year. (I recall she would tell me the exact number she had read so far.) The church librarian was kept busy supplying her with enough reading material. Conversing with her was a delight since her mind was so active.

3. Interact with people.

The dullest person of any age is one who cuts himself off from others. The second dullest is the one who associates with people but who talks incessantly and does not really engage them in conversation.

The brightest people who are the best conversationalists ask questions and then listen. “So, what good book have you read lately?” “What have you done this morning?” “What’s going on in the world that you find fascinating?” “What did you think of the pastor’s sermon yesterday?” “Tell me your life-verse, and why you love it.”

I sketch people all the time. And, since most people have never had someone sit and draw them, they ask questions: “How long have you been doing this?” “How did you get started?” “What’s the hardest thing to draw?” Since I get tired of talking about myself, I’ve learned to take pre-emptive measures.

I ask the questions.

“What did you do today?” is the one I ask most often. “How long have you been in this church?” If I’m drawing a husband and wife, “How did you guys meet?” Some of the best stories I know resulted from these questions.

4. Protect the mind.

So much of television these days is mind-numbing. (It’s not called a “drug” for nothing.) The wise senior will want to be particular in the programs he or she watches. And no, I have no recommendations on this subject. I am not against “Wheel of Fortune” once in a while, but “Jeopardy” is a thousand percent better. (My mom watched both into her last year of life.)

Protect your mind from foolish advisors. Some preachers and teachers say faith and reason are enemies, that to be a good Christian you should neglect the mind and work on the heart. That is sheer foolishness. Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).

Protect your mind from shallow, offensive reading. I love a good novel. The best thing about great writing is it will forever spoil you against bad writing. Many a time I have thrown a novel into the trash–I don’t not trade it at the paperback store because I want it out of circulation!–when I found it offensive, factually wrong, insulting, or sloppily written.

5. Bless others.

You think of other people and intercede for them with the Father. The great thing about prayer is we can do this all the way home.

You pass along books and articles you found challenging to friends and family. Giving away our books (as well as other treasures) is one of the privileges of elderhood.

You look for ways to bless the lives of those around you. A few dollars in the palm of a youth you want to encourage has always worked wonders.

As long as you are able, you drop hand-written notes in the mail. (These days, yours may be the only thing in their letter box that day.)

You phone someone you’re thinking of and encourage them with a few words. (You do not stay on the phone with them too long, nor do you call them too often. Guard against this fault of some seniors.)

I know seniors who volunteer on the receptionist desk in the church office. They answer the phone, deal with visitors, assist the office staff, and help to minister to the needy who ask for help.

The idea is to stay alive as fully as you can for as long as you are able. For all of us, there will come a time when we can no longer get outside and walk, can no longer hold a book and read it, and cannot go down the street and help. When that time comes, let us look back without regret since we did all we could as long as we were able.

6 thoughts on “How To Tell The Senior Adult is Still Alive

  1. We have an appointment tomorrow to talk about long term health care insurance. Our daughter asked us if we had any. (Do you think there is vested interest there?) Also, to your list I would add 5. Do crossword puzzels. And do ones that challenge you. There are some Christian and/or Biblical Crossword puzzels that are real challenges. Thanks for the great article.

  2. With both sets of parents having dementia /altzheimers, Jim and I got long term health care insurance a few years back. Still think it is a wise investment.:) The cost of care is astronomical!! Gail S.

  3. Since one in seven people will need in home care by age 65 and 40% will need some form of long term care by age 85, it is not a bad idea. I have a Long Term Care Rider on my Life Insurnace Policy. I kill two birds with one stone that way. Pun intended

  4. Reaching the senior years has been a challenge to keep going not only physically but mentally as well. Though our steps get slower and our ability to move we still long to be active in wasys that count. A times we sometimes question ourselves and find challenges with mobility but the most disturbing is lapses in memory…a familiar face and wondering who it is? Thanks for this wonderful help. I plan to use some of the techniques you suggest. Some I already enjoy doing.

    God bless you.


    PS: I still enjoy writing poetry which God inspires. The favorite of mine is found at:

  5. Your essay got my wife and I talking about long term care, but how did you find a reliable agent and company? How about giving us a little more insight as to the process you used to find your provider.

    May the Lord continue to bless your efforts.

  6. Joe,

    What great advice! As you know, I manage a company that provides in-home care for adults. I’ve found those well into their 80’s & 90’s who were still “sharp as a tack” and then those in their late 60’s who were hastening to the exit (so to speak)and capable of very little activity. Those who remain sharp are intentional about it! They recognize that you “use it or lose it!” Take care, my brother!


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