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I don’t feel that old
Mary Flett: Clinical psychologist
BY PETER BOWES | LOS ANGELES | FEBRUARY 2, 2022 | 0700 PT
Aging with finesse sounds infinitely more desirable than the humdrum process of simply getting older. The language we use in describing the aging process is all important. Perhaps even more important is having a plan, as we age. Even though we “don’t feel that old” there is an inevitability about the passing years – despite the latest science-backed interventions that may help us slow down the process. Clinical psychologist, Dr. Mary Flett, has spent much of her career analyzing the way we value ourselves as we grow older, how we connect with others as we age, and the skills we need to navigate the process with grace. There are, she says, five “pillars of aging,” which include creating a legacy of values, staying engaged, adaptation, spirituality, and emotional economics. In this LLAMA podcast interview Dr. Flett, who is based in Sonoma, California, discusses the complex, nuanced journey that is aging, and challenges media-driven notions about human longevity.
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Connect with Mary L. Flett, Phd: Book: Aging with Finesse | Five Pillars of Aging website | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn
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- This episode is brought to you in association with Clinique La Prairie, the award-winning spa-clinic – and pioneering health and wellness destination – nestled on the shores of Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland. Combining preventative medicine with bespoke lifestyle and nutrition plans, Clinique La Prairie offers a holistic approach to living fuller, healthier and longer lives.
“The idea that we are somehow, eventually, not going to be around, is in competition with what I think a lot of media would like us to say.”Mary Flett
In this episode, topics we cover include:
- The challenges posed by aging and the language we use to talk about them
- Aging wisdom derived from being a caregiver
- The value of staying connected as we age
- Is there too much focus on longevity in today’s media?
- What does aging mean to you and how should we measure it?
- The final chapter, compassion and death
- Planning for very old age when “I don’t feel that old.”
- Debunking media images of what it is like to be over 60.
- What it means to age with finesse
- Having a game plan for growing old
- Embracing the spirit of Sacajawea
DoNotAge.org is offering listeners to LLAMA a 10% discount on its range of products – NAD boosters, Sirtuin activators, senolytics and more.Use the code LLAMA at checkout. Any health queries can be answered by emailing the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Affiliation disclosure: This podcast receives a small commission when you use the code LLAMA for purchases at DoNotAge.org – it helps to cover production costs and ensures that our interviews remain free for all to listen.
This interview with Dr. Mary Flett was recorded on November 9, 2021 and transcribed using Sonix AI. Please check against audio recording for absolute accuracy.
Peter Bowes: [00:00:02] Do you have aspirations, do you have a game plan?
Mary Flett: [00:00:08] Wouldn’t it be terrible if I said no? Yes, I do have a game plan.
Peter Bowes: [00:00:12] I always like a surprise in these interviews.
Mary Flett: [00:00:14] Yeah.
Peter Bowes: [00:00:21] Hello again, and welcome to LLAMA, the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. I’m Peter Bowes. This is where we explore the science and stories behind human longevity.
SPONSOR MESSAGE: [00:00:31] This episode is brought to you in association with Clinique La Prairie. The award winning spa clinic and pioneering health and wellness destination nestled on the shores of Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland. Combining preventative medicine with bespoke lifestyle and nutrition plans, Clinique La Prairie offers a holistic approach to living fuller, healthier and longer lives.
Peter Bowes: [00:00:55] Now, not being a huge fan of the expression until anti-aging. I was delighted to learn about a series of books titled Aging with Finesse, which for me, adopts a far more positive attitude towards the process of growing old. They’re written by Dr. Mary Flett, who’s a clinical psychologist. And they emphasize the importance of valuing ourselves as we get older, connecting with others as we age and the essential skills needed to navigate the process with grace. It sounds interesting. Mary Flett, Welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast.
Mary Flett: [00:01:32] Thank you, Peter. I’m delighted to be with you today.
Peter Bowes: [00:01:35] Really good to talk to you. So when you link the aging process with the word finesse, what are you trying to get across?
Mary Flett: [00:01:43] One of the challenges that I’ve had with talking about aging is the actual language of it. We don’t have good words that are descriptive of this incredibly wonderful, complex process. When I first started writing about aging back in the late 1980s and 1990s, we were talking about successful aging. And of course, the first thing that I thought about that is, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to fail.’ Well, you can’t fail aging. I’ve been struggling with words ever since to describe the process, and I finally came up with finesse because as a person who is now nearing 70, I realized that I have opportunities not to do better, but to do well, and that takes a little bit of finesse.
Peter Bowes: [00:02:31] I like the idea of not being able to pass or fail aging – it beautifully explains the inevitability about it, but also you are incredibly positive about the process.
Mary Flett: [00:02:42] I have been blessed with having extraordinary role models of aging in my family and my grandfather, primarily who lived to his 80s, even though he had been confined to a wheelchair for the last 20 years of his life. He was a pillar of his community. He was a man who took an adapted to every single challenge that was put in front of him and as a family member, as an only child of an only child, my mother and I enjoyed an extremely close relationship with this man. At age 14, I became his caregiver, his primary caregiver, which meant for an older adult. I was bathing him. I was toileting him. I was cooking for him. And honestly, Peter, it never occurred to me in those days that it was anything that was out of sorts or out of the ordinary. And looking back on it now, particularly with how we have mythologized aging in this culture, I realized that my grandfather gave me the gift of not being ashamed of who he was, not being afraid of his limitations and being able to invite me into his life in a respectful, dignified way that showed me I could be of support, of help of use, while he remained an important contributor to my growth and my development.
Peter Bowes: [00:04:04] So he might have had physical challenges, but it was the positivity of his attitude that’s left the lasting impression on you?
Mary Flett: [00:04:12] It is, and it’s one of the key pillars in my program, Five pillars of Aging. It’s about adapting and accommodating, and that is as much intention and attitude as it is capacity.
Peter Bowes: [00:04:23] So let’s delve into that a little bit more deeply. But first of all, maybe just talk about your career. You’ve had a long career as a clinical psychologist in private practice. What led you to that and how has it evolved to this interest that you have now in older adults?
Mary Flett: [00:04:39] I came to psychology when I was actually in my late 30s and I had had several other careers. What I realized that I wanted to do was to do something that had heart and meaning. That oftentimes is a vague notion. I had no need to learn new skills about how to do things. I had every desire to learn new skills about how to be in connection and relationship with people in a positive way. I literally was in a personal growth seminar with my husband. We were working on a couple issues, and the leader of the Personal Growth Seminar said, Don’t bother asking me questions while I’m doing this presentation. Your question, I will answer in my next sentence, and I thought that was quite … Well. I don’t want to say too much about it, but he was. He was full of himself. Let’s say that. And in knowing that my next question was going to come out of it before I even said it, he waited until the break and someone in the session said, ‘All of my friends come and tell me their problems. And I wonder how. Why should manage that?’ And the leader looked at me, but answered this gentleman’s question by saying, well, if you became licensed, you could at least get paid for it. Now that seems to be rather less than profound, but truth of the matter was that it’s a way to earn a living. I had the hubris to assume that I could just take my BA and jump into a licensed profession and went to grad school learning that not only did I have to spend quite a few hours in class, but falling in love with the possibility of learning more about myself. I eventually ended up getting a PhD rather than just a masters because it was part of my journey of aging and really coming into the totality of what I could be. So in my 30s, I’m sitting for a licensing exam and failed miserably. Talk about failing after being successful in many areas of my life, I couldn’t pass this darn exam. Ended up having to take it several times, which ultimately led me to really, truly appreciate what it means to provide services to people who are challenged in their emotional lives and their behavioral lives with choices they have made with dark legacies they’ve inherited of pain and suffering and inability to manage it well. So yes, I’ve had a long career as a therapist, but it really was just an extension and a way of getting paid for what I’ve been doing all of my life, which is sitting and listening to people and helping them find a way through the challenges that life gives us.
Peter Bowes: [00:07:34] And is it fair to say, I think perhaps it is just listening to what you’re saying, that you’ve learned as much about the aging process, which is an inevitability that we all go through. But you’ve learned as much, perhaps more from the other people that you’ve been surrounded with, the older people that you’ve been caring for, then actually your own personal experiences than your own aging experiences. Perhaps you have melded the two in terms of your current philosophy.
Mary Flett: [00:08:00] Yeah, you know, I think it’s it’s somewhat like a Venn diagram. The experiences that I had growing up were focused, I think, egotistically on the age I was. But again, because I had the exposure to generational aging in a positive fashion, that aperture was wider than perhaps other people have. I’m always struck today by how people don’t have connection in relationships, and for many people with their grandparents, we’ve seemed to have sequestered older people in this culture. We put them into what I call golden ghettos. We let them play tennis and pickleball and golf, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. All of those lifestyle choices are wonderful, and we’re missing out on what I think is an incredibly important piece of this, which is staying connected. Older adults are not all wise and patient, and giving some of them are quite prickly, to be honest. But all of them have experienced life, and there is a potential from learning from that life. So this was an attitude I picked up. There are opportunities to learn all the time. As I have aged, I have come to appreciate and a smile will come to my face as I recognize things that as a youngster I thought were either silly or stupid or I didn’t understand. And now looking back, I can see the perspective that my parent, my mother, my grandfather had on certain things.
Peter Bowes: [00:09:33] Do you have a sort of a pithy definition of what aging is? Apart from just the pure passing of the years, what is aging to you?
Mary Flett: [00:09:43] You know, there’s no single simple answer to that because it is a complex experience. There is the physical. We have a shelf life. I love Elizabeth Blackburn and the work she’s done on telomeres. And you know, the idea that we are somehow eventually not going to be around is in competition with what I think a lot of media would like us to say. And perhaps we’ll push back gently on even you about this notion of longevity. I don’t understand why longer is necessarily better, but aging involves physical process. It also involves a dimensional process of spiritual growth and awareness of life experience and sadly, about having to learn about loss. And I think perhaps that’s one of the greatest gifts that aging can give us is to recognize that we aren’t going to be around forever and that there is utility in paying attention to the moment.
Peter Bowes: [00:10:47] Interesting what you say, and in terms of longevity, what I try to do is make the distinction between lifespan and healthspan. So that we may not necessarily be talking about longer in terms of actual years of being alive, but we might be talking about more years when we enjoy the best of health, when we can get around, we can do stuff, we can engage with people at a mental and a physical level. And that and we’ve all seen friends or relatives deteriorate in the final years, whether it’s a few months or a few years or a few decades with some people. And that isn’t a pleasant process. So my enthusiasm is just engaging and using the latest medical science that we have to extend those healthy years. And if that means getting to 85 and 90 and being vibrant and enjoying family and friends and food and exercise and all the good things you want to do, that’s a great thing. And then hopefully descend pretty quickly to that inevitable day when, as you’ve described, we all eventually pass away.
Mary Flett: [00:11:50] I love how you phrase that. I think one of the things that you bring up when your speak and you’re talking about that is that there is this dimensionality to aging. There is literally the cellular life that we have that can go from second to second. I mean, supposedly we replace all the cells in our bodies every seven years. Well, that’s aging. There’s also I just got back from Yosemite, which for your listeners, if they’re around the world, is probably one of the most beautiful places on this planet. Incredibly old. And I stood among trees that were centuries old, and I’ve had a little 68 year old life compared to that. I’m not very old at all, and I think it’s the comparisons. One of the challenges that I see in today’s media is that we’re kind of lazy in how we measure aging. Linearity is probably the easiest way to measure it years, days, months. But I’ve often given this to my students. I’ve said, How do you measure the ocean? What tools do you use? Do you use a measuring rod? Do you use a cup? And I think we have to ask that question about aging. How do we measure aging? Do we measure it in terms of functionality? Do we measure it in terms of wisdom or skills accomplished or insights? Or do we measure it in terms of what can be contributed to the culture that we live in? And I think we need to look at all of those elements.
Peter Bowes: [00:13:22] So you’ve mentioned the five pillars of aging. It actually started out as a weekly lecture before you developed2 the concept. Can you quickly run through for us what the five pillars are?
Mary Flett: [00:13:34] Absolutely. It works out to a lovely acronym about renewing your lease on life. The first pillar is creating a legacy of values. Values are these things that are implicit in our life, but most of the emphasis I see today is on creating a legacy of finance and things that you’re going to give to your children. What’s important here is that we also address the legacy of values that we have that we want to keep important in our lives. Second thing is staying engaged, and you’ve mentioned several times on your podcast about how important it is to be physically engaged, emotionally engaged, cognitively engaged and even more importantly, in these days with COVID. I think socially engaged and how we find a way to do that is actually the middle pillar, which is adaptation and accommodation. Adaptation requires a change in attitude, beliefs, challenging ideas that perhaps we’ve had for a long period of time that no longer serve us. Accommodation is what we can do in the external environment to make our life better. To make it easier to make it less stressful. The fourth pillar is spirituality. It’s about finding purpose and meaning and purpose and meaning in a culture that values doing over being is challenging. I see so many people struggle with the change in status on retirement. So finding a way to be purposeful, finding a way to create meaning in your life and share that is so vital as we get on. And the very last pillar is what I call emotional economics, and this is for ease. I am enough, there is enough, I have enough and I can define what is good enough.
Peter Bowes: [00:15:19] Excellent. So having established what the pillars are, I guess the challenge for maybe not necessarily you and I, but others listening to this who may not have thought as deeply about those pillars. The challenges, first of all, to recognize what they are and then how you can apply that knowledge to yourself to live a better life and to age, perhaps more gracefully.
Mary Flett: [00:15:43] So I totally agree with this and one of the challenges that I have found just in coming to terms with my own aging process is how infrequently, I’m able to have conversations about this with people, so I spend a lot of time asking questions, and I’m happy to share the results of my inquiry. Values, as I said, the first pillar is implicit mostly in everything we do. One of the values my grandfather taught me through his living, the way he did, was was compassion. And while that is a value that I have had all my life, it has changed in ranking. I think that’s the easiest way I can put it. So when I was younger, I wasn’t necessarily so compassionate about myself. But now, as I’m older and I realized the challenges that widowhood is brought and I realize the challenges that COVID has brought compassion for others is absolutely essential. And it bears weight in almost everything that I say and do. Where I’ve seen it in very practical terms is in when people come to do end of life decision making. So very often people assume, especially those who have family members that, well, my son or my daughter will be my attorney, in fact, if I am needing to create a pulse to a physician ordered life sustaining order and truth be told, not everybody has good relationships with their children, and maybe their children aren’t all that excited about taking care of mum or dad. If you look at this, not in terms of who, but. What values we bring to this conversation? Maybe it’s better to talk about having a family decision because there’s a value for everybody being able to weigh in on the issue. Or maybe it’s better to have a conversation about who not to include in this end of life and talk about the pain and suffering that may still exist because of unresolved issues from the family. There are other areas. Where to move to – if people are leaving or downsizing, which is very common in most aging groups and moving into a congregate sort of community. What if the people there don’t share your same values? What if you have just sold your major assets and you now are going to live closer to your children and you find out that the people who live in that community don’t share your spiritual values, don’t share your economic values, don’t share your political values. This is really challenging because it’s a almost a no way back decision.
Peter Bowes: [00:18:25] I want to go back to the word that you used a few moments ago, compassion. And I’m curious whether you think that or feel that there is a significant lack of compassion in society more generally in society today than perhaps when you were a child, when you were growing up that we seem to have lost that ability to look out for each other.
Mary Flett: [00:18:48] There is no doubt that compassion, as a word, is misunderstood and misapplied. My definition of compassion is not – does not include just being sorry for somebody that’s sympathy or empathy. My definition of compassion includes being able to stand aside somewhat objectively and being willing to let go of outcomes that perhaps I think are right. It is very difficult to watch an older person in their last years crying out because they want to die and not be able to allow them that choice – to make that choice. I see this a lot in my profession because we are highly regulated around suicide, and when a person wants to die by suicide, there is no doubt that there are many issues that need to be explored. But not everybody who wants to die is suicidal. And that distinction sometimes is lost on the general public. I can remember being in with an elder woman who was in her late 90s. She’d lived a wonderful life. She was miserable. All of her family were gone. She had no friends. She was incredibly isolated. All she wanted to do was die. Would it be compassionate for me to give her instructions on how she could achieve that? Probably. Would it have been legal? No. So there’s an interesting bind that my profession is in when we’re involved in that. There’s also the reality that we don’t know how to be compassionate with death. We have totally removed ourselves from the dying process. And even though the hospice movement is still very energetic, most of the people who enter into hospice actually die within days. I’m sure you’re very aware coming from the UK that hospice movement there is actually far more compassionate, which includes people who can be at or near death’s door for months and also helping the family around that. So I fear I might be digressing, but lead me back.
Peter Bowes: [00:21:12] No, it’s interesting. I’m just curious as to whether you feel that…and clearly you have thought about these issues very deeply. I don’t think many people do think that deeply about what their final years are going to be like and how it will impact their children or their loved ones, whatever their relationship happens to be. But I think for the vast majority of us, it is something for the future that were maybe afraid of yes, but also to be dismissed and thought about another time.
Mary Flett: [00:21:44] So that’s very culturally situated, isn’t it? In the western culture, we have medicalised dying. But interestingly, almost everybody I speak with says, I want to die in my own bed, in my own home. And of course, the statistics don’t support that. Very few people achieve that end. And you’re right, very few people have thought about Plan B. Well, what? What will happen? I lived this experience actually with my husband, and even though both of us were very aware of these things, circumstances happen such that he was not able to have the death that he wanted. One of the realities is we have taken death out of the conversation. Some of this is due to marketing. Some of this is due to a loss of opportunity to be around people who are dying. I have to credit our medical profession with keeping us from death’s door for so very, very long and. I guess my unique, thank you for even acknowledging that I’ve thought deeply about this, my unique experience comes from having had so many losses early on in my life. I don’t begrudge these losses. As a matter of fact, at this point in my life, I’m actually very grateful for them because they were harsh teachers, but teachers nonetheless. So I lost my father at 14. I lost my grandfather. When I was in my early 20s, I lost my mother. She didn’t die until she was in her 90s. I lost my husband at a relatively early age, and I have a spiritual belief that sustains me in dealing with this, but I still had to go through the experience.
Peter Bowes: [00:23:23] One of the things that people often say about themselves at varying ages is that I don’t feel old or I don’t feel as old as I actually am in terms of my chronological age. And I’m just wondering whether that is a big part of the reason why people don’t think about those latter years. They push it to the future because I don’t feel old and therefore translate. I don’t feel like I’m close to getting to that point where I need to give some consideration to what’s going to happen,
Mary Flett: [00:23:52] So I have a big smile on my face. I think this is a very universal experience, and I’ve actually inquired with people about what the gap in their chronological age is between their felt age, and oftentimes it’s about 20 years. I’m going to suggest to you that there’s two reasons why we have this. Number one is that there are different rates of aging. Early childhood is about acquiring incredible amounts of knowledge and a very, very short period of time. So a child who comes into the world with billions of cells sloughed off billions of cells by the time they are three, by the time they’re seventeen were wondering if their frontal lobe is ever going to connect and if they will ever be able to operate as social human beings. They’re already at the first third of their life. Now, when I was first in school and looking at developmental psychology, we were able to delineate very clearly and in very small terms what was going on in the early childhood zero to three, three to nine, nine to 12, 12 to 14. And then all of a sudden we got to 60 and above.
Mary Flett: [00:25:07] Truth of the matter is now that we’re actually living 60 and above, we’re learning what this means to be older and what this journey is like. I suspect that the other really operative influence here is the images that we were given not just by media, but were perpetuated about what old is. So I can easily call to mind print-flowered dress and curly gray hair and fix shoes and a cane and a walker, which is sadly still a perpetual image of what aging is. And yet, even though on every single day, myself included, I see counters to those images, those were burned into my mind very early on, getting rid of those images, really exploring what it means to be in a body that is wrinkled and has different color hair or for men is bald. That requires more time to solve problems and and maybe sits a while longer than it did before. It needs a little bit more time to recover should easily be something that we could wrap our minds around. And yet those images of granny sticking our heads?
Peter Bowes: [00:26:33] Well, those images are so deep rooted in societies. There are some cities who will use signage of an older person, perhaps at a road crossing, and it’s always a stooped older person, perhaps with a cane having difficulty walking Now, clearly, the message is if you’re driving, you’ve got to be careful of the people around you, but it’s perpetuating that image. Perhaps if you talk to children and ask them to to draw their grandparents or just an older person, you’re going to get those images instantly and clearly they are picking it up from somewhere they’re seeing it in the media.
Mary Flett: [00:27:10] Yeah, I don’t want to demonize the media. I mean, here we are talking about these things. One of the exercises that I have students do is to write down on a piece of paper all the adjectives that they associate with the word old. And then I ask them to turn the paper over and I say, now write down all the adjectives you associate with the word elder. And it’s amazing. The first one is long and typically very negative. The second list is shorter, but filled with words such as compassionate, wise, caring. I want us to change our language, and we change our language thing will change our images.
Peter Bowes: [00:27:49] So let me ask you this do you see aging and the process of aging as more of a science or an art?
Mary Flett: [00:27:58] Oh, I never liked binary questions. I like both and questions. I think the science of aging is exploring new frontiers, and the more we learn about it, the more we will discover just how incredibly wonderful it is. The art of aging is very individual and allows for individual expression of the totality of that person’s life. I’m going to age differently from you because I’ve made different choices about eating, but I’m also going to age differently from you because of our genetics and where we will come together, where we will be in parallel. You know, I love using the image of a labyrinth because there are times when you look like you’re walking together with the other person, then all of a sudden you veer off in another direction. We’ve seen that in COVID. We’ve seen where people who are apparently quite vibrant and healthy actually were more vulnerable, and it had something to do with age, but had much more to do with comorbidity. We also see that there are people who have been challenged by chronic illness all of their lives who just go on and on and on and on. And it’s always been amazing to me, and I attribute that to their having had to learn the harsh lessons of adaptation and accommodation. People who’ve lived incredibly healthy lives sometimes are living in fear of that other shoe dropping. Will I get Alzheimer’s? Will cancer take me? And you know, again, some of this comes down to the amount of information that is out there and shared and the topic of conversation that is so frequently it’s not about what wonderful thing is aging is brought or what insights you’ve got or how you’ve shared your wisdom with your community or your children or your grandchildren. It’s about, Oh my god, I can’t remember where my keys are or gee,there’s an ache and a pain here, and Lord knows forgive me about this, but Lord knows everything on TV today gives you every side effect in every contretemps you can possibly imagine. But we have a pill. I had to laugh. I was reading one of my emails today, and they were saying that there may be a solution, or at least there’s some hope about finding a solution to the scourge of Alzheimer’s that’s been on our our pharmaceutical list for years. And I only wish that this would be true because it would stop us from living under this dark cloud of finding a pill to cure memory loss. We have to value the memory first before we can be sad about losing it. And right now, we don’t value memory much.
Peter Bowes: [00:30:59] Yeah, I agree with you. And it was a binary either or question and probably a little unfair, but your answer was beautiful. So thank you for that. So let’s talk about the books the book series Aging with Finesse. It’s a series of three. Can you just run through what people can perhaps get from these books?
Mary Flett: [00:31:17] Sure. What I wanted to do was to give short little bites. I mean, this is sort of like if you’re familiar with a Portuguese eating or the Spanish eating of tapas. These are little nutritional bites of information and insights, and it’s very much from my perspective. It’s not from a scientific perspective at all of sharing what I’ve learned about aging, and I collected all of these essays into three different areas because they align themselves in that it’s so important for us to value ourselves what we don’t learn about doing that, especially women. This is a very gendered conversation in many ways because we’re always giving for others and in valuing ourselves, particularly in a culture that doesn’t value aging adults, is essential. If you’re going to find a foothold and make your way through what used to be maybe three or four years, but now are three or four decades after we retire. So that’s the first one connecting with ourselves and others really came out of my experience with all my years of therapy. It was far more important to me to create a trusting, supportive, caring, welcoming relationship with my patients than it was to diagnose them or come up with a solution to their problems. I think this reflects more my spiritual background. Actually, there are there are many therapists out there who can provide short term interventions that are very useful and very helpful. What I found with my older adult patients was that was nice. But what they really wanted was relationship. And in creating that relationship, we’re able to heal many of many, many old wounds. So that was very satisfying. So connecting with others and ourselves, I think, is there are two separate things to do. But if we can connect with ourselves, we can connect with others in a much more supportive, helpful way and that will sustain us as we age. The last one, the essential skills is really more about finding humor and using a little bit of wit to address what oftentimes is considered a just dark and dreary future that waits for us out there. We’re either going to be sitting on the street corner with our clothes and a bag and, you know, suffering some untold, horrible disease, or we’re going to be left alone and not have any connection. I just that’s not who I am. And again, I think it goes back to this gift that my grandfather gave me. He was German and Irish, and that combination gives you some very specific ways of looking at the world and then you just got to laugh at yourself.
Peter Bowes: [00:34:15] And so with that in mind then as you grow older knowing what you know and your deep knowledge of this subject and the way that you’ve analyzed the way that different people age, how do you see your own future? Do you have aspirations? Do you have a game plan?
Mary Flett: [00:34:33] Wouldn’t it be terrible if I said no of? Yes, I do have a game plan.
Peter Bowes: [00:34:38] I always like a surprise in these interviews.
Mary Flett: [00:34:39] Yeah, the most important piece about my game plan is about developing community sustaining community. I’m a solo ager at this point in my life, and so I am aware that I have need of others to be in my life in a way that perhaps family would have been there before. I have need for an environmental setting that will care for me when perhaps I’m not able to be as mobile. One of my pieces that I wrote was about I called it climate nomads, and this is something that’s incredibly important to me now. Most of us, as we age, are putting down roots and we’re going to go to our last place, we’ve seen this happen. You downsize the family home, you go to an assisted living and then you die. I don’t think we can do that anymore because of climate change. I live in Northern California for the last few years. We’ve been threatened with fire. I have friends back east and in the south. They’ve confronted, threatened with all kinds of problems. I think now my priorities are to find a place that has really good WiFi, has really good health care and has a community that I can identify with in terms of my values, political, spiritual, social values where I can stay for maybe three or four months out of the year and then move someplace else because there is no single place that’s on this planet that’s safe anymore. Now that requires a lot of mind change. It also requires that I set myself up financially and emotionally to be able to connect with and interact with a variety of different groups and peoples. Not everybody’s situated to do this. So in my in terms of my own, my very, very own practice, I want to see five pillars grow into something that I can leave as my legacy for others and then maybe find that lovely beach on Maui and just kind of hang out there for a while.
Peter Bowes: [00:36:51] Sounds beautiful, and it’s interesting the way that you frame that. We’re recording this interview during the the Glasgow COP26 conference, talking about climate change, a subject that you just mentioned. And it is clear and inevitable that that very subject, which is going to be top of the agenda for the decades ahead, the decades that you and I hopefully are moving forward to our final years and the two issues are not separate, are they in terms of how we will live our lives and how the world tackles climate change?
Mary Flett: [00:37:25] There are some very practical issues of where to put old people. In the 1960s, when skilled nursing facilities were just starting and were really thought to be quite the solution to things we didn’t look at the arc of life that was that was something that a solution that was designed for people who are going to live maybe five, seven years. We’re now in a setting where we have less housing, we have fewer staff. We have an increased need for caregivers that run the range from skilled caregivers to people who will just run errands. In many, many ways Covid was the perfect training ground here to see what we should do. We saw many, many, many mistakes made with aging adults, much suffering that was not necessary. But I think out of this, if we really put our minds to it and look at it with clear hearts, we will see that aging in place is the way to go. But we may need to move the places and we’re going to need many, many more people to help with memory care. But we may be able to use technology to help with that. And ultimately, we’re going to have to learn how to develop trust again, trust with our caregivers, trust with ourselves and trust with a society that is changing so rapidly that we really don’t have much time to reflect on it and say, I think we could do better. I often bring to mind the image of Sacajawea, the wonderful Native American woman who showed Lewis and Clark how to get across this country when it was the great unknown. And I really tried to pull her spirit into everything that I do. I think many of us psychologically and emotionally know the lay of the land. We just don’t know the territory, and that’s what’s so exciting about aging in the 21st century.
Peter Bowes: [00:39:24] Mary, this has been a fascinating and deeply enjoyable and I think thought-provoking interview. I thank you very much and wish you all the best with your books and your writing in the future.
Mary Flett: [00:39:36] You’re most kind, Peter. Thank you for the opportunity.
Peter Bowes: [00:39:38] Thank you so much. Mary’s book series is called Aging with Finesse. I’ll put the details into the show notes for this episode at the Live Long and Master Aging website. You’ll find us at LLAMAPodcast.com that’s LLAMAPodcast.com The LLAMA podcast is a Health Span Media production. In social media you’ll find us @LLAMApodcast. You can contact me @Peter Bowes. We’re available on all of the major podcasting platforms, in addition to the one that you’re already listening to us on. Spoiled for choice,really? Apple Podcasts, where you can rate and review us – Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Audible, to name a few. Wherever you find us, do take care and thank you so much for listening.
The Live Long and Master Aging podcast, a HealthSpan Media LLC production, shares ideas but does not offer medical advice. If you have health concerns of any kind, or you are considering adopting a new diet or exercise regime, you should consult your doctor.