Hey Old Man–What’s On Your Mind?


So, what are you thinking about today? Are you thinking about the day’s planned (or unplanned) activities? Perhaps what shirt to wear with these old jeans? Oh, perhaps some fond memories from your childhood, or the joys of your marriage(s), or sending your children off to college, or greeting a son home from military service. All memories aren’t necessarily soft and pleasant, such as being forced from a job, or selling your home for a loss, or trouble with a neighbor. You usually avoid thinking about the unpleasant stuff. When you live long enough to become a legitimate geezer, the memories are piled high and deep. And certainly you don’t want to share these memories with me, but often you are willing and in need to share with a knowing therapist.

These memories might include fudging your sales numbers in order to make a bonus, or having an auto accident while sort of drunk, or having a brief affair with a tempting neighbor lady, or even planning a forbidden event, tho planned, never happened, but the memory of the plan is still stirring the pot and bringing a brief smile.

But forgetting the memories, what is swimming among your brain cells as you now live from day to day? As you read this blog, you are alive and as well as your age allows, with lots of today thoughts, likely many the same as mine, so I won’t list them. I figured that older men, like myself, won’t want to disclose much that’s personal, so I visited a geriatric psychiatrist to have him open the mental doors for me to peer into the thoughts of today’s older male generation. I asked him to tell me what older men are thinking about the day they were visiting him.

Harold G. Koenig, MD, MHSc, fits the definition of a specialist I was seeking. Along with his geriatric profession, he is widely known for the value and effect of spirituality and religion in the healing process. He practices at Duke Medicine, but teaches very few hours since his career is devoted to research, writing, and delivering his profession throughout the world. But he does have time to consult with older men and help guide them through whatever struggles they may be having as age is wrapping its arms slowly around them.

As you might expect, older men may wrestle with depression for a number of reasons. Memory loss as well as various levels of dementia cause many to visit Dr. Koenig. Depression also arrives as men realize they are near the finish line and they may have unfinished business among certain family members or others in their past that needs conclusion. Men want to continue doing what they have been doing and they get upset as they are losing the energy they are accustomed to, even though losing energy is not necessarily associated with aging.

Dr. Koenig hears many confessions from his old men clients. Some men struggle with the past and want restitution. If there are old wounds perpetrated against a client, Dr. Koenig encourages forgiveness. Men may also have questions as they age, questions perhaps not related to themselves directly, but questions about life hereafter. Dr. Koenig works at a nearby veterans hospital, and these vets have questions related to their beliefs in a life hereafter and about a connection with a god. Religion can be a strong factor in healing as it may offer meaning and purpose to these men and it can offer hope for the future, whether the future includes a possible cure of their condition or for a life hereafter they can accept.

Another recognized specialist in gerontology is Linda K. George, PhD, a 44 year long Duke professor of sociology. As a young college graduate from Ohio, she knew that the study of aging would be her life long specialty. As a youngster in Ohio, a grandmother was a wonder in her young life and planted within her the value of the older generation. She has interviewed thousands of older adults and inspired her students to follow her to understand the world of the elderly.

With older men, the subject of this post, their thoughts revolve around three main areas:

      1. Their former job or profession;
      2. Their lives with their wives, whether still married or formerly married;
      3. Their health.

Dr. George feels that we often have a wrong impression of old persons. She quoted a study proving that those over age 65 are among the happiest among all age groups. One proof of that is that while not focusing on a wide swath of earlier lives, men enjoy discussing their profession and even attempt to continue it long into their aging lives.

Here’s another issue that our geezers will think about. Most persons over 65 somewhere along the way will have a diagnosed illness. And in most cases, neither men nor women worry much about the illness, since they expect such illness will eventually end their lives.

I asked Donna Cook, Director of Health Services at The Forest at Duke (see post –Living with Disabilities) to suggest others who might offer suggestions of what old men think about. She referred me to Joan Nelson and Kandis Kelly, social workers in the Health Services Department at The Forest at Duke who added new observations about the thoughts of old men.

One frequent thought and worry among older men concerns being a burden to their families. I have seen this exact situation among some neighbors and in my extended neighborhood. On the flip side of this worry of being a burden is the reverse worry of being taken care of following the passing of the wife. Among today’s older generation, historically, many married persons included a male who worked and provided most of the family’s physical comforts and a female who ministered to the daily needs of husbands and children. These male providers who now are long past their productive years, wonder and worry about care for them should their wife die before them. Also, today’s older men from World War II years or shortly thereafter, developed a profession and stayed with it as much as possible throughout their adult life, where, on the other hand, today’s young adults feel entitled, spend many of their young adult years living with their parents and delay moving into the future and becoming independent and self-reliant.

Both Mss. Nelson and Kelly impressed me with the thoughts that older men want to leave their families in comfortable positions. Older men have certain pride and an ego that needs to flourish. This pride can easily suffer, however, as men might lose control of the natural processes of their own bodies. This can become a major fear among old men. Overall, old men enjoy being engaged with a social life, especially among former friends from the more youthful times of their lives.

As for geezerbill myself, daily thoughts are enriched by loving and supportive family connections as well as the introduction to new people and to stimulating ideas while preparing these posts and while preparing my weekly radio show, Time Out on a local community station. Nothing makes aging more enjoyable for any of us than mental and spiritual stimulation, and we all need to seek and find those fertile fields.

Born in small town in Ohio, high school in Lorain, Ohio, then College of Wooster, then US Army Counter Intelligence Corp. where I learned most about human relations among the friendly and otherwise. Followed by a career advising businesses and individuals as the types and costs of employee benefits and personal insurance. Now a radio interviewing host

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