This week I watched the DVD of the BBC One documentary The Young Ones. It follows an experiment in which six famous British seniors live in an environment which simulates 1975 to see whether re-living your youth can make you young again. The theory is that being reminded of what they used to be like would increase their physical and mental well-being.
It was fascinating to watch the transformation of the participants, many of whom struggled with limited mobility and a reduced capacity to perform everyday tasks. In the beginning they had a lot of beliefs about what they couldn’t do because they were too old or frail. However as the week progressed each of them developed a renewed vitality and confidence.
Profession Ellen Langer who was the consultant for the study, which also she ran for the first time 30 years earlier, contends that the way that we age isn’t inevitable. It seems that we risk limiting our possibilities in later life by living up to social expectations of what ageing means. One area where this was evident was in rehabilitation from illness and injury. A number of the participants who’d had strokes or falls were tentative in walking and performing household tasks. However with encouragement, they were able to achieve a much better recovery and take on activities and hobbies they thought were behind them in a very short space of time.
Although living in a 70s house and wearing 70s clothes may have had an impact, it seemed like one of the biggest benefits of the study came from being in a stimulating environment. The participants had great fun joking with each other which lifted everyone’s spirits. They played a big part in the success of the experiment by encouraging one another to achieve their goals for the week. Many of them had been missing the stimulation of their working lives and it was clear that the free time and solitude we crave when we work full time can become a pitfall later in life if it translates to lack of purpose and isolation.
I am glad I saw this documentary in my early 50’s because it challenged me to rethink my attitude to what I am capable of. It made me aware that I need to get more serious about maintaining my fitness and flexibility while I am still able to do so, and nip the “I’m to old for that” talk in the bud. The participants in the study improved very quickly, which means that they were capable of more than they thought they were all along.
Putting what I have learned from this documentary into practice requires finding a balance so that I respect my genuine limitations, without holding myself back unnecessarily. This also applies in my dealings with others, particularly the seniors in my life. While its true that we may be more capable than we think we are, people who are not used to being challenged to extend themselves find it very confronting if they pushed to do things for themselves. They can feel that they are being bullied, disrepected, or abandoned which can be very discouraging. Hopefully I can fulfill the role of encourager and motivator, without turning into commando boot camp trainer.