The Art of Aging: Staying Active to Stay Young

On the way to a medical appointment, Doug LaFerle’s 85-year-old mother said, “Don’t get old!”

With a chuckle, he replied: “Aging is much better than the alternative.”

Instead, Doug and his wife, Cindy, have opted to redefine aging.

“We want to squeeze everything we can out of life,” Cindy says. Part of that came from seeing their parents’ painful declines. Doug’s father had Alzheimer’s disease, and Cindy’s mom suffered from brain damage. After caring for them, the couple decided they would try to do things differently.

Now in their 60s, Doug and Cindy started dating in 1969, when they were 15.

“We were off and on throughout college, but mostly on,” Cindy says. They married in 1980 and their son, Nathan, was born in 1985. Both chose creative fields – Doug as an architect and Cindy as a writer and editor.

Both are collectors and longtime mixed-media artists who work with found objects. They share a studio space over their garage in Royal Oak, Michigan. Doug began painting and making sculptural-style pieces while working as an architect. His art is featured at local restaurants and in museums throughout the state. Cindy started making nature-inspired collages out of books and other vintage pieces after their son moved out on his own.

A new approach to growing older

Aging has given them a new freedom in their work.

“When you first start making art and submitting to shows, you’re upset by rejection, which can stop you from creating,” Doug says. “As you age, you develop a thicker skin, and you do it for yourself.”

Cindy agrees.

“When we were younger we worried about what ‘they’ thought of us and our work. One of the great gifts of getting older is that you really don’t care what others think,” she says.

The Asian and European attitudes toward aging have been an inspiration for the couple.

“They revere long life, well lived,” Doug explains.

Part of that, Cindy says, is taking pride in their years.

“I never lie about my age,” she says. “When you do, you insinuate there’s shame involved. We try to wear it proudly.”

Embracing new challenges keeps them young. In 2008, they purchased a second home in St. Joseph, Michigan. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1959, the 3,000-square-foot home needed more than a little work.

“We knew it was in sad shape, but then we found out it was worse than we thought,” Doug explains with a rueful laugh. “We call it our ‘workcation’ house because we’re always working on it.”

A few years ago, Cindy began writing about her experiences caring for her mother, which led to “Life Lines,” a regular column on aging and related topics in Michigan Prime, a Sunday supplement in The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. Even more recently, she started a new photo blog, Something Beautiful Every Day, where she challenges herself to appreciate and record something beautiful every day.

But not all of the challenges they’ve embraced have been work-related.

“After my mom died, there was a hole in my heart,” Cindy explains. “Adopting a rescue dog had always been on my bucket list.”

In 2014, they adopted Coco, a 2½-year-old German shepherd mix. They already had two cats, but Coco was the couple’s first dog.

“A lot of people said we were crazy, that dogs tie you down,” Cindy remembers. “But she’s been wonderful. She gets us outside for walks, and she’s great company.”

Doug and Cindy make a conscious effort to be open to new experiences.

“We’ll take a different way home when we walk, get something new at the grocery store or experiment with a new recipe. Little things can make a big difference,” Cindy says.

Neither knows what will attract their attention next – and that’s part of the fun.

“We have some good years left, and we plan to enjoy every one of them,” she says.

Active bodies = healthy minds

Woodworking, learning new music or how to play an instrument and teeing off on a nearby golf course – all are good ideas, according to Dr. Khaled Imam, section head of Geriatric Medicine at Beaumont Hospital.

“A retired physician I know stays sharp by taking online classes,” Imam says. “Online or in person, now may be the time to take courses you haven’t had time for in the past or pursue interests such as travel or a hobby.”

And while learning anything new is a good idea, group activities may have added benefits, Imam says, citing a study that looked at ballroom dancing and dementia.

“Results showed that the risk for dementia was less because the dancers were physically active and spatially and mentally aware of their environment,” he says.

Another plus: group classes have a social element, which can counteract feelings of isolation and depression, a common complaint among seniors.

And while nothing can completely stop the illnesses associated with aging, a positive attitude and keeping mentally and physically active can definitely slow them down, Imam says.

“When we try new things, we are exercising our brains,” he says. “Research has shown that mental stimulation delays the onset of dementia.”

Learn more about staying active and healthy as you age at HAP Senior Health

Categories: Get Healthy

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