By Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW
This article is the first in a series about the vagaries of getting older and what you can do to minimize their impact on your diving. When it comes to the brain, most of us reach our cognitive peak somewhere in our early 50s. The changes that gradually occur thereafter include:
- Slower processing speed, creating more need to purposefully walk yourself through thought sequences that once flowed effortlessly.
- More difficulty analyzing and comprehending complex information.
- More difficulty with short-term and working memory.
- More susceptibility to distractions and losing your place in a sequence of tasks, potentially missing a step or two and not realizing it.
On the bright side, you now have a lifetime of experience which has made you a more effective problem-solver. You’ve lived through enough challenge and change to know that things generally work out somehow or other, so it’s easier to stay calm in the face of setbacks. If you’ve gotten old enough to really knowthat you won’t live forever, you’re likely to appreciate the wonders of the underwater world with more mindfulness and presence. How then, to manage the drawbacks of aging while enjoying itsbenefits?
Helpful Adjustments to Consider
In general, it pays to simply slow down, think more deliberately, and act with purposeful attention. Notice when environmental distractions are more likely to derail your train of thought and seek quieter, less chaotic settings when you can.
The goal is to reduce the number of cognitive misses that you might make because the ones you notice are bad enough, but it’s the ones you don’tnotice that could be dangerous. We can all laugh about occasionally jumping in with our fins off or our glasses on, but it’s not so funny to discover an important oversight once you’re already at depth.
As memory issues increase, checklists—always a good idea regardless of your age—can really save the day. You might prefer to just keep it all in your head but frankly, your head isn’t as good as it used to be, so you’re better off just adapting accordingly. Besides, a checklist is far more comprehensive and reliable than your brain ever was, so why not?
If you don’t keep a checklist physically handy on wet notesor a slate, review it frequently enough that you know exactly how many points it contains so it will be easier for you to know when you’ve missedsomething. You might not know what it is immediately, but you’ll know to look until you figure it out and address it.
Put your checklist in an order that makes sense to you and follow that order the same way every time. If there’s a momentary distraction while you’re gearing up—“There’sa dolphin off the port side!!”—it will be easier for you to pick up where you left off once you come back to it. If you perform your tasks in the same sequence every time, you’re less likely to overlook one of them.
Gear up a little early when you can if you’re diving with a group. You’ll have more time, allowing yourself to methodically work through your pre-dive checklist in a focused, relaxed manner. You’ll also have fewer distractions if you’ve gotten yourself situated before the group starts noisily clambering around, grabbing gear and bumping elbows in everyone’s rush to get into the water.
Preventive Maintenance for Your Brain
Good health won’t halt the aging process but it willslow it down. Quality nutrition is a good place to start because while your body can somehow manage to make do with a crappy diet when you’re younger, each passing year takes away more of your margin for error. Help your brain out by giving it good fuel.
Interestingly, physical fitness is an important element of brain health. In particular, regular aerobic activity keeps your cardiovascular system in good shape so that it can keep your brain properly oxygenated.
You’ll keep your brain sharper by being a lifelong learner, looking for opportunities to explore new subjects and develop new skills, building new neural connections to make up for some of the ones that are breaking down over time.
Finally, go easy on the alcohol. Drinking is an assault on even the healthiest brain under the best of circumstances, let alone one with some mileage and wear and tear.
These choices will enhance your ability to enjoy diving while also keeping you functionally younger for longer so that you can get more enjoyment out of everything else you do as well. You can’t stay young forever but with a little effort, you can be the envy of your peers and that’s the next best thing.
Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW has been a certified diver since 2000. She is a psychotherapist and community educator who has written extensively on topics of interest to anyone seeking to maximize their health and overall enjoyment of life, though her primary specialty is the treatment of overeating.
She can be reached through www.elizabethbabcock.com and on Facebook .