Once upon a time, Dementia didn’t exist . . .

. . . and since Aloysius Alzheimer wasn’t born until 1864, ‘Alzheimer’s’ didn’t exist either. The old women and men of the tribe were wise. Okay, maybe they didn’t have any teeth or hair left. And maybe, just like today, those wise people would forget things or lose something from time to time. But they kept their minds and bodies active, and that could slow down the aging process considerably. Atrophy can’t happen to tissue that’s in constant use. So, when the younger members of the tribe came to the old wise woman or man for advice—‘How do we keep beetles out of the grain?’ ‘What’s the best cure for heat rash?’—the wise person felt useful. 

Recently, I was part of a community service programme to teach computer skills to seniors. My students, farmers’ wives, were nearly eighty and had never used a keyboard, much less a computer. While I did teach them useful skills, they taught me surprising things as well. Like the basics of milking a cow, herringbone vs. swingover techniques, and what kind of milk can be used for drinking or must be used for cheese. They also taught me a few things about cooking (an activity I’ve never enjoyed) by sharing recipes we found online. They calmly explained things that would normally send me into a panic attack—separating eggs, making whipped cream, choosing the right ingredients for Irish Christmas cake. While learning what ‘Ctrl’ and ‘Alt’ meant, they joked about their dentures or how they wouldn’t be caught dead in a swim suit. Yet, after each computer class, these wise women of the village hurried off to set dancing or yoga or a céile in the neighbouring county.

Did I mention—This was a volunteer job, but I got paid in a currency called ‘insight,’ making the whole thing a wonderful experience I won’t forget.