By Bushra Shakhshir
With the exception of Peter Pan perhaps, none of us can evade growing old. Faced with the uselessness that many believe comes hand in hand with old age, it is often seen as an incurable disease. Jamila Al Naber Haddadin, though, believes otherwise. "With some adaptations,” she explains, “this stage of one’s life can be as fulfilling as any previous stage. In fact, I find this stage the most rewarding."
Her best achievementSitting in her favourite armchair with freshly coiffed hair and a bright pink shirt, 86-year-old Jamila has a strong, yet maternal, presence. As a mama of 12 and teta of 29, Jamila considers raising her children to be her proudest achievement:"Part of the reason why I am so content and happy at this age,” she says, “is because I have such wonderful children.” Smiling proudly, she recounts the successes in their lives, telling about their support of her and of each other.
Challenges and how to overcome them“Growing old isn’t without challenges,” Jamila is quick to add. “There are some major changes that occur to your body, which you must adapt to.”
According to Dr Suhaila Twal, the most significant of these changes is the declining efficiency of one’s muscles. “This means your heart is less able to pump large quantities of blood around the body and your blood vessels lose their elasticity,” explains Twal. As a result, high blood pressure and heart problems are fairly common among the elderly.
Loss of bone density—a phenomenon more prevalent in women than men—is another important change to expect. Experts advise older women to take special care by following a diet high in calcium and vitamin D and testing for osteoporosis, especially if there is a family history.
“It is important to remember,” Twal reassures, “that the negative physiological changes that occur can be significantly minimised.” Such can be achieved simply by coupling appropriate exercise with a healthy diet. Jamila gets her exercise by walking around her neighbourhood—a part of her daily routine that she looks forward to.
Besides walking, Jamila’s favourite pastime is reading. She has read everything from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables to most of Agatha Christie’s novels. She also loves solving puzzles and crosswords. “These not only keep me entertained,” she explains, “but I think that they have played a role in the fact that I have an impeccable memory.”
Twal agrees: “Your mind is just like anything else in your body—the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.”
Mind over matterExplaining her approach to old age, Jamila quotes Mark Twain, saying, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” She believes that remaining positive and living life to the fullest each and every day is very important. “Besides,” she adds with a twinkle in her eye, “this is my time to truly enjoy life. I have worked hard most of my life and I am now reaping the rewards.”
When Jamila is not spending time with her family and grandchildren, she can usually be found planning trips to different parts of the world. “Right now,” she discloses, “I am planning a vacation to Turkey. I absolutely love to travel and I’ve been lucky enough to visit many wonderful parts of the world.”
It has been said that fear is the single most powerful agent in making what we fear come true. The best way to beat aging, then, is to embrace it—something Jamila is doing gracefully.