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On Being A Hermit September 19, 2012

Posted by nrhatch in Health & Wellness, Humor, Life Balance.

Researchers don’t know what causes many dementias of the later years.

Nevertheless, there seems to be a rather Universal RX or prescribed set of behaviors  for staying sharp in old age . . .

And that RX includes maintaining social ties.

If the proponents of this RX are to be believed, hermits will not fare well as they advance from middle age to geriatric stature. 

Instead of aging gracefully, those prone to solitude will lose their minds . . . even if no one is around to notice.

As someone with vast reservoirs of untapped introverted tendencies at my disposal, this agreed upon RX for cognitive well-being in one’s senior years has both concerned and perplexed me.

Concerned thought:  Will I really lose my mind at a faster rate because I am not a party animal prone to wearing designer gowns at gala events? 

Perplexed thought:  Stress causes our brains to age faster.  Being around people, especially badly behaved  people, is stressful.  Ergo, we should avoid people whenever possible. 

But how can we avoid people to reduce stress while  “maintaining social ties” to preserve cognitive functioning?

What’s an introvert to do???

After sharing my “perplexed thought” with BFF the other day, I stumbled into an answer to this age-old old age question.  As an added bonus, it substantiated my take on the subject.  Yay!  

Here it is: 

I feel obliged to say that social engagement is NOT a universal criterion for cognitive wellness.  Indeed, many studies on successful aging have found that some older adults may exhibit adaptive, healthy aging because they REDUCE social interation in thelr lives and thus avoid the stress and strain it can cause.
Successful aging is not prescriptive; it occurs on a case-by-case basis.  Ultimately, you need to assess your own life domain and make the decisions that you feel will best promote your wellness.
~ The Myth of Alzheimer’s, p. 255

Yes!  Dr. Whitehouse, a renowned expert in the field of geriatrics, recognizes that extroverts are not the only ones who can make it to the finish line with memory, logic, and reason intact.

I love it when people agree with me, especially if they seem to know what they are talking about.  

If they’ve already lost their minds to creeping senility, like most crazy old hermits I know, I’d just as soon not have their stamp of approval. 

Aah . . . that’s better!


1. Andra Watkins - September 19, 2012

I hope I can maintain a good balance as I age, Nancy. But, I’m not going to worry and fret about it. Living life is the best way to live life. 🙂

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

Exactly! No use worrying about “the fear of future regret” ~ most things we worry about never happen anyway.

It’s the stuff that we did NOT see coming that NAILS US! 😉

2. suzicate - September 19, 2012

Perhaps I shouldn’t be worried since some think I’ve already lost my mind! 🙂

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

Those who have lost their minds never worry. 😀

For the rest of us, we’re on a gradual downward trajectory from about our 30’s on, losing a bit more of our physical, mental, and sexual ability each year.

Except, of course, for fictional characters, like Hugh Hefner, who remain in their prime for all eternity. 😆

3. Don - September 19, 2012

Well, Nancy, I’m going to be riddled with dementias then. I wonder if the research is not some kind of extroverted conspiracy – Lol. Nice post. Your final thoughts, though, gave me a lot of hope.

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

I expect that the key to aging well is honoring the wisdom within rather than trying to follow one-size-fits-all advice . . . especially when that advice is skewed by the extroverts among us! 😀

4. Pocket Perspectives - September 19, 2012

Nancy….the charts etc I was working on yesterday…and am going to attempt to make into a post today… figuring out my ideas about some components I heard about a few years ago that might go into creating/enhancing a “meaningful” life…the components are “meaning, structure and community.” I think each of us has to figure out what degrees and combinations of each enhance our own lives.
Now that I’m not working, I don’t have that daily, easy going, casual sociability, I’m trying to figure out how to have some of that…but, I haven’t figured it out, yet. (I know ways to do it…just not ways that might work for me) btw… Tibetan meditation masters maintain astounding levels of clarity, memory, logic and reasoning. …even when in solitary retreats of many, many years….so sociability isn’t required. Maybe when extroverts get isolated, their cognition drops because their minds/brains flourish with interactions?…maybe introverts don’t have that dynamic or need?

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

I love your last thought, Kathy. If introverts don’t “need” to be around other people in the same way as extroverts, it stands to reason that they would flourish with less interaction.

Just another way that LESS can be MORE ~ a few close friends rather than a vast pool of shallow acquaintances.

Pocket Perspectives - September 19, 2012

I agree…maybe too much interaction negatively affects cognition for more introverted people…it sure does for me.
I just managed to pull those other ideas together…. whew…it REALLY wore me out…time to withdraw. 🙂 (I’m too drained to even think about whether the correct word use above is affects or effects….can you correct it if it’s mistaken?… 😀 )

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

Yes! People wear me out, man! The cumulative effect of too much social interaction affects me negatively.

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

Being around affected people who are prone to ingenuine behavior and affectations depresses me, causing me to affect an affectation of my own . . . that of a flat affect.

The effect on affected people is immediate, although my affectation of flat affect affects them in different ways. 😉

5. Hudson Howl - September 19, 2012

Introvert extrovert, I just strive to be myself and thus different. Whether I live longer or shorter am not sure I really worry about that.

Interesting post here!

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

Vive la difference! 😀

6. Three Well Beings - September 19, 2012

I’m an introvert, too. But then, I’m rarely really alone! I have friends who due to illness or other circumstances can go days without speaking to another person, and they would say that even as natural introverts that really takes a toll on them. But I think just engaging in life, every day contacts, gives me enough social contact to help me return home and feel really happy about barricading the doors for a while in balance to the chaos of others. I do find that as I’m getting older I’m a lot more “choosy” about who gets my time! And does blogging help? I like man of my fellow bloggers more than some of the people I see every day–family excluded, of course! ha! Debra

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

I agree! Going days without speaking to anyone would take a toll on me. Fortunately, I can bounce ideas off and schmooze with BFF. On many/most days of the week, that’s enough.

And . . . as for blogging, it does help!

In Chapter Nine, A Prescription for Successful Aging Across Your Life Span, Dr. Whitehead identifies things we can do to slow the inevitable aging of our brains.

* A vegetarian or plant-based diet that minimizes red meat
* Foods high in omega 3 fatty acids, including fish
* Calorie restriction (less may be more)
* Breast feeding our young
* E~X~E~R~C~I~S~E!
* Protecting our brains with bike helmets, etc.
* Avoiding exposure to metals, solvents, and pesticides
* Reducing stress (meditation, yoga, music, art)
* Building up a cognitive reserve
* Learning new things (language, instrument)
* Engaging in intellectually stimulating conversation
* Reading intellectually challenging books
* Taking adult education classes
* Learning a new skill
* Maintaining a positive outlook on life

And . . .

* Keeping a notebook or starting AN ONLINE BLOG! Yes! 😉

7. colonialist - September 19, 2012

Taking adult education classes? Hey, that increases the stress! The last set of adults I gave a lecture to were so difficult to animate I wondered if stuffed dummies had been substituted. (OK, I do know he means on the learning side!) 🙂

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

I knew you knew that! 😉

Nine out of ten gerontologists and geriatricians agree . . . Intellectually stimulating conversation is virtually impossible in a room full of stuffed dummies. Unless you bring your Smart Phone with you. 😉

8. 2e0mca - September 19, 2012

It is a habit of the old to talk to the wisest person present… (with apologies to J.R.R.Tolkien) 😉

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

Great quote ~ “I was talking aloud to myself. A habit of the old: they choose the wisest person present to speak to; the long explanations needed by the young are wearying.”

So maybe crazy old hermits who mumble and mutter to themselves aren’t so crazy after all! 😀

9. sufilight - September 19, 2012

Whew, I am relieved to read that not being a party animal is going to affect my cognitive abilities in a negative way. We live an introverted life but have lots of interesting conversation that makes our brain cells work. Staying away from other egos works well for me and Phil. We do have the yearly visit from friends and family.:)

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

I’ve wondered about the requisite “social” aspect ever since we attended the Brain Training Symposium:


The idea of “artificially” ramping up our social engagements to prevent possible cognitive decline down the road held little appeal. I’d rather hang out with BFF than be a “social butterfly.” 😀

Tahlia Newland - September 19, 2012

I think the quality of conversation has to be more important than the amount of it. Our family has pretty stimulating ones without going out to talk to others. We’re all hermits. I guess it runs in the family.

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

Exactly! Many of the conversations we’ve had at “social functions” are inane . . . or worse. 😉

Here’s to quality, not quantity!

10. Tahlia Newland - September 19, 2012

I’m glad you found the answer. I was a bit worried there for a bit. I’m a face to face hermit, but I do plenty of interacting online. Sometimes though I think being peaceful is better for the mind, than all that chit chat. Surely a lot of stuff in the mind can be confusing. I wonder if anyone has done studies on meditators. I reckon a cool calm crisp awareness has got to be the best thing for a healthy mind.

nrhatch - September 19, 2012

Meditating enhances cognitive functioning . . . just look at the Dalai Lama, aging with grace. Cool, calm, mindful awareness definitely promotes a healthy mind.

11. jannatwrites - September 20, 2012

If social interaction were the only factor, I’d already have lost my mind. I can see how no interaction could cause deterioration, but it’s good to know that even introverts have a shot at escaping dementia.

This is a great line, made me laugh: “I love it when people agree with me, especially if they seem to know what they are talking about.”

nrhatch - September 20, 2012

Thanks, Janna. I enjoyed writing this post ~ everything but the quote itself is a bit tongue in cheek. 😆

Pushing ourselves to be more social than we want to be may be as detrimental to cognitive functioning as the other extreme. Balance, grasshopper.

12. Barb - September 20, 2012

Thank you, Nancy for this validation. I suppose talking to oneself doesn’t count as social interactions?? Drat.

nrhatch - September 20, 2012

Maybe it does count . . . if it is an “intellectually stimulating conversation.” If you’re just muttering while puttering or chattering about the weather . . . probably not. 😉

13. SidevieW - September 20, 2012

I thought being social was meeting friends for a coffee and chat.
I’m also aware of the ‘hermit risk’ and am very vulnerable as I really enjoy my own company

nrhatch - September 20, 2012

Absolutely. We don’t have to dress up and attend gay galas to be social. People develop meaningful social ties in any number of ways ~ going to work, attending classes, meeting for coffee and a chat, hanging out with parrotheads at the local bar, etc..

SidevieW - September 20, 2012

thank goodness 😉

nrhatch - September 21, 2012

Oh, I’ve got another . . . striking up conversations with young men in video stores . 😉

14. Perfecting Motherhood - September 20, 2012

Well, I think comparing an introvert to a hermit is quite a stretch and there’s nothing wrong with the former. But I’d think the social interactions are good to stimulate the brain and keep the wheels turning. But I don’t see why it would have to be a large group of people. Stimulating one-on-one conversations are probably 100% better than small talk. My grandparents both lived until they were almost 90 and never lost their minds. They had regular visits from family and neighbors but also spent time alone, reading, watching TV and taking naps. Ah, the good life! 😉

nrhatch - September 20, 2012

Yup, introverts are not hermits, but I bet most hermits are introverts who increasingly withdrew from society due to the stress and strain of social interaction and intercourse. 😉

One meaningful connection with someone we trust is probably better for us than gossiping at the water cooler or gathering nightly with large groups of people to talk about trivia.

15. sweetdaysundertheoaks - September 20, 2012

I am an introvert. I am shy. Not as bad as I used to be. I like my alone time. But if I had to spend every day alone as my Aunt did I would lose my mind. Truly alone is not healthy.

nrhatch - September 20, 2012

Most of us benefit from balance rather than extremes. I’m just delighted that “many studies on successful aging have found that some older adults may exhibit adaptive, healthy aging because they REDUCE social interation in thelr lives and thus avoid the stress and strain it can cause.”

16. bluebee - September 20, 2012

I don’t get my energy from being with other people – that does not mean I don’t enjoy social interaction, it just means I’m an introvert and quite content being on my own. Neither situation in the extreme is healthy.

Have you seen this, Nancy?

nrhatch - September 20, 2012

I’m with you, BB . . . we need to be guided by our own proclivities and find a balance that’s right for us and avoid one-size-fits-all advice that doesn’t really fit!

I’ll check out the link . . . I love TED talks. 😀

17. spilledinkguy - September 20, 2012

Wow… I’m glad you found Dr. Whitehouse’s thoughts on this…
I was getting pretty nervous there for a few minutes!

nrhatch - September 20, 2012

Me too! Definitely a quote to save and savor when the thought of rubbing elbows at yet another “potluck dinner” seems like more trouble than it’s worth. 😉

18. Shakti Ghosal - September 20, 2012

Loved the post and the aspect of our socialisation that it addresses.


nrhatch - September 21, 2012

We are socialized to be social and care about what others think of us. Sometimes our Egos are so focused on our reputations with THEM . . . that we lose sight of who we are and what we need. Finding the right balance is key . . . no matter our age.

19. Carl D'Agostino - September 21, 2012

There is no question that social interaction stimulates quality mental and physical health. I lead a very reclusive life now but I do not need people for my thinking. I have TV, my blog and my books and my artwork. Technology changes our whole understanding of the concept introvert. I can also travel the boundaries of my own mind and develop a spiritual plane for which the extrovert has little time and probably dismisses these aspects of personality as foolish and a waste of productive time. .

nrhatch - September 22, 2012

I can see you’ve been thinking, Carl. 💡

Technology lets us “put ourselves out there” . . . without actually going “out there” . . . where THEY are. 😯

20. Jas - September 22, 2012

I hope I will be able to maintain this balance Nancy. I am an introvert and being socially active is a lot of work for me.

nrhatch - September 22, 2012

Same here. When I want to get out and mingle, it’s fun. When I’m not in the mood, it’s “torture.”

Cooking is the same . . .

When the mood is right, I love to go into the kitchen and chop and drop and stir and saute and taste and add spices and seasonings until everything is “just right.”

But when I’m not in the mood, I just want to slap together a PB&J and call it quits. 😛

21. Maggie - September 24, 2012

Good to know that my hermetic ways won’t make me crazy… well, crazier than I already am!

nrhatch - September 24, 2012

Here’s to finding the right balance for us. 😀

22. Christine Grote - September 30, 2012

I’m glad to hear it. Now I’m going to turn off my computer and go cozy up in a comfortable chair with a good book.

Have you read Quiet:the power of introverts in a world that won’t stop talking by Susan Cain?

nrhatch - September 30, 2012

Curling up in a comfy chair sounds grand, Christine!

I haven’t read the book . . . but I have been hearing more about “the power of introverts” lately. I’ll check it out.

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