I hadn’t seen Al in years, but entering the communal lounge of the nursing home where he now lives, I immediately recognized him from the back. Al was with a group of other men and women all in wheelchairs watching a religious program on television.
Although Al and I are not very close friends, I have know him since childhood, and like most people who know him, I greatly admire him as a decent human being and a proud former Olympian.
I quietly approached Al and lightly touched his shoulder. His face lit up like a Christmas tree as we embraced. He continued to smile during my entire visit, except for a brief moment later in his private room when he recalled a disappointing personal experience.
A former star college athlete and four-time Olympian, Al had been physically and intellectually active from youth to college, to a successful career in law up to his early retirement due to health setbacks. Despite his progression from super active to mobility challenged, Al does not bemoan his fate.
With the support of his family, friends and health care workers, Al is gradually adjusting to a new lifestyle that affords him a full gratifying life in accordance with his personal abilities. He often replays his glory days of running with the world’s fastest men, and on more than one occasion, besting a few.
I sat with Al and watched the program with him. As the televangelist quoted Bible verses, Al recited aloud. “I know the Bible,” he said proudly. “I’ve read it from cover to cover. Twice; and I still read it.”
Keeping your brain active by reading for 30 minutes a day, for example, strengthens brain cells.
Al is able to maneuver his wheelchair, with minor assistance, through the halls of the facility to visit with other residents. He is very sociable and despite his mild cognitive impairment, he likes to be in the company of others sharing stories.
Connecting with others socially contributes to better brain and mental health.
My visit with Al was delightful.