How to Defy Age, Just Like My 90 Year Old Grandmother

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Last week, I travelled south to the States to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday with her and my family. It was so wonderful to see everyone. Every time some one would leave, I got a big ol’ emotional lump in my throat — visits with my family are so few and far between.

I’ve been a lucky girl though. I’ve had the opportunity to know all of my grandparents into their late 80s and early 90s. I even had a great grandmother, who lived just shy of her 99th birthday.

I guess you could say that longevity runs in my family. And, the most amazing things is, more often than not, everyone keeps a rather sharp memory and remains quite independent.

What do you think your memory will be like at the age of 90? Are you doing anything to keep it razor sharp? Are you even worried about losing it?

Grandmother 3

Grandmother 2

The brain is a wonderfully powerful organ. But if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Just like any muscle in your body, your brain needs to be worked, on a regular basis. And, it loves to be challenged. Challenges like learning a new language or working on a puzzle sprout new connections in the brain.

Forming new connections in the brain, by way of Brain Games, has been shown to ward off early signs of memory lose. And, if you can keep your brain function as sharp as possible, it also helps you to maintain independence at an older age.

It’s utterly amazing that my grandmother is still living on her own at the age of 90. She moves surprisingly fast, too: without a walker or cane. And, she’s still able to make her meals and take care of herself. She’s had a series of serious falls that have resulted in breaks. But, each time, she battles back (much to the surprise of her doctors and physiotherapists).

My grandmother is pretty much a magical unicorn when it comes to her mental and physical strength at her age. And, that’s exactly what I thought about her on the day of her 90th birthday, “this woman is a magical unicorn!”. And, guess what she wore, much to my surprise on her birthday…a gold unicorn necklace! It’s like she even knew, intuitively, that she is a magical unicorn, busting all of the age rules.

MomMom & Unicorn

So…how does she do it? How does my grandmother maintain a strong mind throughout the decades? Well…it has do to with mind gymnastics and romantic stories.

Let’s start with the romantic stories.

My grandmother was born in 1923. She lived through the Great Depression, which lead straight into World War II. These experiences have made her amusingly fugal, empathetic, and resilient.

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One of my favorite things about visiting my grandmother has always been her kitchen. She has the most kick-ass 1950’s kitchen, replete with metal cabinets, which are still pristine! …I just love her kitchen. Her cooking range is from 1969, and it’s still spotless! She has a pantry that, as a child, I thought of as Aladdin’s Cave. I loved to slide open the door to explore it’s contents (something I still do to this day).

MomMom Kitchen 1


My grandmother grew-up with three sisters and a brother. From an early age, she and her sisters developed a voracious appetite for reading. In fact, to this day, my aunt drops-off large bags packed with new books for my grandmother. But not just any books…they’re always Harlequin romance novels.

Harlequin romances have been a key to my grandmother’s healthy mind.

For decades upon decades, my grandmother has been reading one Harlequin romance novel a day. That’s A DAY! Just imagine how many books that is, read over the course of the last 50 years or more.

Sisters Collage 2

Just give my grandmother a torrid love affair and a bit of historical context and she’s thrilled. I’m so amused that my grandmother loves Harlequin romance novels. And, here’s something amazingly fun. In the late 90’s when I was a catalogue model here in Toronto, I had an opportunity to be on the cover of a Harlequin Romance novel (pictured below). I recently found the book, which I never got to see, and gave a copy to my grandmother. I was so excited to be a part of her Harlequin passion, and to supply yet another book to her reading obsession.

I do I do Pamela Bauer Harlequin Romance Novel

So, what does reading have to do with a strong mind? Well…reading isn’t a passive process. To see words on a page and to process the meaning of those words, your brain has to activate brain regions associated with visual input and converting visual objects into meaningful thoughts. Reading is an active process that drives the brain to sprout new connections. And, the more interconnectedness between brain cells the better.

As we age, connections between brain cells diminish, which coincides with memory deterioration. Studies on brain fitness provide evidence that you can help to prevent mental sluggishness with age by reading and doing complex puzzles.

My grandmother is also obsessed with doing the daily crossword in the newspaper. Now, I’m totally fascinated by this. I can barely get a crossword complete; mean while, my 90 year old grandmother has no problem finishing one.

Each day, she gets out her crossword dictionary, which is held together with elastics — it’s been overused to say the least. And, in her neat and tidy lettering, my grandmother completes her crossword with what only seems as easy and aptitude.

Crosswords have definitely been the second key to my grandmother’s strong mind.

In fact, a study published in JAMA Neurology found evidence that crossword puzzles can help to prevent the development of plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. So, get on it people…start doing your crossword puzzles!

MomMom & Me

There are, of course, many different practices that will help to strengthen your brain: reading and crossword puzzles are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some more effective brain fitness activities to help you build an ageless mind:

      • Learn how to meditate
      • Learn a new language
      • Learn a new movement skill
      • Take the road less travelled
      • Play Soduko
      • Play video games like Tetris
      • Play memory games
      • Do Mensa logic puzzles

Do you have anyone in your family who is defying their age? I would love to hear what they’re doing to keep life spicy and their mind vibrant. Leave a comment below.

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8 Comments on “How to Defy Age, Just Like My 90 Year Old Grandmother

  1.  by  Rita McFadyen

    Dear Alison

    Thx for sharing your personal family’s story and photos! I had to enlarge the photos cause I couldn’t believe how young your grandmother looks!!! Amazing and God Bless you both.

    Please say hello to your parents. I actually know them from “On The Bean”. Lol

    P.S. My mom is quite active and still has a sharp mind. She is 75 but has more energy than I have on most days!! She loves gardening and has the most delicious vegetables through our summer months. Wholesome, natural and a lot of hard work. Plus she enjoys cooking and baking. We love it too!!!

    •  by  admin

      Hi Rita! Thanks so much : ) Your Mom’s garden sounds incredible. I would love to have a garden myself. I have so many memories of my great grandmother’s — it was huge! It’s definitely a lost art.

  2.  by  bonnie

    My 93 year old mother still lives on her own in Guildwood Village
    she cares for herself, goes for a walk everyday
    she does several crosswords at a time, play cards with her friends daily, bingo and of course she also reads a lot

    •  by  admin

      How fantastic! I loved hearing about your Mom (I hope to grow-up to be just like her : ) And…FYI…she’s living in one my FAVORITE neighbourhoods. I often think, as I drive around looking at homes in the Guild, what do these houses look like inside? Are any of them like a 1950’s time capsule? Or, maybe an awesome 60’s or 70’s interior. Some of those homes look like such treasures.

  3.  by  Natasha

    Both my in-laws are amazing! My mother-in-law enjoys dancing — she was a professional dancer back in the day, then “retired” from Broadway to teach kids, then she “retired” from her studio to teach bellydancing at the Y. Now, after having had a quintuple by-pass 3 years ago, she’s “retired” teaching to winning line-dance competitions… at age 80! My father-in-law, 84 and an avid Soduko player, still runs a 5 or 10k every week-end. He also does decathlon events. They are both examples of living life to its fullest and longest!

    •  by  admin

      Wow, Natasha! Your in-laws sound incredible! I just love hearing about such active people — they really inspire me. Thank you for sharing!

  4.  by  Doug Keadle

    WOW! What a GREAT article about Aunt Esther! And those early pictures – what a beauty. Must have had something to do with you and Diana being such beauties. And we’re so glad that the battle with Lyme Disease was won.

    •  by  admin

      Hey, Doug! Thank you so much for leaving a comment…I loved writing this article about Mom Mom. And, I’m so happy that I was able to celebrate her 90th with her. (P.S. I heard that Uncle L. & Aunt H. have super-8 film of the family. I would so love to see it!)

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