Aging Well: Adjusting to Change Throughout Life


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“I would rather focus on aging well than try to deny the fact that we do all age,” says Dr Dan Chartier, a psychotherapist and neurophysiologist at Life Quality Resources in Raleigh. “We are all aging from the moment we are born and, if we’re lucky, we age over a long period of time, gathering lots of life experiences before the ultimate end comes. Because in reality, aging only has one alternative—right?”

Dr. Chartier, using the smart-phone driven Muse feedback device.

Constant Change

“As a psychologist, I operate from the perspective that good mental health is all about adjustment,” Dr. Chartier says. “As humans, from the time we are born, we will experience constant change—every day—throughout our life span. Each stage of life—childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age—is different. And the changes experienced in every phase come in all shapes and sizes. Some may be small, daily irritants—such as road construction blocking your route to work, or the coffee shop being out of your favorite brew. Others will be bigger—a divorce, college graduation, the loss of a loved one, or landing your first big job. The changes we experience throughout life aren’t necessarily good or bad, but they are inevitable, and how we react to them, how we adjust, ultimately determines how well we age.

“Obviously,” says Dr. Chartier, “I’m not saying that good mental health will prevent the skin from losing elasticity or smile lines from forming. In fact, good mental health may deepen those smile lines over time. But cosmetic aging is only a piece of the whole picture. However, if you look amazing at 60, but can’t handle the thought of being 60, and experience anxiety each time you think about all that aging implies, are you really going to enjoy looking amazing? Is that really aging well?”

Aging Well: The Choices We Make

“The truth is,” says Dr. Chartier, “We have a lot of power—through the choices we make—to determine how we feel and how well we age. It’s a familiar litany: paying attention to what we put into our bodies and to physical activity contributes significantly to the quality of life we have as we get older. Just as important are how you are engaging in your life socially and what gives you a sense of meaningfulness—not when you were younger—but now, today.

“In short, our ‘health’ reflects the inextricable physical, mental, and emotional aspects of our lives. Exercise offers an excellent example of that interplay. Scientific research confirms, over and over, the critical importance of exercise in maintaining physical health—decreasing pain, reducing stress, and lowering the risk of disease. And those effects also contribute to emotional and mental health; in fact, studies suggest that the best thing we can do to improve brain function is not crossword puzzles, but aerobic exercise!

“At the same time, how we feel—mentally and emotionally—affects how we feel physically. This can have a profound impact on how we age. The way we perceive age, and what it means to be a certain age, often influences how we feel about being that age. And at times, a conflict between our perception of age and how we actually feel arises. This internal conflict can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. Stress, anxiety, and depression—in turn—cause physical harm. Everything’s connected.”

The Power of Now

Understanding all of this, observes Dr. Chartier, “helps to begin a conversation that is the key to a healthy process of adjustment as we proceed on our life journey. That conversation is about being in the moment—the here and now. My goal often is to help my patients let go of their perception of aging, and to focus on ‘How am I feeling today? What can I do to feel even better?’”

“A sense of here-and-now-ness can be an elusive thing,” he admits. “So, in our practice, we use biofeedback and neurofeedback technologies to provide very clear, objective markers of: how am I doing? Am I truly able to relax, or am I physically experiencing anxiety as I struggle to cope with the changes around me?

“Physical anxiety may manifest as high blood pressure, cold hands, headaches, jaw pain, generalized pain, fatigue, even confusion,” says Dr. Chartier. “And it’s notable that most of these symptoms are also things we associate with aging. Using biofeedback, we can objectively measure things like fingertip temperature to determine how many of these ‘symptoms of aging’ are truly your body and mind having a difficult time adjusting.

“With biofeedback, people can learn to self-regulate these vital systems of the body” Dr. Chartier explains. “They get computer-generated feedback from biological systems that helps them learn to control those systems. With neurofeedback, we’re working directly with feedback of the brain’s activity, often to deal with issues of attention or focus training. Neurofeedback also has applications for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and anger management.

“A critical goal is to give our patients a sense of self-control—what we term ‘self-regulation’—which, in this setting, they often experience for the first time in their lives.”


Self-regulation is a powerful tool, benefiting all aspects of our health, says Dr. Chartier. “It’s a skill that can be learned—and used—at any age. And it can be especially helpful in managing some of the health problems that tend to occur with age. Sleep problems, memory problems, chronic pain, anxiety, depression—they can all benefit the ability to bring one’s attention to ‘now,’ to a place of calm and relaxation. Neurofeedback also helps by identifying how the brain is not functioning as we would like it to function, and by providing targets for training that moves the needle in the direction of a healthier brain function.”

A striking example of these benefits was a study in Florida working with an elderly population who were going through training, including biofeedback, to increase mental awareness and their ability to focus and be calm. “The study began to be referred to as the Ponce de Leon project,” says Dr. Chartier, “because there was a fountain of youth element in the outcome. There seemed to be a reviving of energy and more positive, more functional mental health for the participants that grew out of this simple learning to be calm, still, and relaxed for long periods of time.”

Accessible Tools for Self-Regulation

“One of the remarkable—and revolutionary—advancements in my field,” notes Dr. Chartier, “is the recent development of a host of personal neurofeedback devices—such as The Muse, Mendi, and HeartMath. They’re referred to as wearables and use smartphones or tablets connected to a device on your head to guide the neurofeedback process.

“I consider this revolutionary because it makes the tools that help develop self-regulatory skills available to anyone with a smartphone. Of course, one doesn’t need technology for self-regulation; the meditation techniques practiced for centuries by Tibetan monks are ample evidence of the extraordinary power of our minds. “Nonetheless, over many years I’ve witnessed the power of biofeedback and neurofeedback to help people acquire and use self-regulatory skills. Until now, however, access to those technologies was limited. No longer. And, to return to the topic of healthy aging, I can’t help but believe that this will be of lifelong benefit. Learning self-regulation early, acquiring the ability to achieve calm and relaxation, cannot help but strengthen one’s ability to manage the lifelong adjustments to change necessary for health.”