Aging Greatfully

Coffee chat with Dr. Michael Jacobs at the YMCA.


“Aging Greatfully Coffee Chat With Dr. Michael Jacobs is an informal group of seniors sharing the challenges of aging here on the Vineyard. This warm and compassionate group is open to anyone who identifies as a senior. Wide-ranging conversations about the physical, medical, and emotional challenges of aging and sharing of information about resources on the Vineyard to meet those challenges. Humor, empathy, and companionship are shared as the group explores different topics at each meeting.” —Gail Gardner in her Edgartown Town Column

What 85-year-old could resist checking out an opportunity to address so many issues of growing old on Martha’s Vineyard? Not me.

I showed up at the first Aging Greatfully meeting of the year in January, shortly after the holidays — always a subject ripe for conversation.

Dr. Michael Jacobs, longtime Island primary and urgent care physician, opened the meeting with a quote from JFK: “The goal is not to extend the years of your life, but to put life in your years.”  With that attendees were off into a lively discussion of what was going on in their lives and how they’d handled the holidays. The level of honesty was remarkable, as was the relaxed manner in which participants shared details of their lives.

About the holidays: Group members agreed holiday pressure could be reduced by keeping celebrations simpler. Instead of going off-Island to be with family, one participant invited her family to the Island to enjoy time together and treat them to a walk on Lucy Vincent Beach.  Another suggested instead of focusing solely on Christmas, “a holiday practiced by a particular religious group, think about the solstice, a more universal holiday, a time we celebrate life and the sun returning to brighten our days.”

The Aging Greatfully group came into being in Fall 2022 when Y Health & Wellness director, Asil Cash, approached member Dr. Jacobs to see if he would be interested in starting a social engagement group for older adults. This was at a time when people were still having some hesitations around gathering and exercising safely in groups post the height of the pandemic years. Over time this group grew from a few to a regular attendance of regular attendees and newcomers.

“Learning to adjust to the gains and losses of aging is the focus of the group,” Dr. Jacobs told The Times in a telephone interview. “We lose friends, we lose sense of self. That requires major adjustment and we need to manage our life accordingly. None of this is easy.” He sees the group as a place to share the challenges of old age, learning to live in the moment by letting go of the past.

Self care was touched upon multiple times, ranging from shoe clip-on ice fighters (“Where do you get them?”) to sarcopenia, the loss of muscle tissue that is part of the aging process that can be treated with exercise and diet. Dr. Jacobs suggested having a dietitian talk to the group about the issue. Past speakers have included well known meditation instructor Dr. Elliott Dacher.

The Jan. 31 meeting featured Nancy Tutko, manager of the TrailsMV project who has been exploring the byways and backwoods of Marth’s Vineyard for over three decades.

She brought just-off-the-press new maps of the 115 conserved properties that are open to walkers for a distance of about 229 miles on the Vineyard trails, and lots of good news for the experienced hiker as well as the not-so-nimble like me.

You don’t have to be fit as a gazelle to negotiate these properties, Nancy emphasized. That caught my attention. In fact she brought a bit of tears to my eyes. I considered my hiking days to be over, living as I do in a body badly banged up by age, unwise decisions while skiing, and a botched orthopedic surgery. But fear not, she counseled, certain areas are accessible by walker, some by wheelchair, and many by properly used trekking poles.

She told a story about walking with her elderly father on Planting Field Way where there is a boardwalk, and her dad pushed his walker for the entire trail.

Speaking of trekking poles, Nancy is presently involved in equipping each of the Island’s Senior Centers with sufficient pairs of poles so that couples (two people at a time) can hit the trails in pairs for safety’s sake.

Good news for the technically inclined. There is a free Trails Martha’s Vineyard app for our phones. (See Install the TrailsMV app on your phone only or tablets. It does not work on computers, install it on Google Play if you have an Android phone.

The trails in the TrailsMV app includes information about accessibility and a detailed descriptions of the trails — including how long they are, what vistas they may present and where benches might be located conveniently for elders — among other things. There is a filter on the app that describes the accessibility features of each trail.

Nancy recommended the book “The Nature Fix” by Florence Williams, which discusses the benefits of time out-of-doors with nature. She mentioned that just the aroma from pine trees has a relaxing effect on our brain.

The Aging Greatfully group meets every other Wednesday in the Teen Center of the Y of Martha’s Vineyard.  Occasionally there is a space conflict, so check first with the Y front desk 508-696-7171, ext. 1.