Each of us is growing older. Sometimes aging feels like a gift — more wisdom, less striving, more acceptance. Sometimes aging is a drag — more aches, more stiff joints, some forgetfulness. Advice about how to stay youthful abounds in the media. It seems that society is afraid of getting old — even the word ‘old’ seldom appears in books and articles on aging.
Boomers and retirees alike expect that they will enjoy decades of health, living the life of their dreams, enjoying adventures, engaging with others, and living purposefully after retirement and well into old age. Longevity is marketed to boomers along with the idea that aging has changed and that everyone is capable of aging ‘successfully’. Despite that there are no effective anti-aging drugs or medicines, anti-aging has become an industry earning billions of dollars in revenue every year.
To an extent, I have bought into the cultural expectations for longevity. But I am a realist. I eat a healthy diet, get regular medical check-ups, exercise regularly, have an active social life, and have priorities for short and long-term living.
Despite these habits, I do realize that I am growing older and will eventually face more of the challenges that come with an aging body. Hopefully I will never face the difficulties related to dementia — but that is a gamble all postworksavvy folks are taking. Meanwhile, I am focusing on keeping a balanced perspective and aging successfully.
What does it mean to age ‘successfully’?
The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) offers a glossy magazine, Zoomer, as a monthly benefit of membership. The articles are thoughtful and uplifting. Many celebrities are featured with glowing accounts of how they are engaged with life and have conquered aging by continuing to work in their profession, by travelling, and by volunteering. The stories are uplifting. The pictures show faces that look radiant — age spots and wrinkles are air-brushed or minimized. Advertising is for anti-aging beauty products, clothes to enhance youthfulness, and for gated retirement communities featuring bungalows.
The vision of aging portrayed in Zoomer is relentlessly positive. Sometimes this is uplifting but sometimes reading the articles leaves me in disbelief at the clear denial of aging.
Why Deny Aging?
Each of us wants to fight off growing old for as long as possible. Our culture supports this urge by casting a negative light on older people and on the process of growing old. Popular media urges us to fight the ‘aging process’ for as long as possible. Societal attitudes promote youthfulness.
Getting old is often equated with catching a disease for which there is no cure. Younger people are often uncomfortable in the presence of older people. Many people experience ‘aging anxiety’. Worse, as we grow older, ageism rears its head — in the workplace, at some social gatherings, and in various societal arenas.
The widespread denial of aging has led to negative societal perceptions and negative attitudes toward growing old. Accepting and not denying the reality of aging also means accepting the reality of some decline of energy levels, changes in appearance, and age-related diseases. It also means dealing with the ultimate reality that every day brings us closer to death — regardless of age. These realities make me realize how much easier it is to reject the fact that each of us will grow old.
Aging is Inevitable
Aging is not a curse. It is inevitable. Accepting the aging process is part of living.
Very little is written about the realities of reaching the 8th, 9th and 10th decade of life when some of the ‘unlovely’ aspects of growing old may manifest themselves. I am thinking of the real possibility of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia that up to 50 percent of the population may suffer by their mid-eighties, if not before then.
Aging Successfully by Achieving Balance
Everything has its season. You can’t reclaim the body you had at age 40, nor the health you took for granted, nor the energy that allowed you cut corners on sleep. As I’ve grown older, I know that I can’t dress in the clothes I wore as a younger woman –those mini-skirts and strapless dresses are a distant memory. Aging successfully means learning to make the most of what you have when you have it. If ever, this is the time to live each day fully and purposefully. Enjoy your age — whatever it is and don’t worry about the negative societal stereotypes of growing older. Focus on doing what makes you happy without postponing the rewards.
Accept the things you cannot change. By accepting that aging — like life itself — is a process of change and growth, your perspective shifts. Lower energy levels may indicate that the body is slowing down — so make sure the day’s task list is manageable or plan for an afternoon siesta. Aging will mean losses — but it will also bring new wisdom. The key is an attitude that acknowledges changes in health, fitness, and friendships. Acceptance is not always easy — but complaints, self-pity, and resentment are reactions that will surely drive away those people close to you who may be the ones you depend on as you grow old.
Learn to live in ways that maximize health and happiness. By paying attention to requirements for nutrition, exercise, and sleep, you cover the basics. Attending to your retirement budget and living within your resources minimizes financial stress. Having regular health examinations, following medical advice, dealing with illnesses as they arise, and using preventive health care strategies will help deal with health worries. Attending to mental and emotional health is important as aging seems to bring greater risk of disorders related to depression and anxiety. Staying socially engaged helps with isolation and loneliness. And don’t forget your spiritual health — stay on top of the practises and values that give meaning to your life.
Keep hope alive. Albert Einstein once said “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” Remaining optimistic, believing in yourself and staying positive about the future are critical attributes for aging successfully. Hope that you will remain healthy, independent and of sound mind and body. Hope that you will find the strength and resilience to overcome the inevitable losses of aging. Hope that you will remain engaged with your social circle and with your community.
Aging successfully is about achieving balance — accepting the changes as you age, keeping a positive perspective, and managing physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Most of all it is about an attitude of hope — believing in yourself and working to achieve the inner satisfaction of a life well-lived.
Photo by Wanderlinse’s photostream www.richy-schley.de