By Loraine Debnam
We lost a former neighbour last month. He was part of our community for decades and was in his 93rd-year at the time of his passing.
In spite of his significant hearing loss, I thought he remained active and involved all of the time we knew him. But, I have to admit, it made me pause and think when my daughter commented he was old even when she was a kid.
Unlike many Asian cultures, where age is respected and honoured, the word ‘old’ in our western society carries with it mostly negative inferences. We often use it interchangeably with worn out, obsolete, crumbling, decrepit or deteriorated.
Unfortunately that doesn’t just apply to objects, but to people as well. And from what I have observed, too many seniors do that to themselves. We view retirement as the final rung on the ladder, rather than one of the goals we set for ourselves during our working lives. We are going to have to change our attitudes.
Less than 10 per cent of seniors fit the stereotype of people who are cranky, irritable, confused and absorbed with their own health issues. The remainder of us are not continually bored, lonely or depressed. The average life expectancy in Canada for men is 81 years and for women it’s 84 years. That’s a long way from 65. The latest U.S. census reports, by percentage, the fastest growing age group of the population is 90 years old.
Yes, we are moving a little more slowly, our vigour is reduced and some things take more effort, but that doesn’t mean they are not worth doing. We have to determine what is working in our lives and what is not and then prioritize.
Scores of academics and researchers examining aging are reporting data that points to a vibrant and resilient sector of the population. They have documented most seniors tend to focus on the positive rather than the negative and their overall sense of well-being improves with maturity. Their life experiences result in wisdom and a better alignment to the world around them.
Professor Laura Carstensen of Stanford University has recently completed a long-range project and she concludes, “contrary to the popular view youth is the best time in life, the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade.”
Wisdom results in the ability to resolve conflicts by seeing problems from multiple perspectives and this skill (both wisdom of the mind and of the heart) flourishes in older adults. Her subjects advocate a diverse set of strategies, which relate to their success. These include regular periods of renewal, reading inspiring material, or learning a new skill, craft or language. (I have a friend who is taking Beginner Spanish classes and another who does minor home repairs after watching instructional videos on YouTube.)
Learning because you are curious and just want to know about something is highly recommended. Adopting some form of spirituality is also endorsed (not specifically a religion). Medical researchers state a multi-dimensional approach to inner peace and harmony elicits positive change and creates a mind, body and spirit connection. They note their participants support the statement “life gets better with age.”
For myself, I have decided (barring a catastrophe) to adopt Mark Twain’s philosophy — “age is an issue of mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”