Over the years, while working with seniors in hospitals and various types of long-term care facilities, I have been told numerous times “Don’t get old.” My response has always been that I don’t have a choice. It is unfortunate that people often view aging with a negative outlook. Earlier this year, a speaker at a convention about aging made the comment, “Aging isn’t for sissies.” Yes, aging can bring changes that require adaptation, perseverance, and courage, but it can also be a time of unique opportunities. Some of life’s changes we will have little or no control over, but there are situations for which our choices will impact the outcomes. I believe we all desire to age well, but the meaning of that concept is very individualized. Does aging well mean good health? Financial stability? Maintaining your independence? Attaining 80, 90, or 100 years of age? I encourage you to think about what “aging well” means to you, and to begin to plan and take action for how to make it happen.
I conducted a very informal survey of the concept of “aging well” with some of my family members and friends. A common theme from most of them (across an age range of 20-80) included statements about staying healthy and active, both mentally and physically. A couple of them mentioned feeling younger than their chronological age as an indicator of aging well, as well as the importance of having family and friends to share life with.
Interestingly, an 80 year old described aging as “the act of becoming aged, in the same way that reading a book means that we have not finished the book.” She applied the concept of “aging well” to those who are in their 40’s and 50’s, and stated, “When one reaches my age, we have either aged well or not.” Further statements specifically discussed some physical aspects of aging, which I believe strongly influenced her response. While I agree with her that aging is a process, it concerned me that she felt like she had already “finished her book” and the ending was decided. She believed that she could make choices about how to respond to how she has aged, but I received the impression that she didn’t believe that she could influence or change the outcome of her story. Her perspective of “aging well” appeared limited to physical health, whereas younger respondents focused on additional aspects such as “maintaining a sense of humor,” “being optimistic about life” (from a 69-year-old), and “pleasing yourself in terms of how you act, dress, live.” Physical and emotional states can influence each other, but may I suggest that even if an individual doesn’t believe he/she has “aged well” in a certain area, it may be possible to change the course of progress in that area, or focus on other aspects that one considers important. Even if one already considers himself “aged,” the process of aging continues until the body stops, so take advantage of the time! Whether or not you succeed in “aging well” will be your own determination, based on your personal values, beliefs, and aspirations.
My 20-year- old daughter offered her insight into “aging well.” “Find a passion or something/someone to invest in. Regardless of age, people seem to be more full of life and more satisfied when they find something they care about. Having that type of positive, expectant outlook and being excited for what life has yet to bring is vital to aging well, no matter how old or young one is.”
Karen Kaslow, RN