Aging vs. growing old gracefully; how is it different?

In one way or another, virtually everybody dreams of standing out, being admired, acclaimed—even, well, applauded.

In one way or another, virtually everybody dreams of standing out, being admired, acclaimed—even, well, applauded.

To be viewed, and self recognize as merely “average” or “adequate” really doesn’t do very much for a person’s well-being and/or their ego. Being acknowledged by others helps a person to feel more accepted, secure and more self-comfortable. More importantly, such recognition assists a person to feel desirable, valuable, and esteem able or in a word, distinguished.

During the week of June 7–13, the people of Port Alberni took the opportunity to honour and celebrate seniors for their leadership, knowledge and contributions to daily lives. Is distinguished how the world views the swelling ranks of the seniors?

Some of the terms typically used to describe older folks are far from distinguished.  Wrinkled, grumpy, crotchety, absent minded, forgetful, fragile, feeble, past their prime, stuck in the past or a burden on society are just a few. This is not how anyone might wish to be perceived by the world.

Perception is a psychological term that describes what people react to and act as if it was reality. Perception is a kind of story, made up of filtered memories, projections, assumptions, and most importantly interpretations of situations.

People can perceive what is not present, or not perceive what is present. People see what others expect them to see, don’t see what is “off the radar,” and reframe the information with personal beliefs and upbringing.

What causes the trouble is that perception gets promoted to “truth,” and people fall into the trap of really believing “it is so”.

Thanks to the “can-do” attitude of the new up and coming group of seniors, the baby-boomers, (those born between 1946 and 1964), there seems to be little choice but for the world to reevaluate how it perceives seniors. As these people turn 65, the number of seniors could exceed the number of children for the first time in Canada’s history.

Today, one in seven Canadians is aged 65 or over. By 2036, nearly one in four Canadians will be a senior.

And it will be that “can-do” attitude of the baby-boomers, not just the numbers, that will change perception.

According to a 2002 study by Yale professor Becca Levy, Ph.D., it is the subconscious programming of what a person unknowingly believes, negative thoughts about aging that come from society that undermines health and has long-term destructive consequences. In fact, the benefits of a positive attitude were far greater than any mind exercises, healthy habits, physical exercise, diet, anti-aging genes or magic pill.

The most important trait in cultures with long life is the holding of the attitude of not seeing aging as an inevitable descent into decrepitude.

Amazingly, it turned out that those who had the power of positive thinking in regards to aging lived 7.5 years longer on average than those with negative perceptions of advanced age.  Knowing how to be positive about aging had a larger impact on their health than any of the other traditional factors of longevity such as not smoking, having low cholesterol levels and exercising.

The reality is that if people are fortunate enough to get old they will experience increasing dependence on others for the basic requirements.   What needs to be recognized is underneath the wrinkled skin is spirit, strength of will, an attitude that should be cause for inspiration, not ridicule.

For most baby boomers, age 65 is really the beginning of being “distinguished”.

If you or someone you know appears to be having difficulty with well-being, speak with a doctor (GP), health professional or therapist/counsellor.

 

Pamela Ana MA & CCC, owns Wellness Matters Counselling and Psychotherapy.