Assuming we are lucky enough to possess good health and safety, we will all become “senior citizens” (or as I prefer “senior adults”) in our lifetime. What that means to each of us varies greatly depending on our own health, financial situation, family, personality, culture and many other factors that affect attitude and ability to create the life we desire as we age.
One of those factors that can limit or enhance our own choices and lifestyle expectations is society’s perception of what senior adult lifestyle should be like. In previous generations, the oldest members of a community were highly respected for their wisdom due to their long history of life experiences. They were revered as “Elders” due to their sound judgement and ability to maintain stability during turbulent times. My own grandfather was the patriarch of our family and we respected him for his wisdom.
Flashing forward a few generations, the word “elderly” now denotes that a person is old and frail instead of older and wiser. With today’s perception of what elder means, it can certainly negatively affect our attitudes about retirement, aging and what lies ahead in our future.
With improvements in healthcare, people are now living longer and healthier at more advanced ages than ever before. Many senior adults are maintaining their independence, purpose and joy well into their 80s and 90s. The question is, how do each of us perceive our own inevitable aging and what can we do about changing the paradigm of aging to make it a positive experience that we might even look forward to? Yes, I said it, look forward to getting older.
In this monthly column, we will explore aging, lifestyle options, resources, trends along with intergenerational lifestyle considerations. But most of all, creating or providing the best life possible as we age requires knowledge, resources and a vision of a life that has purpose. My own father who lived to 90 years old, told me as he was retiring, “You have to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.” “Without a reason, you’re just existing to an old age not living to an old age.”
Just prior to retirement, my parents moved to beautiful condo overlooking the lake where my dad didn’t have to maintain his property anymore. But, in my father’s style, he got up every morning for months and worked all day in the hot sun moving hundreds of wheel barrows of gravel and dirt to “fix the landscaping” for his and all of his neighbors’ yards even though it has been done pretty well by the developer. He also got out early with his snow blower to clear the snow in his driveway in the morning, before the contractor came to clear the very same snow from his driveway. It was simply his way of creating purpose in his life that gave him a reason to get out of bed in the morning. That simple advice of having purpose from my dad has changed my attitude about my own future as I age.
That is not to say that manual labor is the right reason to get out of bed in the morning for everyone, but finding your own reason that gives your life purpose can turn aging into living during that portion of your life that you finally deserve.
What is the Perfect Age?
The one thing about age is that we can’t freeze ourselves in time if we were to think this is our perfect age. In fact, we all seem to want to get older rather than truly appreciate our current age. If we think back at our lives, we all kept saying “I can’t wait until I can: go to kindergarten, grow up, drive a car, stay out past 11 pm, graduate college, get a good job, start a family, the kids grow up and move out or until I retire.
So why are we always wanting to get older? Maybe getting older is two-sided coin in our minds and one side of aging seems pretty good as we think about it. If we look back at our lives and consider where we were in our development, personal satisfaction and passion for life as we age, maybe aging can be a good thing if we have the right attitude and actions to make it work in a positive way.
The Three Phases of our Lives
All Up Hill (birth to mid-20s)
This first twenty or so years of our life were not easy years as we were learning, learning and learning every day and in every way. We had few responsibilities, enjoyed fun and games and were protected and cared for. But we had little control of our lives and we were told what and when to do just about everything in our life.
Driven to Success (mid-20s to 50s)
We were still learning during this phase of our lives, but we were applying it to our career where we were gaining increasing responsibilities. Maybe we found a significant other and settled down to ultimately start a family which dramatically increased the stress of our lives as we now needed to nurture and protect others.
This phase of our lives more than any other is when we are “part of the whole” and became less of an individual with less autonomy to be ourself. Although humans get great joy from success in our careers and pride in how our family develops in a positive way, it is still a phase that can be a struggle that can bring out the “I can’t wait until” thoughts in our minds.
It’s Your Time, the Phase You Earned (60s Plus)
The third phase of our lives is the one some people think of as “getting old”, but this phase can be that time when the struggles and pressures of the past are behind us. A time when you can renew friendships, pursue passions and share your skill and wisdom with those who can benefit from what you have spent many years acquiring. The key to successful aging is giving yourself that reason to get out of bed so you look forward to the next day and every day.
So how do we help take aging from a negative to a positive view of our future? There is no sure way as we are all different, but a few key actions on our part can get us on the road to a better life as we age.
First and foremost, getting healthy will make everything in your life work better. Although the health status of senior adults varies widely, we can all benefit from a conscious routine of healthy eating and exercise. Availability of low cost or free fitness facilities and senior centers allow senior adults to take advantage of equipment and programs that promote strength, endurance, flexibility and balance while enjoying social interaction with like people.
Programs like “Silver Sneakers” encourages senior adults to participate in physical activities that will help them to maintain greater control of their health. It sponsors activities and social events designed to keep seniors healthy while encouraging social interaction.
Even with aches and pains or limited income, we can still pursue the passions that feed our souls in a positive way. No one can really tell you what your passions are. For many people, pursuing a passion was postponed while we struggled in the earlier phases of our lives, but as a senior adult you have earned the chance to finally enjoy what you love to do.
For some it could be pursuing a hobby, for others it could be giving back to the community by volunteering at a not for profit or a school. I know an 83-year-old woman who volunteers as a docent at a museum two days a week and at her church two other days each week. In conversation, she told me that she “doesn’t have the time to get old, this is one of the happiest times of my life”. You can see it in her face, hear it in her voice and feel the passion in her attitude about life.
Isolation, sedentary lifestyle and loneliness in senior adult years can deteriorate health and mind. Getting up and getting out with others is good for the body, mind and soul. Participating in senior center programs, activities at your house of worship, along with pursuing personal passion with others, allow senior adults to get out and enjoy time with other people of their generation or an intergenerational group of all ages. Laugh, learn, talk, develop new relationships, it’s all good for improving lifestyle quality.
Get Finances in Order
Getting your finances in order is just one more trump card that will help senior adults develop a successful life as they age. Work with a qualified financial planner who understands retirement planning that can guide your decisions on how you will be able to maintain the best quality of life that your personal finances will allow. Then define a budget that is consistent with your income potential and expenses so that you can take the worry out of your short and long term spending habits.
Aging Well, a Collection of Real Experiences
How we manage our own aging can range from fear and questions to a collection of real experiences. There are so many factors that affect how we age and the aging process is different for every person. But with all else equal, we do have some control of how we personally manage our own lives. A life that pursues health, passion and meaningful social interaction will always provide better results than neglect, mediocrity and loneliness. Find a reason to get out of bed every morning and share it with others so they too find a reason to get up and start every day with passion.
What’s on Your Mind?
We would love to know what is on your mind and what you would like discussed in future issues of Senior Lifestyles. Knowledge is power when it comes to creating the best lifestyle for seniors and their care providers, so let’s start a dialog on what matters to you. Contact the editor or feel free to contact me directly.
Jim Payne has provided consulting to and held executive positions for companies offering senior living/care communities and services. Jim is a certified Eden Alternative Associate and has also held a three-year cabinet position with Leading Age New York, the premier association of senior living and care communities.
Jim Payne, Director of Marketing
Seniors’ Choice Communities
Seniors’ Choice Communities is a developer of senior living and care communities serving the needs of upstate New York by offering independent and assisted living communities with unique upscale amenities and services.