I believe we place ourselves into three buckets as we age:
- Positive Aging
- Practical Aging
- God’s Waiting Room
We need to convert as many people as possible into the positive aging bucket. At the very least, we need to teach people residing in God’s waiting room how to age practically, and to help people in the practical aging bucket to become more positive about growing old.
Positive aging means having the right attitude about growing old. It is about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and staying engaged fully in life. It is about possessing a positive attitude about life even as you experience physical and mental decline, so you don’t lose a sense of control over your own life.
There is also plentiful research that supports the benefits of positive aging. According to the Longitudinal Study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (vol 83, No.2, 2002) by Becca Levy, senior citizens with positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative self-perceptions of aging. People’s positive beliefs about and attitudes toward the elderly appear to boost their mental health. Levy found that older adults exposed to positive stereotypes have significantly better memory and balance, whereas, negative self-perceptions contributed to worse memory and feelings of worthlessness.
My friend Sally practices positivity to the extreme. We can all learn from her example; I know I have. Sally doesn’t believe in aging. Her objective is to escape the old mentality of aging and decline. She wants to grow younger and get healthier every day.
She knows that aging is a fact of life and time marches on as her physical body declines. But her philosophy is, “If we can imagine it, we can have it.” She does not buy into society’s perceptions of aging; she has opted out of aging. She is not alone. There are an increasing number of baby boomers in this country as well as Buddhists and Yogis who do not mentally think about aging and decline.
Sally tells me she is thinking about turning 35 on her next birthday. She says this will not be the first time she turned 35; it’s happened several times over the past few years. She says 35 is a good year and she will stay there for some time.
Sally exudes positivity. Her vibration is filled with positive energy. She lives a carefree, optimistic life. In our reality, Sally is 82 years old and uses a walker for mobility and a hearing aid for listening to the rest of us complain about aging.
Most of us, in varying degrees, take a practical approach towards aging. We are somewhere in-between positive aging and God’s waiting room. We have not fully committed to embracing positivity but are hopeful that we will grow old gracefully. We stay positive about aging with a hint of anxiety and sometimes depression. We make the best of the situation while experiencing bouts of anxiety and some loss of self-worth. My mom and dad are in this aging bucket. As of this writing, my mom is 89 and my dad is 96 and both have dealt with physical decline. My parents live in a senior living facility and walk gingerly with the aid of walkers. My mom has endured breast cancer, hip and shoulder surgery, diabetes and hypertension, while my dad has endured an abdominal aortic aneurysm, significant hearing and vision loss, fluid in his lungs and hypertension. My parents have dealt with their aging issues with dignity and vigor. But they also exhibited some emotional ups and downs as their physical and mental health declined. They are prime examples of practical aging; growing old gracefully.
Roberta also resides in this aging bucket. Roberta is a wonderful elderly woman, always complaining about life but with humor and sarcasm. She deserves to complain because she has endured a great deal of physical decline. Her knees have given out so she uses a walker. She survived stage 2 lung cancer and heart valve replacement. She knows her days are numbered yet focuses on living. She attends bingo every Wednesday at her church and visits with her grandchildren on Thursdays. She also paints beach and garden landscapes when she is physically up to it.
God’s Waiting Room
Of the 12 people I deliver meals to on my Meals on Wheels route, half are embracing aging, while the other half are struggling. People in God’s waiting room are easy to spot. They are low energy people, sometimes bitter and sometimes indifferent about their lives.
Visit independent and/or assisted living facilities and you will encounter some people in God’s waiting room. They are the ones who have little meaning left in their lives. They are the ones who avoid social interaction and social activities. The dictionary says, “to wait” is to stay in one place until someone comes for you. Their life is like sitting in a laundry mat waiting for cloths to dry. People in God’s waiting room have lost their zest for life.
This blog is about helping people age successfully and gracefully by coping with the inconveniences (marks) of aging. It serves as a guide to positive aging. There is no dearth of advice and guidance on how to successfully age. My search uncovered a number of useful ways to deal with suffering due to aging and/or life-threatening diseases and I found some of the advice useful for my particular situation and hopefully, it will be useful for many people learning to cope with physical and mental decline due to aging. Stay tuned for future blog posts on this subject.