What’s Your Attitude Toward Aging?

Are you “middle-aged” or of “retirement age,” or in your “old age?”

Do you bristle at being asked those questions? Are you avoiding answering them? Often we avoid asking or answering questions about age, especially as we get older. Are we in denial of our aging process? Perhaps. But why is that?

It would appear that many of us don’t like to think of ourselves as getting older. We support the claims that “40 is the new 30.” Those of us in our 70s may believe that with good health care and lifestyle changes, we are barely out of middle age. We don’t want to be seen as old—to be stigmatized and to fit the image that is often created by media, advertising and by our mainstream institutions and community organizations. They sometimes portray older people as frail, inactive, mentally incapable and no longer contributing to society.

Consider how you see older people. Do you have older relatives, friends and neighbours who don’t fit the stereotype created by the media and advertisers? Yukon participants in a recent Canada 55+ Games are prime examples of people at the top of their “old age” game. A 101-year-old friend, with the support of family, returned healthy and with heightened spirits from a long-awaited cross-Canada trip from Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and New Brunswick. She connected and shared stories with friends and family. An 80-year-old friend in the Yukon published her fifth book and is currently doing promotional readings. Many seniors and elders volunteer in many ways in the community, through non-profit groups, local and First Nations councils, churches, schools, care facilities and as family caregivers and cultural teachers. These are only some examples of older people who are continuing to be active participants and contributors to our community.

In various research studies in Britain, at the Yale School of Public Health; and at the Universi  ty of Greifswald, in Germany, it has been shown that our attitude toward getting older can affect our health.

According to a British study, people who think old age starts earlier in life were more likely to have a heart attack, suffer from heart disease or be in poor physical health when followed up on in six to nine years. These people may believe the stereotypes about older people, hold negative views about aging and not take action to manage their conditions as they age. Worries about their health or aging may cause undue stress and thus increase wear and tear on the body.

Depending on where you stand in the age timeline (according to a recent online survey), those in their 20s or 30s consider 40 as the beginning of middle age. Old age, for them, starts at 62. Those over 65 think that old age starts at 71.

For me, at age 74, I think that old age starts at 80.

If someone thinks old age starts later in life, they may see themselves as younger and may be more conscious of their health and wellness. They tend to take action to stay healthy and stay involved in their community.

In the studies mentioned, a positive attitude about aging appeared to prolong the life of the participants by about seven years. In another study, people with a negative attitude toward aging weren’t any more likely, than average, to die early. What seemed to matter most was whether or not people believed they could still learn new things, try new experiences and make new plans.

Of course, we can’t stop the aging process. Our eyesight, hearing, strength, memory and other physical aspects of our health decline. In his book The Expectation Effect, science writer David Robson believes we should focus on the positives such as the knowledge and experience we have gained over our lifetime, and our ability to deal with many issues.

A positive attitude toward aging can do much to prolong our life and help us to enjoy the years remaining. We can do everything possible to remain active and healthy.

Our attitude as an older person, or our response to other older people, has a big impact on how older people see themselves. Where do we still hold negative attitudes about our older relatives, friends and others? What are some ways that we can make our municipality, organizations, services and businesses more age-friendly, so that they support the health, participation and security of older people? How can we show respect and maintain the dignity of older people by “walking the talk?” All of us—children, teenagers, young adults, middle-agers, “drugstore discount” seniors, retirees and elders—might consider how our attitudes toward getting older can affect not only our actions, but those of older people that we know. Let’s support a positive attitude toward aging.

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