If you’re a precocious teenager chock full of energy and dreams, growing old hardly seems real. You know it’s out there but it is so far away, you can barely see it in the distance. If you just turned 70, with a full and vibrant life behind you, you might have a different view altogether. For some people, in fact, growing old can be a frightening time of loneliness and significant life change. But aging doesn’t mean the world ends when your birthday reaches a particular number.
Humans are social creatures and the way we view aging and accept its changes is a critical element in the capacity to age gracefully, also known as positive aging. People are living longer in these modern days and positive aging is key to adapting to and embracing life’s inevitable changes.
What is positive aging?
Similar to the myriad ways people transition into their golden years, positive aging comes with an array of definitions and views in different cultures all over the world. Here in the U.S., positive aging is widely regarded as a multidimensional approach of maintaining high physical and cognitive functions, remaining free of debilitating disease and disability, and staying engaged in productive and socially-focused activity.
Australia’s Positive Psychology Institute recognizes positive aging as “the process of maintaining a positive attitude, feeling good about yourself, keeping fit and healthy, and engaging fully in life as you age.” That sums it up nicely and other areas of the world echo a similar sentiment. All in all, positive aging is about living intentionally with a mindset and lifestyle toward maintaining a vibrant and rewarding conclusion of years. Other names for this are healthy aging, productive aging, and competent aging.
Strategies to promote positive aging
One of the most effective approaches to implement and maintain positive aging in your life is don’t let loneliness take over. The social element is arguably the one go-to ingredient agreed on by the experts; we need frequent and genuine conversations with other people and we need connection. Don’t dread older age; celebrate it, go against the grain and do the opposite of what is expected, and get out there and make new friendships.
The greying of our society used to be viewed as the gathering of grizzled folks in nursing homes and other transition facilities, forlorn and silently waiting for the final days. Reality is older age demographics around the world are rapidly becoming major components of our population. Consider that by 2020 the number of people over age 60 will outnumber children under the age of 5 and by 2050 the 60+ constituency will be 2 billion. That is a significant number to say the least and because of increasing lifespans, many countries must address health policies and methods to address the transition to older age.
Simply stated, more older adults are working longer and purposefully engaging in active lifestyles, which is transforming pension and retirement programs and simultaneously creating new business opportunities addressing the needs of an aging population.
The psychology of aging
Aging can be a very difficult thing to accept. When we are no longer able to do the same energetic and physical things we did in our younger years, or even just a short decade ago, it can have a severe psychological impact. Bones break easier, vision weakens, hair turns white or falls out, and muscles lose elasticity.
With that often comes the feeling of being less valued to society and even to friends and family. The process reaches a point of struggling to know or find our place and we either retreat into a lonely corner or redefine our identity and very purpose for being. This is a big deal, as estimates show that by 2030 roughly 15 million older adults will require some form of mental or behavioral care. Anxiety and depression often accompany the trials of coping with disease and relating aging challenges and also leads to poor mental health.
The idea alone of needing help to manage typical daily activities can inspire frustration, anger, and family infighting. Indeed, theories surrounding aging have circulated among the world’s peoples for millennia and at the foundation of all that discussion is a “bucket list” of positive aging strategies.
Tips to incorporate positive aging to your life
When it comes to strategies to promote positive aging, we can look toward any number of highly regarded experts and studies. One of these studies originates from Colorado State University through the research of Dr. Manfred Diehl in the school’s department of human development and family studies. Diehl’s studies look closely at perception and related understanding of the aging process and how modifying negative views of aging can actually inspire behaviors directly influencing positive aging.
To that end, Diehl presents a variety of approaches to incorporating a positive attitude toward aging:
- Exercise! Build in a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise or some kind of movement every day. In that same vein, exercise your brain as well. Engage in activity that challenges your mental capacities—never stop learning.
- Live healthy. That means eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, keep your weight manageable, don’t drink too much and don’t smoke.
- Stay connected to others. Maintain vibrant relationships with friends, family, spouse, and people you meet or know in your community.
- Practice positive emotion exercises and be intentional about feeling good about your age.
- Ask for help. You won’t be able to do everything you used to and there’s no shame in enlisting help.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.