Monday, January 16, 2012

Aging: The inevitability and challenges of growing older

As I am now officially an "old age pensioner" I think many believe that I should be looking at the world through different eyes. I am not sure that as I age, my perception will or should change. I know that my definition of "old" has not changed for many years.

I define a person that is "old" as someone who is at least 10 years older then me. I find that I am not alone in this perception, and this article presents a slightly different view of the idea of aging.

This is an interesting article that speaks to an issue that I find interesting. Published Wednesday, November 9, 2011 written by Rebecca Lippel,who is the manager of Family Centers' Friendly Connections senior outreach program

One's age is often a sensitive topic and is very much a part of the aging process and how we embrace it. In general, individuals have a hard time dealing with getting older -- and understandably so. Our roles personally and professionally shift, children begin their own lives and families, responsibilities change and so do our bodies. All of these life changes can be very challenging for someone and no matter when it happens it seems to sneak up on us.

One of the most interesting aspects of the aging process is perception. Here, perception relates to how a person perceives themselves and what age they feel like. Here is a challenge, call or visit with a family member who is older than you and ask them what age they feel like they are. Very few people will respond that they feel like their actual chronological age.

For example, a senior who is 88-years-old may be speaking to his/her case manager and in order to get them more socially active to improve his/her health the case manager may suggest they get involved with the local senior center or a senior outreach program. However, the senior responds with, "No, that's for old people." This type of a response indicates the 88-year-old does not perceive himself/herself as a senior citizen and as someone who is entitled to take advantage of a service designed for older adults though being a seasoned octogenarian it would be expected that he/she accepts the services.

Because of personal perception we must be sensitive to people and their aging process whether this be personally -- with our family and friends, ourselves even -- or professionally, when working with aging clients. For example, AARP is marketed as a membership organization for adults 50 and older. As we know, 50 does not look like what it used to. To engage 50 year olds as older adults is no longer appropriate for our quickly changing society.

Because there seems to be an increased sensitivity to the aging process, people tend to struggle when it comes time to care for an aging family member or loved one. This is certainly a very challenging role on its own, but with the added weight of internalizing the process it becomes daunting. Becoming a familial caregiver can remind a person of their own aging process and mortality. No one wants to be reminded that they are getting older and life is changing. Change in general is a hard thing for many people, and when it is in the form of aging it is easy to become anxious. Change is not always easy, but it is a common element of life, and while we are not always able to embrace it with open arms, we can work on accepting that various aspects such as aging will change at some point and work on it from there.

The aging process is an odd element of life. It is not cookie cutter and will not look the same for each person. It can be challenging but it doesn't always have to be. Many of history's greatest inventors, artists and musicians have produced masterpieces well into their golden years.

More commonly, many use their retirement years as a time to engage in volunteer activities to give back, travel, enjoy family and loved ones and engage in activities that they find personally fulfilling.

At the end of the day there are two inevitabilities in life that just simply cannot be avoided: Paying your taxes and aging.

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