Have you ever noticed how two 85-year-olds can seem about 20 years apart in age? Not only how they look, but some people just have an “old attitude”. What helps some people age gracefully? A lot of years working with elders has given us some insight into the “secrets” of aging gracefully. We’ve seen a lot of what not to do. And, we've been lucky to work with inspiring examples of how we’d like to age.
Here are the mentors to look to for how to live life your best life after age 65:
The Healthy Aging Role Model
Health will drastically affect how you live your later years. The body is amazingly resilient. If you don’t take care of it, though, you start to suffer the consequences. Even though some factors are genetic and we can’t control everything, we can do a lot to stay healthy and even reverse past damage.
This mentor does a couple things we should all do better. First, he/she stays (or gets) active. We lose muscle mass with age. Many people encounter issues with strength and balance. This leads to falls and difficulty bouncing back from illness or injury. But, an active elder can have more muscle mass and better balance than an unfit 25-year-old. Just check out our favorite “Fit Over 50” examples!
Less important than a structured workout or particular fitness routine is consistent daily activity you enjoy. When we look at the “Blue Zones”, where people live the longest, those elders don’t “work out”. They simply walk everywhere, work in their gardens and run after grandkids.
Next, the healthy aging role model takes a proactive stance on healthcare. They practice preventative care. And, they ask questions and advocate for themselves. For example, they hope to minimize medication use since they know polypharmacy (multiple medications) is associated with falls, functional decline, cognitive issues and more. So, they ask a lot of questions if a doctor wants to prescribe a new medication. They’re aware of their medical history and actively involved in current treatment plans.
Get help from a healthcare advocate to get your health on track.
We can organize your medical history/file, advocate for you when facing a new diagnosis, and help you manage chronic conditions and incorporate healthy habits into your life.
Humor is the Best Medicine: Aging Gracefully with the Right Attitude
Norman Cousins famously claimed that watching comedy videos helped cure his arthritis. Much anecdotal evidence points to the role of humor in health. And, we’ve certainly seen it with our clients and their families. But, there have also been empirical studies showing humor can reduce stress, boost the immune system, and increase pain tolerance.
“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”--Betty Friedan
In addition to the physical health benefits of humor, attitude has a major effect on how people experience aging. Some of the top headlines about studies on this topic include “Positive Attitudes about Aging May Be a ‘Fountain of Youth’” and “Attitude about Aging Impacts Everything about Aging”.
Finding an “attitude mentor” can be as easy as looking at which older adults in your life are fun to be around. We’ve had so many clients who, even when lying in a hospital bed, greet us with a smile and ask how we are. They make a joke or laugh, despite pain and discomfort.
I once met a client in the ER after he had a fall. His eyes lit up with recognition when I came into the room. As I helped navigate what was going on and make sure he was comfortable, he refused to complain and continued thanking everyone for their help. He repeatedly said he was lucky he wasn’t hurt worse. And, as we were chatting, he said “You know it’s hard for me to believe I’m 92. I feel like I’m about 50 or 60. I’m still the same inside.” Everyone who worked with this client enjoyed spending time with him, which certainly also contributed to the high level of care he received.
Here’s a great example of another such aging mentor.
Living Life to the Fullest, with a Purpose
Several studies have indicated that having a purpose in life helps people maintain functioning and independence. Sense of purpose has been linked to longer life, lower risk of disease, better sleep, and healthier behaviors.
“Retirement killed him.” You might have heard a story of the person who retires and then dies shortly thereafter. While not always the case, those anecdotes may be related to this question of purpose. Someone who sees their value solely in their career and doesn’t plan for post-retirement may feel hopeless and discouraged. Mentally preparing for your later years includes looking for mentors who continue engaging fully in life. Fortunately, there are tons of famous examples and many right in your own community.
Aging with Purpose Mentors
Ruth Bader Ginsberg has become one popular icon of purposeful aging. She continues to do the work she loves and has recently been the subject of a documentary about her incredible life. Though she’s recently experienced various health issues, she demonstrates healthy aging habits and especially the value of staying engaged and doing what you find meaningful.
Many famous creators continue producing well into their later years. Margaret Atwood is one of our favorite contemporary examples. At 79-years-old she’s having some of the greatest success of her career. Others who show us just how productive older adults can be are Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Nelson Mandela, Michio Kaku...and many of our political figures.
I personally saw how much his continued part-time role meant to my doctor uncle. He assisted young residents and enjoyed the camaraderie with staff and other physicians. But, not everyone will want to, or be able to, continue working in their profession. Many of us find purpose in new ways. This might mean volunteering, community activities, traveling, learning new things or nurturing our families.
Over the years, we’ve seen many husbands take on a caregiving role for an ill spouse. They share with us that in their generation, men typically weren’t as involved in family caretaking. The clients often express that it has been an opportunity to explore a new side of themselves.
It’s important to look for mentors who find purpose in different ways and think about what we want to do with our later years. While relaxing may sound appealing after a tough career, most of us need structure and activity. Sitting in front of the TV all day is a surefire path to unhealthy (and usually unhappy) aging.