Read an Excerpt
getting older better
The Best Advice Ever on Money, Health, Creativity, Sex, Work, Retirement, and More
By Pamela D. Blair
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc. Copyright © 2014 Pamela D. Blair
All rights reserved.
thoughts, cultural attitudes, and myths about women aging
One can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.
Many people who embrace living still hold on to negative impressions or myths about aging. Living passionately and well doesn't stop at a certain point in one's life, to be followed only by the destructive forces of aging. The sooner we change our attitude about this, the sooner we can honestly explore our longevity.
The attitude that surrounds us is that old age in its most problematic sense starts somewhere between fifty and sixty. Why is this? Perhaps we still buy into the outdated rule that midlife is the beginning of our decline. This fallacy is based on the equally outdated life expectancy of forty-seven years or so, which was an average life span at the beginning of the 20th century. Although average life expectancy has increased drastically since then, our cultural attitudes have not.
People who think positively about aging tend to live almost eight years longer than those who think negatively. In fact, thinking positively is a more significant life extender than low blood pressure, low cholesterol, exercising regularly, or not smoking. Feistiness also makes aging easier, and personal determination to stay independent can help overcome physical frailty. A study I read found that an optimistic attitude has a measurable effect on preventing heart disease, for instance.
We may not have control over a lot of things as we age, but what we do have control over is our attitude toward aging. The degenerative aspects of the aging process can be substantially retarded by a combination of factors that include improving attitude, taking opportunities for service, continuing intellectual stimulation, and adopting good health habits. Let's get started.
WHEN THEY WERE OUR AGE
We're suffering from an image of aging that comes from a different time. An image that was never anything but propaganda.
We won't be experiencing aging the way our mothers and grandmothers did. Once again, we are defining our times. With some effort, we can be fit, fabulous, and over fifty. Our perception (and experience) of aging has changed because just about nothing in our lives is what it would have been in the lives of women our age even twenty years ago. For the most part, women now are healthier as they expect to live longer, reevaluate their priorities, and once again explore their passions.
Actress Susan Sarandon once said: "It's thrilling to know that around the world, women everywhere are working, thinking, daring, creating, making change. I don't know if our mothers ever felt this way about their counterparts—but I have the feeling our daughters will." We live in a wondrous age. Most women who reach age one hundred do so in surprisingly robust health. Genes may be responsible for about 30 percent of the physiological changes that occur in advanced age, but the majority of changes are the result of environment, diet, exercise, utilization of available medical care, and mental outlook.
My grandmother and my mother were my models of aging women. It was inconceivable to me that I would ever be as old as they seemed to be. I realize that I'm now the same age as my grandmother was back then, but it feels very different for me than I think it was for her. As I age, I intend to be more aware of my mental, emotional, and physical needs than my mother was of hers. I won't ignore my health as she did; I'll eat better, exercise to keep up my strength and balance, and not allow anyone to take advantage of me. She smoked heavily, was constantly stressed, and died at seventy-eight. I hope to live many years longer than she did.
How is your experience of aging different than your mother's or grandmother's?
MYTHS TO NOT LIVE BY
The media reflects our collective anxiety about growing older. I like to call this the "misery myth."
—Laura L. Carstensen, PhD
To age successfully, we need to be aware of the newer and older myths about aging that our current culture holds true. Here are some examples of the myths I've heard and what I know to be true:
Myth: Old women are depressed and lonely.
Truth: Depending on circumstances, we may get sad and lonely from time to time, but the research shows that the least lonely and depressed women are over seventy-five.
Myth: Older women are less successful in new pursuits.
Truth: Some of the best and brightest women, though past the half-century mark in years, are still climbing the ladder of success in the world.
Myth: Old women have more stress in their lives.
Truth: According to psychologists, older women have more stress-free days than younger women do.
Myth: Growing older is synonymous with the loss of meaning and purpose.
Truth: Research and the elderly themselves are demonstrating that a person's later years can be the richest ever in wisdom and spirituality.
Myth: If you are older and are reminiscing or becoming garrulous about the past, you are exhibiting signs of senility.
Truth: These recollections are natural and appropriate. Their purpose is to resolve life conflicts and to do a life review.
Myth: The older you get, the faster time passes.
Truth: Mathematically, those proverbial endless summers of your childhood were not even one minute longer than last summer. You have more routines now, and routines lend uniformity, which makes it very easy to be oblivious to time.
Myth: Everyone wants to, and should be willing to, hear our wisdom and opinions just because we are older.
Truth: Even though we're older and wiser, we don't necessarily know everything.
Myth: Older women are weak and have to be protected.
Truth: Once the protector myth is conquered, women become whole and authentic. We know that if we accept a limiting role, we violate ourselves.
Myth: Creativity is only for the gifted few, and our talents dim with age.
Truth: Creativity is not just for geniuses and the gifted. It is the energy that allows us to express ourselves in unique ways; it enables us to view life as an opportunity for exploration, and it knows no age.
Myth: All old women are physically passionless and have no interest in being sexual.
Truth: Many older women continue to be passionate about life and maintain an interest in sex.
Think about another myth you have heard about women and aging. Then write about what you've learned is true.
LIVING IN THE PRESENT
You can't know who you are if you don't spend time honoring yourself, and living in the present.
Do you think about some event that might happen in the future that causes you to feel anxious and uncomfortable? Doesn't that kind of fretting keep you from enjoying what's available in the present? Sure, we have to make plans for our financial and health care needs and things of that nature. But once the plans are in place, it's important to be mindful of how you torture yourself out of the present and the beauty it brings.
I wonder how I will be as a very old woman, and some of what I envision worries me. I wonder how I'll manage if I'm infirm or unable to walk or see well. In those moments, I work at bringing myself back to the present, which is all we are assured of anyway. I keep reminding myself that every moment stands alone, a presence in its own right, a singular visitation that doesn't include the future.
We're getting older every day, but we need something else to think about besides long-term-care insurance and wondering what our adult kids are doing when we're home alone. Sue Bender wrote in Everyday Sacred: A Woman's Journey Home, "The challenge is to find even ten minutes when the world stops, and for that moment, there is nothing else. How can we bring that quality to what time we have—making that limited time sacred?"
Take a moment—right now. Perhaps you're reading this book in a chair, on a train, or in a plane. Are you comfortable? Does the chair feel soft or hard? What do you see around you? Are you in a beautiful location? On a beach or a porch? Pay close attention to the small, the beautiful, the meaningful. Live in the present—for today, for ten minutes, for an hour.
What have you been overlooking in the present because you've been too worried about the future?
I used to be able, as most women are, to do four or five things at once. Do the juggling act. Now, if I can keep one plate in the air, that's good.
—Ursula K. Le Guin
A respected colleague, seventy-nine-year-old Anne, told me she wonders why she's tired. As an alcohol abuse counselor, she sees four or five clients a day, attends training lectures or presents at them, keeps her own home, and volunteers at a women's shelter. She's tired and hasn't learned the fine art of pacing herself, of dancing to a slower (no-less productive) tempo.
Each week we have 168 hours—10,080 minutes—to work and play, and you spend the better part of your time trying to get too much done—rushing, dashing, scurrying. In the mid-20th century, futurists predicted that computers and other labor-saving devices would free up time and transform America into the most leisurely society in history. Exactly the opposite happened.
In this age of rapidly expanding technology and continued consumerism, how can you fashion a simpler, slower-paced life? If you buzz from this chore to that with cell phone in hand, racing from one activity to the next, how can you enjoy your world?
I look for opportunities each day to see the world a little more clearly. This is my private time to enjoy the quietness of just being, of stopping to look and to feel and to think—and to indulge myself in a changing tempo.
The societal expectation that we must be accomplishing something all the time is broadcast so efficiently and from such an early age that we internalize it. We struggle with a seditious inner voice that says, "You're wasting time. Get up and do something with your life."
We're expected (or we expect ourselves) to respond to a fast-paced life in the same way we did when were twenty. Are we obliged to keep up with the latest in technological advances such as texting, Twittering, and Facebooking so as not to be out of step? Or do we have the privilege by virtue of age of opting out or being selective in our adoption of this new wave of fast-paced technology?
Try slowing the tempo down once in a while. Personally, I prefer pen and paper for personal letters even though communicating by email is faster and more convenient. I like holding a real book in my hands instead of an electronic reading device. I enjoy meandering slowly through a gift shop, touching and smelling the trinkets, and smiling at the cashier. Yet, I also enjoy ordering online and not having to fight the crowds during the holidays!
It feels essential to my well-being at this time in my life to slow the tempo a bit. My children are completely launched, my writing and counseling career are going well, and I feel fortunate to not have to care for older parents, so I have time to indulge myself. I must admit, I like the new pace.
How do you feel about changing tempo?
Pay attention to your gut feelings—the gut doesn't lie. And, by all means, don't be afraid to say "no"!
Each year, thousands of Americans over fifty fall prey to a wide variety of scams. The most common type of frauds committed against older Americans are email phishing, telemarketing, and mailbox scams (i.e., illegal sweepstakes, bogus charities, unlicensed health insurers, investment scams, and deceptive lotteries). Here are some recent examples quoted from www.snopes.com (a great website to check out if you're unsure about the validity of an offer):
Nigerian Scam: A wealthy foreigner who needs help moving millions of dollars from his homeland promises a hefty percentage of this fortune as a reward for assisting him.
Foreign Lottery Scam: Announcements inform recipients that they've won large sums of money in foreign lotteries.
Secret Shopper Scam: Advertisers seek applicants for paid positions as "secret" or "mystery" shoppers.
Work-at-Home Scam: Advertisers offer kits that enable home workers to make money posting links on the Internet.
Family Member in Distress Scam: Scammers impersonate distressed family members in desperate need of money.
Older women are sometimes considered easy targets for con artists because we don't want to be considered rude—we were taught to be nice at all costs. Some are at a disadvantage because they live alone or are desperate for money to meet some need.
For example, we often lack the skills to end a phone call when we feel pressure from the person on the other end of the line. Are you sometimes reluctant to hang up the phone or say, "No, thank you," because you're afraid of offending someone? I have no problem deleting email, reporting spam, and hanging up the phone. It took practice, but now the older I get, the easier it gets!
Not all business and investment seminars are scams. One of the key warning signs is being told you'll get rich quickly, that you'll earn up to $100,000 a year, that no experience or training is necessary, that the program will deliver security for years to come, or that it worked for hundreds of others, including the seminar leaders.
The Federal Trade Commission is working hard to prevent us from becoming victims of these schemes. Local agencies have stepped up their efforts to combat the problem, and several states have laws that make scams against senior citizens a serious offense. But no commission or agency is a substitute for your own intuitive sense and willingness to say no.
What will you do if you sense that an offer of any kind isn't on the up-and-up?
AGING CAN BE FUN?
It really IS funny to see an adult looking all around the room for her glasses without noticing that they are on top of her head.
—Helen Heightsman Gordon
Is it possible that growing older can be fun? Perhaps our negative expectations have something to do with our experiences. Since my friend Joan turned fifty-five, she laments the aging process every chance she gets. She defines it solely as the breakdown of the body and its functions. She seems to be creating more discomfort for herself all the time—more aches, more pains, more visits to the doctor.
On the other hand, my over-eighty friend Tita talks of what is exciting, fulfilling, and fun in her life. When she has aches, she doesn't focus on them. She travels, she reads, she laughs, and she nurtures her relationships with her friends, children, and grandchildren.
I'm looking forward to becoming more outrageous, aches and pains and all. If I someday need to walk with a cane, it won't be an ordinary one. I'll paint it red and white to look like a candy cane. If I must use a walker, it will be equipped with a bicycle horn. Beep, beep—out of my way! If the arthritis in my hands bothers me, I'll wear green polka-dotted mittens indoors in the winter. Aging can be an outrageously validating experience if you learn to laugh at yourself and focus on the fun instead.
Write about something outrageous you could do to make aging more fun.
Life is change. It will change around you if you don't change with it.
—Helen Gurley Brown
Everything is in a constant state of change—our bodies, homes, families, spiritual connections, and whole world. We can use our energies to fight and resist change. But there is something bold and strong about surrender. Change is inevitable, and resisting it causes our souls great sorrow and pain. While we're so busy resisting, we risk missing out on the potential for enormous joy.
There probably isn't a day that you're not acutely aware of change. Your body is changing, your family and friends are changing, your strength and speed of mental processing are changing, and your priorities are changing. How are you dealing with these changes? Denial? Acceptance?
As for me, if acceptance means approval, I say no, I don't approve of some of what is happening as I age. If acceptance means I will work change into my life, then I say yes. If change means painful loss and disappointment, I say no, I don't want any of that! (And do I have a choice?) If change means growth, forward movement, and a refreshed attitude, I say yes. If acceptance means I will let myself go as I age, then I say no.
Author Frances Weaver tells us it's our attitude toward all these changes that's most important. She wrote, "The sincere desire to lead a productive, interesting life at any age depends upon our own imagination and acceptance of new ideas."
If you embrace this time of dynamic change, you will feel more peaceful. You're on an adventure. Say yes to feeling peaceful—and say yes to adventure.
Write about how your life is changing.
You know what surprises me most as I cycle through the fives stages of age grief? How did I ... end up sounding like my parents?
—J. Eva Nagel
Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance—these are the identified stages of grief. I find I am reluctant to believe the grief associated with aging is similar in its stages to the grief one feels around death, though. Yet after considering this a while, I believe it is.
One day I woke up to find that I was showing the inevitable signs of moving toward an older age. That's shock. Denial set in as I tried to stay up as late as I used to and when I tried to work all day in the garden without a rest. Certainly I had always been able to push myself when it came to physical work, but now I had to enjoy the same activities in shorter blocks of time. My denial didn't last long because I was too busy being angry. Angry that it was different now. Angry that my back and legs hurt after stooping over the weed patch. Angry that I was now falling asleep before ten p.m.!
Excerpted from getting older better by Pamela D. Blair. Copyright © 2014 Pamela D. Blair. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.